More than any candidate in memory, Donald Trump has changed politics. He hasn’t just been a major-party nominee for president. For the moment, at least, he has substantially revolutionized right-of-center political culture in this country. Here are three ways in which he has damaged the Republican Party and our political system.
- Mainstreaming racism Going back to 1964, the Republican Party has accepted the votes of racists. These people may have been a minority of the GOP electorate, but they weighed heavily within the coalition and congealed into a unified bloc Deep Southern bloc. But despite happily collecting these people’s votes, Republican elites had suppressed their more toxic views from the public sphere. Trump has brought their bigotry out into the open. Many–in some cases a majority–of GOP voters tell pollsters that they favor an ethnically targeted crackdown on Muslims and Hispanics. Trump rally attendees heap racialized abuse on African-Americans and voters of generically “foreign” heritage. Prior to Trump, this openly bigoted behavior would have been nearly unthinkable. Now it is torching the civic fabric.
- Criminalizing Democrats By defining Hillary’s campaign as criminal, Trump opened up a can of vipers. Following his lead vast swathes of Republican voters have come to view Democrats as deserving not only of electoral defeat, but of punishment at the hands of the law. “Lock her up” is an unofficial campaign anthem. And it has been applied across the board, including to our own top law enforcement official, Roy Cooper (who has never been accused of violating any law, ever). Trump’s flippant disregard for the sanctity of law has raised the stakes immensely. It has introduced an air of vicious hostility into an already ugly climate.
- Fomenting violence I mean this literally. There was a rally, months ago though it seems like a lifetime, when Trump implored his supporters to “know the crap out of them.” They have done so numerous times. Furthermore, the atmosphere of violence has rippled beyond the far-right fever swamps. In any given political movement some people will be looking for trouble. And that includes the left-wingers who pelted a Trump supporter with eggs and bottles. Again, these kinds of kinetic confrontations recently seemed confined to emerging democracies. Who knows when they will vanish?
Trump is a menace, period. The damage he’s done is real, deep, dangerous and lasting. Which is to say: James Comey should be ashamed of himself.
Alexander Jones is an original contributor to PoliticsNC.