Donald Trump brought his white people’s rally to Greenville yesterday and didn’t disappoint. He continued his attack on the so-called Squad, again accusing Rep. Ilhan Omar of supporting Al Qaeda. The crowd responded by chanting “Send her back.” Trump watched proudly at what his rhetoric had inspired and waited until his minions settled down before continuing his rant. 

Trump has become the Pied Piper of Racism with Republicans across the board following him to some unknown hellscape of a country. As Trump incited the crowd, North Carolina’s GOP leaders looked on. Senator Thom Tillis was on hand. So was Lieutenant Governor Dan Forest. This morning, Republican state Representative Holly Grange announced her candidacy for governor with a video wrapping herself around the president. Loyalty to Trump and approval of his racism is a requirement to win GOP primaries. 

While the rest of the country recoils in disgust at Trump’s proud displays of racism, the Republican Party embraces it. After he told The Squad to go back to their countries of origin, which ironically is the United States for three of the four, a poll showed Trump gained five points among Republicans. He lost ten among independents. 

Across social media, Trumpists will scream in his defense, denying his racism and accusing Democrats of being the party of prejudice. It’s a bit rich since the vast majority of African-Americans, Hispanics, Muslims, Jews and Asians favor Democrats over Republicans. Delusion and denial are key ingredients in embracing authoritarianism and cults of personality. 

Trump is making a shrewd political bet. He thinks he can make the Squad and their leftist agenda the face of the Democratic Party. By forcing party leaders like Nancy Pelosi to come to their defense, Trump reasons, he’s trying to blur the lines in the ideological dispute between the more moderate Democrats and the calls for socialism from people like AOC. Unfortunately for him, few people have defended the four Congresswomen but have roundly denounce Trump for his tweets and rhetoric. 

For those of us over 50 who grew up in the South, none of Trump’s rhetoric is new. Nor are the denials of his supporters. Racists always deny their racism. Politicians into the 1990s used race to divide and conquer the electorate. Poor whites voted against their economic interests to make sure that blacks stayed in their place. Country club Republicans and free-marketeers looked the other way while politicians like Jesse Helms openly exploited racial tensions to win elections.

We’re going back to the future. As The Atlantic’s David Graham pointed out, politicians’ rhetoric became increasing coded after the success of the Civil Rights Movement. Today, Trump has done away with the dog whistles and is making racism fashionable again. Like the children of Hamlin, Thom Tillis, Lindsey Graham and the Republican candidates for governor are blindly following Trump down a road with nothing but a murky destination.         

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