A noticeable pattern has emerged in the past few weeks: it seems that, as a country, we are just now learning many things we should have already known:
Surprise! The Confederate flag is a symbol of slavery and racism. Who'd have guessed?
Surprise! The nearly 40 women who all told variations of the same story about Bill Cosby being a serial rapist might have been onto something. You don't say!
To that illustrious list we can now add: Surprise! Donald Trump is not only a legendary buffoon, he's also a racist demagogue.
Shocking, I know.
Trump's comments about Mexican immigrants have, understandably, caused quite a stir. When a famous celebrity who is running for president starts going on rants about wild-eyed foreigners raping and pillaging everywhere they turn, people tend to notice. Equally predictable has been Trump's, shall we say, unhelpful response to the controversy. In typically bonkers fashion, he has been going around shouting "somebody's doing the raping!" and scrawling indecipherable notes to columnists who had the temerity to go after him. It's also not surprising that companies with ties to Trump are competing with each other to see who can ostentatiously sever those ties first. (Just another way his woes match those of Cosby and the Confederacy, which have both found themselves suddenly less popular with corporate America.) Yet all of this activity begs the question: What were NBC, Univision, ESPN, Macy's, even New York City doing wrapped up with this man in the first place?
Let's just remind ourselves of Donald Trump's illustrious political history. This is a man who spent years as the most prominent advocate of the birther movement in order to solidify his popularity with the conservative fringe. Birtherism is not some wonkish right-wing approach to governance. It's not like pushing a flat tax or opposing the Export-Import Bank. It's one of the more nakedly racist memes of recent vintage. Trump's enthusiastic embrace of such a toxic—and stupid—theory should have been enough to get him ejected from polite society.
Of course, it didn't. Trump had some big advantages. He's a rich businessman, and even the most appalling rich businessmen routinely find their most repugnant comments excused away as colorful flamboyance, because being a rich businessman means that you have, by definition, become one of the greatest people in the universe.
Trump has also been able to traffic in the notion that, because he is a rich businessman, being like him will make you a rich businessman. He is wrong, of course, and there's ample evidence that he is not actually very good at business. But no matter—it's enough to keep the Donald Trump Ties churning out. (Why people would buy a Donald Trump mattress is another thing altogether; who in the universe sees "Donald Trump" and "bed" and thinks positive thoughts?) Most important, Trump is a fully paid-up member of the media elite, and the elite loves to protect its own. If you want to play a terrible game, look around for the number of people who, before deciding they finally have to criticize Trump for something he said, preface their comments by saying that he's a "friend."
One good example: "To @realDonaldTrump From a friend4life & admirer-Plz apologize for crude generalization of 11 million undocumented-It hurt many good people," Geraldo Rivera tweeted the other day.
And another: "You know that I am your friend and I think you are a brilliant businessman" was how Barbara Walters put it in 2012 before she lambasted Trump's birther comments.
It would appear that really running for president (instead of fake-running like he did last time) was the key difference, the thing that finally tipped Trump from "sure he said X but you gotta love the Donald" into "well, hmm, now that I think about it, that was an objectionable comment." If there's a chance you can get into an actual presidential debate, people start becoming a little more concerned. It would have been nice if the forces now arrayed against Trump hadn't needed such persuading, but there you go.
As for Trump: He must be worried that his 2016 campaign, which is at its core another moneymaking pursuit, is unexpectedly hurting his business interests more than anything else he's ever done. He's going to have to find some new brands to team up with. Luckily for him, there's always a healthy market in America for racist demagogues and wealthy bloviators, so he'll probably be just fine.