Donald Trump is no longer president of the United States. Yet he remains a public menace, and to ignore his words and deeds is a critical error. In many ways, Donald Trump continues to be the most dangerous person in America.
The Republican Party has become a de facto criminal organization, with Donald Trump as its leader. His apparent mental pathologies now define the "conservative" movement, and the coup attempted last January has effectively continued. If Republicans lose another national election, they will likely attempt another coup or engage in other acts of political violence on a significant scale. No significant figure in the Trump regime has been punished for its abundance of criminal acts, including democide resulting from willful and intentional acts of political negligence during the coronavirus pandemic.
Contrary to what many of the hope-peddlers, happy-pill merchants and stenographers in the mainstream news media would like to suggest, there is no significant internal conflict within the Republican Party: Donald Trump maintains nearly absolute control. Public opinion research makes clear that Republican voters now view loyalty to Trump as barometer for what it means to be a "real" Republican. Trump's followers have also shown themselves increasingly willing to condone, endorse and even commit acts of political terrorism and violence at his command and in his name.
Instead of warning the public about the danger that Donald Trump and his movement represent, the mainstream news media has continued to default to obsolete habits left over from an era of "normal" politics. If some strategic decision has been made, it appears to be that ignoring the problem and leaning into "normalcy" and traditional "both-sides" Beltway journalism will somehow make Trump and his fascist insurgency disappear. It hasn't worked.
One important factor here is that the perpetual crises of the Age of Trump made for constant banner headlines and news alerts, and were a bonanza for the mainstream media on numerous levels. Therefore, almost everything Trump did as president was treated as a revelatory moment worthy of extensive coverage.
A year after Donald Trump's coup attempt and Joe Biden's inauguration, the media increasingly treats Trump as a carnival sideshow, a curiosity, a "loser." He and his followers are to be mocked and even pitied, the objects of liberal schadenfreude. Of course he is still a dire threat to American democracy. The media simply doesn't want to say it.
Last Saturday, Trump held a political rally in Arizona, surrounded by acolytes and supplicants who repeatedly told the crowd that the 2020 election was illegitimate and had been stolen or rigged, and that collectively they (and of course Trump himself) were "victims."
Trump himself amplified that Big Lie as well as the many small lies and other deceptions and untruths that surround it. He signaled support for the antisemitic QAnon conspiracy theory (without directly mentioning it). He claimed that Biden and the Democrats are evil and nefarious agents of unseen enemies, a threat to the country. He targeted those few remaining Republicans who dare to oppose him and who did not support his coup attempt as "traitors." He attacked Dr. Anthony Fauci and other experts who have struggled to save the country from the coronavirus plague.
Most notably, during his Arizona speech Trump encouraged racist violence against Black and brown people. This is not an exaggeration. These were his actual words:
The left is now rationing lifesaving therapeutics based on race, discriminating against and denigrating — just, denigrating — white people to determine who lives and who dies. If you're white you don't get the vaccine, or if you're white you don't get therapeutics. It's unbelievable to think this. And nobody wants this. Black people don't want it, white people don't want it, nobody wants it. ... In New York state, if you're white, you have to go to the back of the line to get medical health — think of it, if you're white you go right to the back of the line. ... This race-based medicine is not only anti-American, it's government tyranny in the truest sense of the word.
White supremacists and other racial authoritarians and fascists listen closely to Trump's words, and take them seriously. This is literally a life and death matter.
On MSNBC, author and Princeton professor Eddie Glaude Jr. explained the racist logic at work in Trump's Arizona speech:
Trump in that moment is engaged in lying, he's telling these untruths that in some ways confirm and affirm the sense that some Americans have been left behind. Everyday, ordinary, working, white Americans who are busting their behinds to make ends meet and they can't seem to do so.
And they're looking for enemies to blame. Looking for folk to scapegoat. And then you have cynical politicians in pursuit of power ... who exploit that sense of grievance, that sense of resentment.
How do we respond to it? Well, first we have to tell the truth.
Second we have to ... implement policies that will actually respond to the conditions of everyday ordinary folk.
And thirdly, we have to go ahead, irrespective of Trump and his ilk, we have to go ahead and try our best to build the multiracial democracy. ... We have to work our behinds off to actually make that version of democracy a reality. And we're failing on that score, it seems to me, every single day ....
Donald Trump's call to racist violence is part of a much larger pattern of behavior that goes back well before his first presidential campaign. Trump was one of the most prominent advocates of the white supremacist Birther conspiracy theory directed against Barack Obama; his 2016 candidacy was endorsed by David Duke and the Ku Klux Klan. Long before he described the white supremacist thugs who rioted in Charlottesville as "very fine people," he took out full-page ads in New York newspapers calling for the execution of the Black and brown young men known as the Central Park Five, who were wrongfully convicted in a notorious 1989 rape case. The Trump family's real estate company was sued numerous times in the 1970s for refusing to rent New York apartments to Black people and other nonwhites.
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By virtue of his public and private behavior Donald Trump has shown himself to be a racist and white supremacist, and public opinion research has demonstrated that racism and racial resentment are among the principal of determinants of political support for Trump. As president, he installed obvious or likely white supremacists in a number of key policy positions: His close aide Stephen Miller was the most prominent example, but certainly not the only one.
Perhaps more important, many of the policies advanced by the Trump regime and the Republican Party were and are overtly racist and reflect a white supremacist worldview. Trump's 2016 campaign and his four years as president directly inspired and otherwise encouraged a record increase in hate crimes against nonwhite people, Muslims and Jews.
Trump's claims about "anti-white" discrimination related to the COVID-19 pandemic directly channel white supremacist paranoid fantasies of the "Great Replacement", in which white people are somehow targeted for "elimination" by nonwhite immigrants, their Jewish allies and other white "race traitors."
How did the mainstream news media respond to Donald Trump's white supremacist threats? For the most part, with silence. As media critic Eric Boehlert wrote on Twitter, "this should be [the] top story for every news outlet in America today [and] most are completely ignoring it." Those mainstream outlets that covered the Arizona rally treated the event largely as spectacle, best understood through the lens of theater or TV criticism, instead of as a serious political event. The dominant narrative focused on mocking Trump's diminishing crowds, claiming he needs to "update" his "greatest hits," and observations that the rally was "tedious" and "boring" because it offered nothing new. In other words, to the mainstream media Trump's Arizona rally was an example of a fading political movement and a gathering of pitiable people, not least the main attraction himself.
That is not accurate. The real focus should be on how Trump's fascist lies and white supremacist threats nurture and support a much larger pattern of escalating right-wing violence and terrorism. Consider this fundraising email, sent by Trump's operatives to his followers:
All the Democrats want to do is put people in jail.
They are vicious, violent, and Radical Left thugs.
They are destroying people's lives, which is the only thing they are good at.
They couldn't get out of Afghanistan without disgracing our Country. The economy and inflation are a disaster. They're letting thugs and murderers into our Country — their DA's, AG's, and Dem Law Enforcement are out of control.
I've been trying to tell you, Friend this is what happens in communist countries and dictatorships. I'll never stop fighting to SAVE AMERICA, but I need to know you're in this fight with me.
More recently, a fundraising email sent by the Republican National Committee on Trump's behalf made the claim that Joe Biden is destroying America and that Trump's supporters need to give him money to revive his "America First" agenda. Trump has consistently used that slogan, first deployed by Nazi sympathizers like Charles Lindbergh in the 1930s.
Like other fascist leaders, Donald Trump is a political violence entrepreneur. He is exploiting racism and white supremacy to encourage violence and disorder, and also to attract money and expand his power. The more that Trump and his agents and allies encourage violence, the more division, fear and anxiety is created among his followers — and the more money he can raise.
The spiral of right-wing violence — framed as "preemptive" and in "self-defense" — will continue and the Republican fascist movement will gather even more momentum in its revolutionary struggle to end America's multiracial experiment in democracy.
In a recent essay for the Guardian about the threat of democratic collapse and civil conflict, Stephen Marche warns: "The right has recognized what the left has not: that the system is in collapse":
The right has a plan: it involves violence and solidarity. They have not abjured even the Oath Keepers. The left, meanwhile, has chosen infighting as their sport.
There will be those who say that warnings of a new civil war is alarmist. All I can say is that reality has outpaced even the most alarmist predictions. Imagine going back just 10 years and explaining that a Republican president would openly support the dictatorship of North Korea. No conspiracy theorist would have dared to dream it. Anyone who foresaw, foresaw dimly. The trends were apparent; their ends were not. …
Does the country have the humility to acknowledge that its old orders no longer work? Does it have the courage to begin again? As it managed so spectacularly at the birth of its nationhood, the United States requires the boldness to invent a new politics for a new era. It is entirely possible that it might do so. America is, after all, a country devoted to reinvention.
Once again, as before, the hope for America is Americans. But it is time to face what the Americans of the 1850s found so difficult to face: The system is broken, all along the line. The situation is clear and the choice is basic: reinvention or fall.
Published in 1935, Sinclair Lewis' dystopian classic "It Can't Happen Here" warned how fascism could take control of American society. At some date far from now, another book, perhaps titled "How It Happened Here," will reflect back on the Age of Trump, the rise of American fascism and the collapse of multiracial democracy. One prominent thread in that book will be how America's mainstream news media and its self-assured chattering class saw the disaster unfolding and at almost every turn chose denial, laughter and self-soothing lies, refusing to listen to those public voices who were sounding the alarm.
Unfortunately, the hope peddlers, stenographers and other voices of the approved public discourse have kept on telling the American people that everything will somehow be OK, even as the neofascist tide threatens to break through the dam and drown everyone. Once the water rises over their heads, they will have no more calming words to offer.