Doubling down on racial politics: Trump continues to play the only card that works with his supporters

The real goal of Trump's "African American outreach" is securing white Republicans who are repulsed by him

Published August 24, 2016 12:00PM (EDT)

Donald Trump   (Reuters/Carlo Allegri)
Donald Trump (Reuters/Carlo Allegri)
From the beginning of his candidacy, Donald Trump has been wildly attractive to the white supremacist faction of the far right.
He had groups like the white supremacist American National Super PAC running robo-calls throughout the primaries. There was more than one avowed white supremacist named as a Trump delegate to the Republican convention.  Former KKK Grand Wizard David Duke enthusiastically endorsed him and Trump didn't exactly rush to distance himself from it. The icing on the cake was the recent hiring of Steve Bannon, the Alt-right former chief executive of Breitbart media which was a clear indication of Trump's white nationalist bona fides.

This is not surprising since Trump began his campaign with a crusade against Latino immigrants, tagging them as killers and rapists in his announcement speech. His most popular policy always provokes the chant "build that wall, build that wall!" at his rallies. And his undocumented immigrant deportation plans and ban on Muslims were energetically applauded by his most fervent white supremacist followers.

He has, perhaps surprisingly, been a bit more subtle with his anti-Semitism and straight up racism against African Americans by employing more of the standard right-wing dog whistles in those cases, tweeting out racist crime statistics and pictures of money overlaid with a Star of David, for instance. But ironically, to his white supremacist fans all the overt nativism and xenophobia serves as a dogwhistle to them, signaling his solidarity when it comes to blacks and Jews. And he is, of course, King of the Birthers.

I've written before about Trump's authoritarian racist tendencies. Dragging out Nixon's old law and order trope wasn't an accident. Whether most of his followers understood what it was, as opposed to an allusion to the long-running TV show, is unknown. But he remembered it from his youth and Trump developed his entire worldview during that period and has never revisited it since.

One of his most famous acts as a public citizen took place back in the 1980s when he place a full-page ad calling for the death penalty for what was known at the time as the Central Park Five for a crime we later found out they did not commit. Just two years ago he wrote an op-ed when a settlement was reached with the wrongfully convicted men and he showed no remorse for his rush to judgment or the fact that he had called for the death penalty, suspension of civil rights and more police power:

Forty million dollars is a lot of money for the taxpayers of New York to pay when we are already the highest taxed city and state in the country. The recipients must be laughing out loud at the stupidity of the city. Speak to the detectives on the case and try listening to the facts. These young men do not exactly have the pasts of angels

As far as Trump is concerned, the world has not changed since he was a young man living in New York in an era of very high crime. Rick Perlstein memorably wrote about this a few months back, in which he noted that Trump's appeal stemmed from a very specific conservative archetype that came from America's urban dark side: the avenging angel.  He discusses Trump's father's apparent affiliation with the Klan and Trump's own run-ins with the Department of Justice over the family business's refusal to rent to welfare recipients (which he presciently described as "reverse discrimination.") This was the era of vigilante movies like "Death Wish" --- which Trump has had his audiences chant in unison during this campaign --- and "Taxi Driver" stories which Perlstein aptly places in the annals of conservatism:

"[T]he conservatism of avenging angels protecting white innocence in a  “liberal” metropolis gone mad: this is New York City’s unique contribution to the history of conservatism in America, an ideological tradition heretofore unrecognized in the historical literature."

This is the comic book conservatism of the Alt-Right and Donald Trump.  And he's alluded to it plenty of times during the campaign, often expressing the view that the police must be allowed to take the gloves off and calling himself the "law and order candidate."

The racial aspect of this paranoid fantasy of a dystopian urban landscape is obvious. One of clearest illustrations of that took place a few months back during an interview with the New York Times editorial board:

'What’s the most dangerous place in the world you’ve been to?'

He contemplated this for a second. 'Brooklyn,' he said, laughing. 'No,' he went on, “there are places in America that are among the most dangerous in the world. You go to places like Oakland. Or Ferguson. The crime numbers are worse. Seriously.'

It shouldn't be surprising then that his "African American outreach" on Monday night (before an all-white audience) consisted of a description of the lives of African Americans as "poverty, rejection, horrible education, no housing, no homes, no ownership, crime at levels that nobody’s seen. You can go to war zones in countries that we’re fighting and it’s safer than living in some of our inner cities. What the hell do you have to lose? Give me a chance. I’ll straighten it out. I’ll straighten it out.”

With his history, it's fair to say that's exactly what African Americans, Hispanics and Muslims are afraid of. But then, despite what much of the mainstream media is reporting, Trump isn't really making this pitch to appeal to people of color. And when he "softens" his immigration policy it won't be to appeal to Latinos. He's appealing to the white Republicans, particularly women, who are repulsed by him.

Will it work? Who knows. But it won't change the fact that Trump has held racist views for a very long time and has not shown the slightest ability to evolve or change in even the slightest ways for over 40 years. He hasn't even changed his hairstyle since 1975. Donald Trump today is exactly the same man who wrote that full page ad in which he declared, "civil liberties end when an attack on our safety begins!" Racial, ethnic and religious minorities know exactly what that means.

By heather digby parton

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