Yesterday, Jorge Ramos of Univision was unceremoniously escorted out of a Donald Trump press conference by one of the Hair’s goons, for daring to ask a question “out of turn”. Trump told Mr. Ramos to “sit down”, and then to “go back to Univision”. (I guess even The Hair wasn’t prepared to say “go back to Mexico, you wetback.”) Our brave press corps… did nothing. Journalists of conscience would have gotten up en masse and walked out right behind Mr. Ramos. I’m old enough to remember when the good and the great of the major media outlets rallied around Fox News when President Obama took off the gloves with them. Imagine if Pres. Obama had done something like this at one of his campaign press conferences, or, heaven forbid, at a presidential one. Calls for his impeachment would be hurling in 72 point type on newspapers and from well-coiffed news anchors.
However, even though I was going to write at length about this contretemps, I realized that the expulsion of Mr. Ramos is not the story. It is a mere manifestation of a much darker reality.
I mocked Trump (I refuse to be polite and call him “Mr.”). I thought he was the greatest thing to happen to Democrats since Dan Quayle. And, if by some malfeasance he does manage to be the GOP nominee, he lost the general election yesterday. The image of the Latino Walter Cronkite being frog-marched out of a press availability will galvanize the Latino community like nothing else. Not because Latinos are celebrity-mongers who will rally around Mr. Ramos, but because he and his treatment represent what Latinos fear the most from the GOP. Trump just handed the Latino community the symbol it needed, in a way which even his outrageous words didn’t.
But I’m no longer mocking him. I’m taking him very seriously. Because what may have begun as a lark is no longer that. It’s obvious that Trump is taking this campaign to heart, and is in it to win. And that should give everyone a good scare.
Frank Luntz, he of the “Don’t say ‘Ni-clang’, say ‘urban decay’,” held a focus group. His reaction to the results? “My legs are shaking.”
He discovered, to his horror, that Trump’s unabashed racism is resonating with an electorate long lied to by Republican elites. One participant said: “I think America is pissed. Trump’s the first person that came out and voiced exactly what everybody’s been saying all along. When he talks, deep down somewhere you’re going, ‘Holy crap, someone is thinking the same way I am.’” Another focus group member: “When Trump talks, it may not be presented in a pristine, PC way, but we’ve been having that crap pushed to us for the past 40 years! He’s saying what needs to be said.”
Oh, sure. They’re rubes. They’re stupid. We can laugh at them.
You know who else was laughing? The gentleman whose picture graces this essay.
Franz von Papen was the front man for the German reactionaries in Weimar Germany. They had a great idea: We’ll use the Nazis to roll up the Social Democrats and Communists, and then we’ll be in charge. They’ll be no trouble to control.
The Nazis were the rubes of interwar Germany. The rabble which had been lied to by men like von Papen. The rabble which was used to beat up socialists and communists and Jews.
Am I saying that Trump's followers are like Nazis? Well, when you hear shouts of “White Power” emanating from his rallies, I’ll leave that for you to decide.
Am I saying that Trump is like Hitler? Well, when a candidate comes out with an immigration plan which sounds like a Final Solution for the undocumented, I’ll let you come to your own conclusions.
My larger point is this: the GOP elite, concerned only with their financial interests, turned to the religious right to power their campaigns. (Read here for a great rundown of how that happened.) They didn’t care about abortion, uppity women, the “black problem”, or “illegals”. They just wanted a reliable electoral block which would vote for them so that they could get down to the business of making rich people richer. But they never paid the religious right their salary. That this is true is shown by the fact that the right has basically lost the culture war. Gay marriage is the law of the land. A black man is president. The women’s movement is resurgent. And minorities are screaming out against oppression. Their world is gone. And they’ll make someone pay. You always hurt those closest to you; so now they’re turning on the ones who have lied to them, led them on, used them for 50 years. Just like von Papen, the Luntzes of the GOP thought they could ride the tiger indefinitely. Eventually, though, the tiger gets hungry, and doesn’t much care who it eats.
For mere pecuniary gain, the GOP elite let into power a segment of the US which had rightfully been marginalized, because it was literally bat-shit insane. Now this segment finally wants what it has been promised all these decades, and doesn’t much care who has to take it in the neck in furtherance of that goal. We have a psychopath leading the GOP field because men like the Koch brothers wanted to become even wealthier, so forged an alliance with a religious movement redolent of ISIS. Now that movement wants its moment. They can taste it. Trump is giving it to them.
I’m still 90% sure that, even if Trump does win the nomination, the GOP will be swept away in a wave not seen in American political history. But that 10% worries me. It worries me when I see it in right-wing movements over Europe. It worries me when I see it in nihilistic death cults like ISIS. And it worries me when I see it in my own home, my own country. Would my birthright citizenship be taken away? Would my mother’s naturalization be rescinded? Because that’s the logical conclusion of the rhetoric coming out of the Trump camp and the broader GOP.
The GOP is Pandora, opening a box which looked so pretty. What it released was the dark underbelly of America, so much so that it is now accepted political discourse. I just hope the rest of us are resolute enough to beat it back. I fear the consequences if we don’t.