Here's Why Trump's Double-Down on Racism and Hate Is Even Worse than It Seems

Trump made it clear that racism is the beginning and the end of these midterm elections

Photo Credit: Gage Skidmore

There are issues Americans are really concerned about: Healthcare, education, dealing with the strains of caring for both children and the elderly in a society that seems to honor neither. Climate change is literally battering down American homes. The economy has devolved into a system that very efficiently vacuums every last cent to the wealthy, leaving nothing behind for everyone else. The Republican tax cut has handed off so much to the top 1 percent, that they’re hoping to use that self-inflected wound as an excuse to end Social Security and Medicare. These are real concerns, affecting real Americans. Things that define both this generation and the next.

But Republicans aren’t allowing those discussions to happen. Because racism. Trump made it clear that racism is the beginning and the end of these midterm elections. This is the race of “Kavanaugh and the caravan,” the race to prove that fanning the flames of white fears can trump (and Trump) everything else. Republicans began on racism, they’re going to the wire on more racism. No level of violence and murder committed in the name of that racism is going to get in their way,

It would be great to ignore them; to believe that their monstrous allegations and violent fantasies could be left to die under the weight of their own dishonesty. But previous election cycles have indicated that’s not an answer. In fact … there’s no good answer. In whipping up racist, Antisemitic fear Republicans are holding a knife to the nation’s throat, endangering the meaning of America in such a fundamental way that it, sadly, cannot be ignored.

And simply addressing their racism is a win for them. Like a belligerent drunk poking a finger at people just trying to have a serious conversation, Republicans know that people really can’t ignore them. They’re really pleased about that.

Of course, their drunk act comes with a body count. But they’re shrugging off the 11 people dead from the Antisemitic, anti-immigrant hate they’ve carefully constructed. They were already dismissing more than a dozen bombs that their racism-rocket had sent zipping around the country even while those bombs were still arriving in mailboxes.

They’re not seeking forgiveness. In in the final hours of the election, they’re looking for ways to make things worse. They’re finding them.

With less than a week remaining before the final votes are cast, Donald Trump and the Republicans are introducing the new level of racism. An ad that, as CNN reports, starts where Republicans have gone before.

The ad recalls the notorious "Willie Horton" campaign ad financed by supporters of the George H.W. Bush campaign in the 1988 presidential election. Horton was a convicted murderer who committed rape while furloughed under a program in Massachusetts where Democratic nominee Michael Dukakis was governor.

That Willie Horton ad was regarded as disgusting even then. But it was also an ad that did exactly what it intended to do — increase white fears that a Dukakis victory would flood the streets with violent black criminals.

Trump’s new ad is much, much less subtle. And, as historian Kevin Kruse explains, much, much worse. Kruse explains the gestation of the Horton ad — from a system that featured names like Lee Atwater and Ed Rollins driving the Bush campaign to fully embrace the racism that had become the mostly-unspoken heart of the Republican Party.

A native South Carolinian, Atwater knew the power of racist appeals and was willing to go to places where others wouldn't.

But he still understood it had to be done carefully. Here's his famous interview from 1981 on the use of racial "code words" https://t.co/wzYP9xIn6V

— Kevin M. Kruse (@KevinMKruse) November 1, 2018

Even dirty-trickster and Trump supporter Roger Stone thought that Atwater and Rollins had gone too far with the Horton ad. But the new ad, the one that Republicans are using as their closing argument in 2018, is well-nigh infinitely worse.

Atwater was worried about “code words.”  Trump and the current cast of Republicans haven’t just abandoned the “dog whistle,” they’ve abandoned the fog horn. They’ve abandoned making hints altogether, no matter how broad or blatant. They’re just … racist. Openly racist. Deeply, fully, unabashedly racist. The decades of being feed the careful “code word” racism are over. Under Trump, racists aren’t embarrassed to be racist. They wear it as a point of pride. After all, that’s what “old-fashioned nationalism” is all about.

Kruse: Unlike the Willie Horton ad -- which was outsourced to third parties to the point where Atwater insisted he had nothing to do with it -- this new ad is coming directly from the personal Twitter account of the president himself.

It would be great to talk about the economy. Fantastic to deal with healthcare. It’s absolutely vital that we talk about climate change.

But we have to deal with racism. Because Republicans have made it clearer than ever that this is an election about racism. It’s an election about whether Americans will not just accept a dog whistle, or a fog horn, but open, adamant, unapologetic racism. Accept that not as America’s secret shame, but America’s central purpose.

It’s the fight that Republicans want. We have to give it to them. And we have to win. Because that Willie Horton ad was effective. It empowered the Republican Party to keep promoting hate, to drive against blacks and immigrants. It helped fuel the acceptance of white nationalist and the Antisemitism that Trump embodies today. Imagine where they will go if they win this time.

 

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Mark Sumner is the author of the nonfiction work "The Evolution of Everything" as well as several novels including "Devil's Tower."