For months now, I’ve been waiting for Trump to finally hang himself with this rough rope of racism and xenophobia he’s been braiding since the first of the year. Sooner or later, I thought, he’s going to have one of those Joe McCarthy moments, where somebody important finally stands up and echoes the classic words of Joseph Welch: “Until this moment … I think I never really gauged your cruelty or your recklessness. … At long last, have you left no sense of decency?”
But now it seems possible that moment might not come. Every new outrage from Trump brings him a nice little bump in the polls. This latest business, his completely bogus recollection of New Jersey Muslims celebrating 9/11 en masse, hasn’t cost him one iota of support. Far from it. It doesn’t matter that it’s a lie; he’s saying exactly what his growing base seems to fully believe: All our problems as a nation are authored by others — specifically, Muslims, Mexicans and most black people. Oh, and losers.
This is dangerous thinking. Because if you believe it, then you will also believe in the “solutions” that follow. Trump has already floated the idea of ethnic registration. Without wanting to be overly dramatic, I can think of another country where that was tried — with the same sort of bombast about making that country great again. Maybe it’s too soon for the Hitler analogy, but a guy doesn’t want to be too late either.
I don’t know which is worse: the idea that Trump actually believes his own bullshit, or the idea that he doesn’t believe it but doesn’t mind inciting hatred to enhance his own cult of personality. Either way, the guy is starting to worry me.
We’ve always had buffoons in American politics. We’ve always had folks like Joe McCarthy, who tap a dark tide of ignorance and ride that wave until it hurls them onto the stony shore. So far, none of them have become president.
Trump started his campaign as a bellicose cartoon riding down an escalator. How we laughed. Now, he’s the leading contender for the Republican nomination, at a time when a bunch of ignorant, piss-ant barbarians have made us see them as a bigger threat than the far deadlier problems we shrug off here here at home. We’ll do anything to stop armed fanatics unless those armed fanatics are the white Americans most prone to mass shootings.
FDR said the only thing we have to fear is fear itself. I’m not sure that’s true in 2015. Trump remains a ridiculous figure, but his bulletproof popularity is getting pretty scary. A country run by Donald Trump would be a lot of things, but great isn’t among them.