Earlier this week, before he bowled over shallow pundits by delivering a speech that would have been panned if delivered by literally any other president, Trump appeared on Fox & Friends to hold forth on a favorite topic:
Well, look, you know, it just seems the other side, whenever they are losing badly, they always pull out the race card. And I’ve watched it for years. I’ve watched it against Ronald Reagan. I’ve watched it against so many other people. And they always like pulling out the race card.
This was pure projection. Trump plays the race card constantly, and has all of his public life. He has fomented racial hatred and profited from racist business practices for decades. In the 1980s, Trump famously took out a full-page ad in the NYT to call for the execution of the innocent nonwhite teenagers in the “Central Park jogger” case — and doubled down on that during the campaign, even though the teenagers in question were exonerated years ago.
Trump began the current phase of his political career with the baldly racist “birther” crusade. And make no mistake about it: the race card was central to his 2016 win. I’m not saying it was the only thing going on; in many ways, the 2016 election was a black swan event, and anyone who attributes Trump’s win to a single cause is oversimplifying things, IMO.
But contra all the wanking about economic issues, the party that embraced identity politics won. Trump’s core supporters were ecstatic about the rejection of “political correctness,” the race-baiting lies about crime and the constant demonization of immigrants. And the ones who claim to have voted for Trump for other reasons saw the naked demagoguery as acceptable.
Last night’s speech was no exception, despite pundit squeeing about how “presidential” it was. Trump may have finally denounced the vandalism and threats aimed at Jewish organizations and symbols, but he didn’t say one word about the harassment and vandalism perpetrated against Muslims. Trump finally mentioned the hate-crime shootings in Olathe, KS, but he didn’t rescind his earlier order directing the DHS to focus exclusively on Islamist terrorism while right-wing terrorism is on the rise, inspired by Trump’s own rhetoric.
In fact, Trump doubled down on the bigotry that propelled his rise with the announcement about the VOICE program, which is a continuation of the immigrant scapegoating and demonization strategy he has relied on since the first day of his campaign. The fact that political commentators outside the Fox-Breitbart universe can proclaim a speech that contained that bigoted bullshit a success just shows how oblivious people are to the white nationalism at the heart of Trump’s appeal.
Anyway, I know I’m preaching to the choir here, but I think we have to focus on this relentlessly. Trump’s campaign rhetoric was overtly racist, sexist and xenophobic. And the bigots, homophobes, abusers and incompetents Trump has installed in positions of great power are busily enacting a racist, sexist, xenophobic agenda.
That doesn’t go away if Trump manages to deliver a speech in modulated tones rather than braying like a tinpot authoritarian, as is his usual custom. As people who are in favor of equality, decency and baseline competence, our job remains clear: resist.