Trump was hopped up on something Sunday morning, railing against the NY Times and bragging about how his Republican enemies are now lining up to kiss his ass. And then– revisiting his anti-Times screed– he started in with his nuclear proliferation shtik again. He's against nuclear proliferation– whew– except he thinks Japan and South Korea will have to protect themselves from nuclear-armed North Korea by developing their own nuclear weapons. And Saudi Arabia will need them to protect itself from Iran.
As Sharona Coutts reminded us in Rewire over the weekend, millions of citizens voted for Trump with enthusiasm and enormous hopes– not just against Hillary and the elites she represents, but for the Donald Trump he and his team created out of thin air. His voters, she insisted, very much approved of Trump's “sexism, aggression, bullying, and bragging.”
Instead of assuming that Trump cynically described plans to deport millions of immigrants, to target refugees and immigrants based on their religion, to punish women for having an abortion should it become illegal, and to rip up decades-old international agreements that form the basis of what has been a historic period of global stability in order to excite supporters, we should take him at his word.
Time and again, people have written off the stated plans of leaders who turned out to be fascists and dictators, choosing to believe they could not or would not do the outlandish things they said they had planned.
That was even true of Adolf Hitler, who had taken the time to lay out a program of ethnic cleansing in his book Mein Kampf, which became a bestseller when it was published.
History teaches us the same lesson that life experience does: The best way to know what a person plans to do is to listen to what they say they are going to do.
We can hope that Trump will not attempt to implement the many irrational and dangerous things he talked about during the campaign and then laid out in his plan for his first 100 days, but we must come to terms with the real possibility that he will.
Likewise, it is dangerous to dismiss Trump’s supporters as having been hoodwinked into voting for him, or having done so reluctantly or as a mere protest vote.
Not all of the nearly 50 million people who voted for Trump did so because they wanted to “Trump the bitch,” “lock her up,” “ban” Muslims, and “build a wall.” But many did. Reporters must accept that reality, as must activists and advocates in progressive circles.
Instead of focusing on the fact that many of Trump’s supporters are not “college-educated”– which surely sounds like code among some journalists for “ignorant” or “stupid,” a point I suspect is well understood by the recipients of that label– it’s incumbent upon everyone to come to terms with the reality that millions of Americans have simply not accepted the ideas held dear by progressives.
They are rejecting globalism, both cultural and economic. They are rejecting reproductive rights. They are rejecting LGBTQ rights– especially trans rights. They are rejecting multiculturalism and racial and ethnic diversity as inherently good things, let alone as an unavoidable reality.
They agree with Trump’s plans to tear up NAFTA and other trade deals, to diminish the United States’ role in NATO, to overturn Roe v. Wade as well as Obergefell v. Hodges. They want Trump to scrap the executive measures taken by President Obama to allow young undocumented immigrants to work and study in the United States without fear of deportation. They want Trump to rid the country of the 11 million undocumented immigrants living here, regardless of how many families would be broken up in the process.
It is imperative to take these developments literally, because apart from stripping rights from millions of vulnerable people, such ideas can lay the groundwork for even more perilous developments.
For example, if he does do away with the Affordable Care Act, many of Trump’s supporters will find themselves with enormous health bills, and facing medical bankruptcies. If he deports many of the workers who support the agriculture, child-care, and food service industries, local economies will suffer. As Bloomberg Businessweek reported in 2011, when Alabama enforced a law that “require[d] police to question people they thought might be in the U.S. illegally and punish[ed] the businesses that hired them,” immigrants– both legal and undocumented– fled, leaving crops rotting in fields, hotel beds unmade, and restaurant dishes unwashed. The businesses who had employed them could not find workers to replace the immigrants and their families. Alabama residents debated whether the fault lay with those who were unwilling to take on the tough jobs, or employers who weren’t willing to pay fair wages for that work. Either way, there will be negative consequences for similar laws at a federal level. And if Trump makes good on his promise to start a trade war, many of those same supporters will discover the prices they pay for goods at Walmart and Costco have soared.
When those things start to happen, Trump and his supporters will be looking for someone to blame because blame has been the core of Trump’s campaign. Immigrants are blamed for crime and for the loss of U.S. jobs; “elites” are responsible for government inaction; and “international bankers” are to blame for financial problems.
These are classic examples of one of the hallmarks of fascist rhetoric: identifying the “external enemy within.”
And that kind of language puts millions of people living in the United States in the realm of real danger. It’s the kind of logic that contributes to “priming,” a phenomenon studied by genocide scholars wherein a population begins to accept and normalize acts against other people that would have previously been abhorrent.
The ways in which Trump’s rhetoric conforms to fascist priming, and how it fits within the framework of the type of “dangerous speech” that often precedes mass violence, are fodder for a separate article.
For now, suffice to say that it is high time for reporters to stop assuming that Trump and his supporters either don’t know what they mean, or don’t mean what they say.
Trump won by allowing them to project onto him their desires for their own prosperity and strength, and promising that voting for him would make them more like him.
It is very unlikely that he will be able to deliver on those promises, but it is likely that he will try. And just as he prepped his supporters to believe that they could not “lose” the election, but that any loss would be proof that the system was rigged, we can expect Trump to tell Americans that any of his administration’s failures are due to similar interference from enemies within and without.
We must be ready for all of this.
Or worse. As Nick Kristof pointed out in his Times column yesterday, one takeaway from this astonishing presidential election is that fake news spread by pernicious and increasingly influential alt-right websites is gaining ground, “empowering nuts and undermining our democracy.”
“When fascism comes to America, it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying the cross.” — Sinclair Lewis