Much has been made of how Donald Trump’s racist remarks on the 2016 presidential campaign trail are “un-American,” outlandish, and—incredibly to some—giving him a bump in the polls.
But others say it’s time for a reality check.
They say Trump is merely a symptom, not the disease. That he’s tapping into latent cultural currents and that we shouldn’t, in fact, be surprised that his anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant, anti-“other” rhetoric is boosting his campaign and invigorating white supremacy.
Trump is “definitely not an outlier,” Erika Lee, director of the Immigration History Research Center at the University of Minnesota, told The Hill. “We always have this undercurrent of xenophobia that can burst at the seams. This might be the match that turns something that was simmering into a boil.”
“No good can come when we lie to ourselves,” added Chauncey DeVega at Salon on Friday. “Donald Trump’s racism, nativism, and bigotry are as American as apple pie.”
Citing the “racist immigration and naturalization laws” the U.S. used for decades to “maintain its status as a majority ‘white’ country,” DeVega continued: “Nativism and xenophobia are not limited to the demagoguery of Republican carnival-show barker professional wrestling wannabe reality TV show hosts who want to be president of the United States.”
Indeed, Peter Schroeder reported Friday for The Hill, “there is a significant chunk of the public eager to crack down on an influx of foreigners.”
“The sentiment is there in the electorate,” said Julian Zelizer, a professor of history and public policy at Princeton University. “You don’t need Donald Trump to have people who are calling for borders to be closed, but he taps into it. He brings it out.”
Consider Bettina Norden, a 60-year-old farmer in Springfield, Oregon, who said of Trump in an interview with the New York Times on Friday: “He’ll keep a sharp eye on those Muslims. He’ll keep the Patriot Act together. He’ll watch immigration. Stop the Muslims from immigrating.”
Norden’s statement supports what Olivia Nuzzi declared Friday at the Daily Beast: “Trump’s ugliness does not seem to matter to his supporters because Trump’s ugliness is a reflection of the rot that can devour the soul when a person is overcome by paranoia and fear.”
But, Nuzzi continued:
[…] to say Trump and his supporters are cut from the same cloth would be to miss a more important point. Trump is not paranoid and he is not scared, he is merely stoking the paranoia and fear in others to his own benefit. He is exploiting the paranoia and the fear of the people who send him their money, or attend his rallies, or defend him on Twitter. They are not elites. They don’t have big buildings or golf courses or book contracts or TV deals to lose. And they can inspire sympathy, even when they sound just like Trump, which they often do.
The real challenge, then, is to confront not the mouthpiece, but the underlying message.
“Racism, bigotry and xenophobia are a core part of America’s national character,” DeVega warned in Salon. “We cannot defeat Donald Trump until we acknowledge that fact and own its legacy.”