Donald Trump plays a dangerous game: The dark side of making America great again

Fascists always masquerade as patriots -- but their sinister motives are never far beneath the surface

By Sean Illing

Published August 28, 2015 4:50PM (EDT)

  (AP/John Minchillo)
(AP/John Minchillo)

If you want to know what right-wingers mean when they say we must “take our country back,” take a look at the recent exchange between the Donald Trump fan and the Univision reporter, Jorge Ramos. In roughly thirty seconds, you get a snapshot of the typical Trump supporter: white, conservative, and full of nativist rage.

To recap: Ramos was ejected from Trump’s press conference after he deigned to do his job; specifically, Ramos pressed Trump for details on his immigration plan. Rather than answer Ramos’s questions, Trump tried to out-alpha him. When that didn’t work, Trump had his bodyguard usher the reporter out of the room. What you see in the video is a confrontation between Ramos and a Trump enthusiast in the hallway. The unidentified man, without any explanation, tells Ramos to “Get out of my country.” Ramos politely says, “I’m a U.S. citizen too,” to which the man responds, “Well, whatever…Univision, no.”

So what’s going on here? We have a white American telling a brown American to get out of his country. If every variable in this scenario were held constant except for race, is there any doubt it would not have happened? It’s telling that the man won’t even recognize Ramos’ citizenship. For his part, Ramos is an outsider, an alien. As lead anchor for Univision, an American Spanish language network, Ramos represents the new America, an increasingly diverse and progressive country.

This sort of anger is exactly what we should expect from loyal Trump supporters. Trump has tapped into an element of the conservative base that is explicitly xenophobic. All the anti-immigration rhetoric, all the race-baiting, and all the dog whistling has finally found its audience. These people resent the melting pot that America has become. Trump’s appeal is straightforward: He promises to purge their country of the invaders. As he says, his plan is to “find them and get them out.” The people with whom this message resonates are so happy to hear it that they don’t care that Trump can’t explain how he’ll accomplish it. All they hear is “get them out” and “build a wall” – and that’ enough.

The most bizarre part of all this is that Trump is very likely a charlatan. I doubt he really believes any of this – he’s just a performer on a promotional tour. But he’s playing a dangerous game. Stoking nativist fires will, eventually, lead to action, as it did in Boston recently when two Trump supporters beat a brown man precisely because he was brown, and then told police that “Donald Trump was right.”

It should surprise no one that Trump has attracted this sort of energy. In many ways, he’s reignited the cultural hysteria behind the Tea Party movement. The “take-back-our-country” Tea Partiers have found a new channel for their rage. Trump’s strength is that he understands the psychology of his supporters. He knows Ramos, a Mexican-American, is a symbol of the nebulous “other,” whose very existence is anathema to the bygone America Tea Partiers fantasize about.

People like the man in that video believe they’re defending the country, but they’re really not; they’re defending a particular idea of America, one in which everyone is white and conservative and Christian. But that’s not the country we live in today. The Trump-lovers know this and they’re pissed off about it. They knew it the minute a black man and a black family moved into the White House.

What you see in that video are the convulsions of a culturally isolated conservative. Trump offers absolutely nothing in the way of solutions, but he gives men like that the affirmation they need. Tough times are always good to fascists – the people need a boogeyman and immigrants and minorities are default targets. I can’t say the man in that video is a fascist, but I can say he’s behaving like one. Fascists always masquerade as patriots, as defenders of traditional values and traditional ways of life. That’s what I see on the frenzied face of the man who accosted Ramos.

It’s worth noting that the slogan “take our country back” isn’t exclusive to the Republican Party. Democrats have mouthed the same catchphrase countless times. There’s a difference, though. For Democrats like Gore and Kerry, it was a political gimmick, an empty refrain without a human face. When angry men with guns outside of Tea Party rallies say it, we know exactly what they mean.

We know that because they tell us, and they often tell us in rooms full of people who look just like they do.

Sean Illing

Sean Illing is a USAF veteran who previously taught philosophy and politics at Loyola and LSU. He is currently Salon's politics writer. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter. Read his blog here. Email at

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2016 Election Conservatives Donald Trump Jorge Ramos Race Racism The Right Xenophobia