Back when Donald Trump was running for president in 2106, I had conservative friends say to me, “I don’t like Donald Trump, but he’s really saying out loud what a lot of us are already thinking.” As I listened to his rhetoric and tried to tune out the bombast and verbosity, all I could hear were tirades against immigrants, the threat of free trade and the failure of the American Dream due to foreign interference. It was us-against-them and I realized that’s exactly how a lot of conservatives saw the world.

Very little has changed. Trump is still harping on those who are out to get us. And “us” is primarily white Americans. He has little understanding that immigrants and African Americans have different American experiences than the white working class and rural voters who make up his base.

When Bob Woodward asked Trump, “Do you have any sense that that privilege has isolated and put you in a cave to a certain extent as it put me and I think lots of white privileged people in a cave and that we have to work our way out of it to understand the anger and the pain particularly Black people feel in this country?”, the president responded, “No. You really drank the Kool-Aid, didn’t you? Just listen to you. Wow. No, I don’t feel that at all.”

In other words, Trump can’t empathize with Black Americans at all. I believe this is true of most Republicans. Through rationalization or isolation, Republicans have little ability to understand the plight of people unlike them and feel little obligation to them as fellow Americans. And I think it’s been true for years, probably decades.

Trump really embodies the core Republican spirit, regardless of how loath never-Trump Republicans might be to admit it. He’s Jesse Helms in 2020, arguing that the country has no obligation to help African Americans overcome the wealth, health, and educational disparities caused by hundreds of years of state-sanctioned discrimination. He’s Ayn Rand’s Superman, relentlessly pursuing his self-interest with little consideration for the welfare of his fellow Americans. He’s Franklin Graham’s Christianity, ignoring the teachings of Christ who stood with the dispossessed and outcasts and instead pointing damning fingers at sinners, making sure that the salvation of the afterlife is reserved for people who look and think like him.  

Trump embodies what the Republican Party became in the aftermath of the Civil Rights Movement. Slowly, but steadily, the party evolved from the one envisioned by William F. Buckley, Jr., to the one we saw emerge in North Carolina six years before Donald Trump took office. It’s a party devoid of empathy, enamored with the market, and beholden to a punishing God that lacks compassion or tolerates dissent. It’s who Republicans are and it’s why he has a cult-like following. He is everything they’ve always dreamed about.

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