Now that—remarkably, and yet perhaps inevitably—The Donald has inserted himself into the GOP debate reality series, I thought it might be a good time to reissue this post, from the spring. Little has changed re-Trump—he’s still a crass, racist, birther who isn’t fit to shine Barack Obama’s shoes (although he and Newt Gingrich might assign an 8-year-old orphan to that task). He’s a grasping, self-promoting D-list Barnum. But the Republican presidential field, it seems, has stooped to his level and kissed his….whatever. Now, to the post:
I imagine that if one were brave enough to lift up the strange, unidentifiable creature playing the role of Donald Trump’s hair, one would find a teeming mass of worms and maggots. Or at least that’s how I imagine it, a ghoulish manifestation of all the vile, rotten, hideousness swirling about in the void of the reality TV star’s skull.
Strong words, perhaps. But they only begin to express the disgust and contempt Trump should provoke in any reasonable person. He was always a cartoonish lout, vulgarity personified, capitalism at its crassest. But in recent weeks, as he has waged a relentless smear campaign against President Barack Obama—a war of demagoguery, lies, hate and racism—this arrogantly ignorant buffoon has outdone himself. He may even have outdone Sarah Palin, an achievement more towering than any of the skyscrapers bearing his name—or, for that matter, his own deluded ego.
Trump has denigrated President Obama’s intellect, which is something like a bad karaoke singer trashing Sinatra. He has suggested that Obama only made it to Harvard and Columbia via affirmative action; he has maintained that Obama’s memoirs were ghostwritten—by Bill “Palling Around With Terrorists” Ayers, no less. And of course, Trump has jumped to the driver’s seat of the “birther” bandwagon, the wild, foil-hat conspiracy theory positing that the President of the United States is an illegal alien, and therefore illegitimate.
In short, Trump has played to the Republican base—a word that in this instance carries at least two meanings. For the hard-right core of the GOP—the Obama-era GOP—is base in the extreme, caked in philosophical fecal matter, rife with fear, paranoia, hate and, to be sure, racism.
Anyone who tells you that racism is not the driving force of birtherism—and at least an ingredient of some strains of the Tea Party movement—is lying, either to you, or to themselves. Millions of us sat in amazement when this country elected its first African-American president—until the West coast map turned blue, vaulting then-Sen. Obama over 270 electoral votes, I didn’t believe it possible, not in my lifetime. Even many of those who voted against him, I suspect, felt the nation growing up before our eyes.
But for all that “post-racialism” happy talk in late 2008, Obama’s ascendancy to the White House has unleashed a volcano of simmering race-hate, from the Confederacy and beyond. Elements of White America feel threatened, not just by African-Americans, but by Hispanic and Asian immigrants who are fast consigning Caucasians to the minority.
But the greatest affront to these angry white folks is Barack Obama. No president has received so many death threats; and those who would not kill him attack his birth. Surely the entire “birther” fiction would never have been invented were Obama white, and his “foreign” father Swiss. Nor, of course, would we have witnessed the revival of secessionism and talk of nullification.
I don’t know what Donald Trump’s racial views are. His statement to the effect that he’s always had a great relationship with “the blacks” may provide a hint. I suspect his vendetta against President Obama is motivated by some mix of greed and a lust for attention and notoriety. But regardless of his personal attitudes, Trump is causing enormous damage to this country; with his lies and rhetoric he has inflamed the worst elements of our society; through the vehicle of his celebrity he is causing the cancer of race hate to metastasize. A fringe fiction has entered public discourse, repeated and repeated, lent a whiff of legitimacy simply because—in our low-information, reality TV culture— the host of Celebrity Apprentice stamps it with his imprimatur. “Birther bills” are being fast-tracked through state legislatures. 75 percent of Iowa Republicans either believe President Obama was foreign-born—or aren’t sure.
Yes, Donald Trump is a charlatan, a clownish figure. But do not underestimate his impact. The world has dismissed ostensibly absurd demagogues before—and paid dearly for it.