The American news media has collectively decided to ignore Donald Trump's threats of white supremacist violence and sedition. If you believe this will keep you safe from his schemes and machinations, or from what his legions of followers may do, you are greatly mistaken.
Apparently, the gatekeepers of the approved public discourse have convinced themselves that they are somehow serving the public interest by ignoring these escalating threats. In reality, these gatekeepers are doing exactly the opposite: They are normalizing American fascism by minimizing its dangers. In a moment when the news media as an institution should sound the alarm even more loudly about the threat to American democracy, safety and security represented by Trumpism and neofascism a choice has been made to mock or whitewash the imminent danger.
One does not ignore an arsonist in the hope that he will stop burning down buildings; the same logic should apply to political arsonists as well.
Did you know that last Saturday Donald Trump held a political hate rally in Selma, North Carolina? If you follow the mainstream news media, the answer is likely no. Here is what you missed. As he has done repeatedly, Donald Trump summoned up the demons of Jim Crow and the Confederacy. He may try to hide his hatred and bigotry by sharing a stage with Black and brown people, and he may disingenuously employ the language of the civil rights movement, but Donald Trump is at his core a white supremacist and racial authoritarian.
Donald Trump remains the de facto leader of the Republican Party. He won almost 75 million votes in 2020 — significantly more than in 2016 — because Republican voters enthusiastically agree with him and what he represents. His values are their values. Trumpism and neofascism more generally are both a symptom and a cause of an American political culture and society that is deeply sick with multiple ailments: racism and misogyny, cruelty and greed, anti-LGBTQ bigotry, religious fundamentalism, anti-intellectualism, an obsession with violence and other antisocial and anti-human values.
The relationship between the leader and follower in a political cult such as today's Republican Party is deep and powerful. Diane Roberts of the Florida Phoenix summarizes this unhealthy psychodynamic:
Republicans are angry.
So very, very angry.
Deranged White Man Syndrome has not yet been listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, but it's just a matter of time.
Seriously, these dudes (and they are mostly male-gendered persons) are on a rampage of rage and loathing which cannot be healthy….
Living in a constant tantrum must be exhausting for Republicans. I suspect that somewhere in the deep recesses of their brains, they know that while they may hold power at the moment, the world is changing.
And they can't stand it.
Let's hope they get serious therapy: This is a sick, sick, sick bunch of people.
To the uninitiated — and also to those who have just become numb to it all — Trump's North Carolina speech was an uninspired recitation of his personal grievances, malignant narcissism ("I've got to be the cleanest, I think I'm the most honest human being, perhaps, that God has ever created") and victim fantasies, mixed with now-standard talking points about the Big Lie, the 2020 election and Jan. 6, "parents' rights", "invaders" at the U.S.-Mexico border, supposed crime and barbarism in "Democrat-run" major cities and an assortment of lies both small and large about Joe Biden and the Democrats.
Want a daily wrap-up of all the news and commentary Salon has to offer? Subscribe to our morning newsletter, Crash Course.
But for those attuned to the poisonous gospel that is white supremacy in America, Trump's words and the danger they represent were very clear. As a matter of self-defense and survival, Black and brown folks must be keenly aware of such words. Trump's cult followers and other members of the conservative movement and larger white right also hear his words and understand their message clearly. For them, Trump's words are inspiration and aspiration.
Too many Americans choose not to hear Trump's gospel of hate — it all feels so unseemly and uncomfortable. They truly believe that they have the luxury to ignore reality.
Too many other Americans choose not to hear Trump and the white right's gospel of hate because it all feels so unseemly and uncomfortable. They may be fence-sitters, in denial about the realities of American neofascism and this moment of crisis. Or they may turn away because various forms of privilege, be it race, class, gender, religion or sexual orientation enables them to do so. Those who possess such privilege and other forms of unearned advantages truly believe that they have the luxury to ignore reality — until it is no longer possible to do so.
Trump's gospel of hate in Selma focused on three main points. He spoke about the "heritage" of the South and how it is supposedly being destroyed or deleted by "woke" liberals with their political correctness. Here Trump was directly alluding to Confederate statues and other monuments — as well as the Confederate flag — originally erected to honor the white supremacist Southern secessionist traitors and their bloody desperate struggle to keep Black Americans as human property forever. Many or most such monuments were actually erected in the first decades of the 20th century, specifically to terrorize Black Americans, reminding them that they are supposed to be second-class citizens in their own country.
Today's Republican Party embraces the Lost Cause ideology and the Confederacy as something noble and good. That was visible in the Confederate flags seen at Selma, as well as those seen at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. Those symbols cannot be salvaged or reclaimed. They represent a white supremacist insurrection against the very idea of multiracial democracy.
In an example of the rhetorical strategy known as "narrative laundering," Donald Trump also summoned up the Black Freedom Struggle and the 14th Amendment to the Constitution and the Equal Protection Clause while defending his followers who attacked the Capitol on Jan. 6. This is the newest iteration of the Big Lie, with its claims that these fascists are "political prisoners" who were "entrapped" by the Democrats and law enforcement agencies. Trump echoed the lie that has become widespread among Republicans that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is somehow responsible for the violence of Jan. 6, rather than Trump and his fellow coup plotters.
To use the language of the 14th Amendment — explicitly added to the Constitution to protect the civil rights of Black Americans after their centuries of enslavement and then hard-won freedom — as a cheap tool for defending the fascists who were fighting to overthrow multiracial democracy is perverse even by Trump's standards.
Using the language of the 14th Amendment — added to protect the civil rights of Black people who had won their freedom — to defend fascists is perverse even by Trump standards.
As he has reliably done at all his recent political hate rallies, in Selma Trump continued to incite political violence and terrorism against Joe Biden, the Democrats and liberals and progressives more generally. He called the Democrats "sick and radical politicians," claiming they were "destroying" America from within and must be stopped. Trump also claimed the right-wing paramilitaries who were recently acquitted on charges of planning to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer as fellow "victims" of some non-existent Democratic Party conspiracy.
Like other Republican-fascists and their propagandists, Trump continued to fan the flames of the QAnon conspiracy theory and the larger right-wing moral panic around "gender issues" and "critical race theory," claiming that (white) children and the (white) American family are in physical and moral danger from "the left." These threats are not implied: such language is an encouragement to violence and other forms of right-wing terrorism. As seen by the events of Jan. 6 such combustible language has real-world effects.
When more right-wing violence inevitably occurs, the news media will of course engage in collective shock and surprise, expressing wide-eyed disbelief that such things could actually happen in America.
Indeed, how could such things happen? After seven or so years of a rising fascist threat, none of this should be a surprise for anyone who has paid even the slightest of attention. That it is still a "surprise" to many of the country's pundits, opinion leaders and others who are supposed to know better says far too much about their increasing irrelevance in this interregnum of American history.
Trump's Republican Party and the larger neofascist movement are unified around one goal, which is creating a 21st-century version of American apartheid. This revolutionary campaign involves reversing the gains of the civil rights movement and Black Freedom Struggle and also undoing the victories of the women's rights, LGBTQ rights, labor and environmental movements, along with all other attempts to build a social democracy in which equal freedoms and rights are enjoyed by all Americans.
The Democratic Party has shown itself to be largely ineffective, powerless and incompetent in their response to the neofascist attacks on democracy. This is part of a much larger pattern: For more than 50 years the Republican Party and the "conservative" movement have won and kept power by leveraging the politics of white racial resentment and grievance-mongering, even though their policies are extremely unpopular with most of the public. In many ways, Trumpism, neofascism and straightforward white identity politics are the next step in that political strategy.
What should the Democrats do? They need to speak in clear and direct terms about the dangers the Republicans represent. Democrats also need to make clear to their voters and the larger public that Republicans (and the Trump movement specifically) view liberals, progressives, Black and brown people, the LGBTQ community and other marginalized groups as enemies and an existential threat to their right-wing nightmare version of America. That animus is not about "mere" disagreements about public policy or just a matter of "polarization," partisanship or hyperbolic language. It is a direct threat of violence, with the goal of eliminating the "enemy" in order to "purify" America.
In even more plain speech: if you are not white (and a man), a heterosexual, and a so-called "Christian," today's Republican Party, the "conservative" movement, and the larger white right do not like you. They want you to suffer. Republicans are masters at the personalization of grievance, and will lie and distort reality and the facts to frighten their voters in order to win, maintain and expand their political power and societal control.
Democrats need to respond in kind by personalizing the dangers that Republicans, the "conservative" movement, and the larger white right pose to the American people as a whole. This is a remarkably easy strategy to implement: All it requires is for Democrats to tell the truth about the human misery that Republicans and "conservatives" have caused for decades — and the much worse misery they will cause in the future.
Yet out of gross denial, or perhaps naive investment in a "normal" political order that is dying and cannot be resurrected, the Democrats have not done that and likely never will. This is not even defeat. It's surrender, and a pitiable sight at a moment when courage is required to save American democracy and society from the neofascist assault.
Read more on the endless saga of our 45th president: