Trump is turning the American presidency into a platform for the wholesale demonization of minorities.
The current, and (to date) most debased, phase of the Trump presidency — the phase that includes the unceasing demonization of minority legislators and the endorsement of North Korean communism — began, in retrospect, on May 8, in the Florida Panhandle, at a rally in Panama City. It was there that Donald Trump gave tacit approval to the use of violence against immigrants.
But in this latest phase, his rhetoric has become particularly sweeping. Brown people in general have become his targets. And there is no reason to hope that he will reform. His followers reward his radicalism, and his handlers are among the most cynical figures in American political history. His aide Kellyanne Conway tweeted on Sunday, “Working as one to understand depraved evil & to eradicate hate is everyone’s duty. Unity. Let’s do this.” And his daughter Ivanka wrote, in a way that hints at a permanent separation from reality, “White supremacy, like all other forms of terrorism, is an evil that must be destroyed.” And, of course, there is no one of any influence in his party who is willing to confront him.
I watched the video recording of the rally in Panama City shortly after reading the El Paso killer’s so-called manifesto. It is a document littered with phrases and rhetorical devices injected into mainstream discourse by the president and his supporters—talk of a “Hispanic invasion,” accusations that Democrats support “open borders,” and the like. As Trump faces the possibility that he will lose the presidency next year, he likely will become more enraged, and more willing to deploy the rhetoric of violence as a way to keep his followers properly motivated. The Panama City speech was an important moment in Trump’s ongoing effort to make the American presidency a vehicle in the cause of marginalizing and frightening racial minorities; the killings are a possible (and predictable) consequence of such rhetoric.
Three years ago, The Atlantic, in its endorsement of Hillary Clinton for president (an editorial motivated not by love for Clinton but by fear of Trump), stated, “In one of the more sordid episodes in modern American politics, Trump made himself the face of the so-called birther movement, which had as its immediate goal the demonization of the country’s first African American president. Trump’s larger goal, it seemed, was to stoke fear among white Americans of dark-skinned foreigners.”
They were correct and it is depressing to think the only way out of this crisis is the November 2020 election.