Trump’s Racist Attacks Have a Deeper Meaning: The Ultimate Goal is Not NFL Players But Crushing All Dissent
If you are not afraid by now, you should be.
Donald Trump is a racist. This is not a random accusation but an inference drawn from ample evidence. He has demonstrated those traits and behaviors throughout his time in public life.
Donald Trump is now the leader of the Republican Party, even if some Republicans remain uncomfortable with that fact. That party is the country's largest white identity organization, and torchbearer for a political value system where conservatism and racism are now effectively one and the same.
Donald Trump is an authoritarian. He holds democratic norms, culture, laws, and institutions in contempt and is doing everything in his power to become America's first dictator.
In total, these are the attributes of a racial authoritarian. Disaster seems inevitable: such a person cannot be a fair and just leader of a cosmopolitan and diverse United States.
This week Donald Trump has once again signaled his ominous dedication to protecting and strengthening a backward-looking conception of American life and society in which nonwhites are treated as second-class citizens.
In response to the NFL's decision to fine players who kneel in protest during the national anthem next season, Donald Trump used the bully pulpit of the presidency to gloat and threaten. "Well, I think that's good," Trump said during a Fox News interview. "I don't think people should be staying in locker rooms, but still I think it's good. You have to stand — proudly — for the national anthem or you shouldn't be playing, you shouldn't be there, maybe you shouldn't be in the country."
This is another example of how nonwhites -- especially African-Americans -- are special targets of Trump's rage and disrespect. Beyond the petulant scorn designed to titillate his right-wing base, Trump's latest comments offer more evidence of his authoritarian agenda.
Patriotism is compulsory. Freedom of speech is undermined if not wholly overturned -- especially for those who dare to criticize or otherwise oppose Donald Trump, his allies or his public. In a version of "blood and soil" racism, those who protest or otherwise dissent are to be expelled from the country -- especially if they happen not to be white.
Again, Trump's scorn is selective. He did not threaten the neo-Nazis and other white supremacists who rampaged and committed murder in Charlottesville with deportation. Instead, he suggested that some of them were "very fine people."
Nor has Trump ever said that the white men and boys who have committed mass murder in America's schools, or have engaged in violent (and often lethal) hate crimes against Muslims, Jews, nonwhites and immigrants should be removed from the country.
Donald Trump's newest threats against black NFL players and others who kneel in protest against racism are anti-democratic in other ways as well. His words are a reminder that in America the full and equal citizenship of black people has almost always been precarious and contingent. American democracy has historically, through both laws and cultural norms, been circumscribed in such a way that nonwhites are perpetual outsiders while white people are defined as "real Americans."
Because of that fact, both the idea and practice of black people and other nonwhites being forced into submission and compliance does potent work in white America's political imagination.
In the Village Voice, Talia Levin sums this up:
There is no point at which dissent becomes acceptable to authoritarians. They are the boot that will stamp your face to mush, all the time demanding you apologize for the unceasing offense that is your desire to be free.
There has never been an American idyll of polite discourse; our democracy has always been too fractious for that. (Ask Charles Sumner, beaten to within an inch of his life in the Senate chamber for opposing slavery. Ask the slain protesters at Kent State. Ask Andrew Goodman, James Chaney, and Michael Schwerner.) In the context of our present dismal moment, a push for propriety in political disagreement is nothing more than a demand for decorum among the powerful, and a careful skirting of the barbarities regularly inflicted against the powerless. ...
It is high time to cease cringing and apologizing to those for whom our humanity — feminist, gay, queer, Latino, Black, immigrant, free — is in and of itself an offense. They will demand our deference because our demands for justice are an affront. They will seek our submission because our silence is what they crave. It is time to recognize that the right to criticize the powerful is sacrosanct.
The political dividends of these efforts to humiliate and force compliance across the color line are directly related to the profile and visibility of the black and brown body which is made to suffer.
Black athletes, black soldiers and veterans and yes, even America's first black president, Barack Obama, have been victims of this onslaught of white rage fueled by racial insecurity, existential angst and imagined vulnerability.
Across the American South and elsewhere black veterans were special targets for lynchings and other types of white mob violence.
Black athletes such as the 1968 Olympic champions Tommie Smith and John Carlos, boxing legend Muhammad Ali, and former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick were threatened with physical violence. Their livelihoods were taken away; they became human pillories for white rage.
As Jackie Robinson, the American hero who broke the color line in professional baseball reflected years later:
Today, as I look back on that opening game of my first World Series, I must tell you that it was Mr. Rickey’s drama [Branch Rickey, then owner of the Brooklyn Dodgers] and that I was only a principal actor. As I write this twenty years later, I cannot stand and sing the anthem. I cannot salute the flag; I know that I am a black man in a white world. In 1972, in 1947, at my birth in 1919, I know that I never had it made.
Obama and his family were smeared by the racist conspiracy theory known as "birtherism," which Donald Trump played a central role in advancing. Obama's presidency also inspired an increase in white supremacist and other far-right organizations. The Republican Party and its voters have become more partisan, more polarized, and more hostile to the very idea of participating in a government and society where a black man was president.
Indeed, the American right became so hostile to the Obama administration that it was willing to betray American democracy by aligning with the demagogue Donald Trump and his proto-fascist authoritarian movement.
Donald Trump is not the drunk at the end of the bar or a millionaire version of the TV character Archie Bunker made real. He is the president of the United States. Yes, Trump's presidency is in many respects illegitimate. Yes, Trump has failed every test of moral character and leadership put before him. That has done nothing to diminish his power. In many ways Trump's crudeness, boorishness and contempt for civility and human decency may have actually expanded his power.
Ultimately, we should heed Masha Gessen's warning, written just after Trump's election in November 2016, that authoritarians and demagogues should be taken at their word.
Believe the autocrat. He means what he says. Whenever you find yourself thinking, or hear others claiming, that he is exaggerating, that is our innate tendency to reach for a rationalization. This will happen often: humans seem to have evolved to practice denial when confronted publicly with the unacceptable. Back in the 1930s, The New York Times assured its readers that Hitler’s anti-Semitism was all posture. More recently, the same newspaper made a telling choice between two statements made by Putin’s press secretary Dmitry Peskov following a police crackdown on protesters in Moscow: “The police acted mildly — I would have liked them to act more harshly” rather than those protesters’ “liver should have been spread all over the pavement.” Perhaps the journalists could not believe their ears. But they should — both in the Russian case, and in the American one. For all the admiration Trump has expressed for Putin, the two men are very different; if anything, there is even more reason to listen to everything Trump has said. He has no political establishment into which to fold himself following the campaign, and therefore no reason to shed his campaign rhetoric. On the contrary: it is now the establishment that is rushing to accommodate him — from the president, who met with him at the White House on Thursday, to the leaders of the Republican Party, who are discarding their long-held scruples to embrace his radical positions.
In the year and a half since Trump's election, Gessen's warnings have been shown to be remarkably prescient.
Nevertheless, too many among the chattering class continue to dismiss Donald Trump as ineffective, a pitiable joke of a man who is all bluster and no teeth. These same voices counsel that Donald Trump is no real threat to America's democracy institutions and that the country will somehow "muddle through," relatively "unharmed" and perhaps even "improved." These are cowardly dreams of the worst sort: empty fantasies summoned by weak centrists who are too afraid to admit to the scope of the cultural and political crisis that is taking place in America, under their feet and before their eyes.
Donald Trump and the current Republican Party's threat to American democracy is real and immediate. Black athletes and other nonwhites are an easy first target. But as with all authoritarians and demagogues the circle of Donald Trump's enemies will keep expanding, ultimately to include those who thought the birthright of their color or their gender or the language they speak would save them. It will not. You have been warned.