Donald Trump’s American and World History Review
It’s time to acknowledge the contribution Donald Trump has made to American, and indeed, world history.
Despite all the momentous progress of the last few decades, it’s still possible for a crude, racist demagogue to capture the hearts and minds of a significant segment of white American voters.
Trump has proved that if you’ve got the knack for telling a brazen lie and expressing bullyboy cruelty, you can still go far in American politics.
Of course, Trump, an extreme narcissist, also is after a very personal redemption. Who can forget the President Obama-delivered humiliation he suffered in the spring of 2011 when his attempt to hold high the banner of the anti-Obama “Birthers” ended in gales of laughter at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner.
But the game he’s playing now has much larger stakes.
Donald Trump is the anti-democracy avatar of modern-day America. He represents America’s tradition of exclusion — the evil twin to the tradition of inclusion that some Americans love to pretend is the sole representative of the spirit of America. His careening this way and that to attack anyone and anything his mob of supporters will hoot at is a powerful reminder of how thin the commitment to democracy and decency has always been in this society.
It’s not a coincidence, historically speaking, that the rhetorical rampages — heavily focused on both Americans and foreign nationals of color — which so excite Trump’s near lily-white base of supporters come at a time when America’s middle class as a whole is being reduced by the dynamic of income inequality. Nor is it coincidental that it comes at the end of the nation’s commemoration of the significant anniversaries of both the Civil War and the climactic years of the Civil Rights Movement, two historical moments that remind us how much “race work” remains to be done.
Nor is it a coincidence that Trump has captured a large segment of Republican voters just when the two-term tenure of the nation’s first black President has symbolized the present and future diversity of American society. Trump’s slogan that he’ll “make America great again” begs an entire history-book worth of questions and answers about what American society really looked like when it was allegedly “great.”
In fact, Trump’s entire campaign is a reminder of how the tradition of exclusion — the underside of “American exceptionalism” — worked in the past: its denigration of white-ethnic European immigrants; its oppression of black Americans in the North and South; its use of anti-Semitism as a weapon against Jewish Americans; its rationalizing the imprisonment of Japanese Americans in concentration camps during World War II.
These and other echoes of the past prove that Trump’s campaign is an old, not a new, phenomenon. His “special” talents are like those of past demagogues who’ve risen to prominence on the American scene: the bluster of a carnival barker, the oiliness of a trickster, an overweening ego and a lack of decency.
Of course, these “qualities” go a long way with the Republican electorate. Last week’s Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll found that 42 percent of Republicans support Trump’s proposal to ban all Muslims from entering the US. Only 36 percent oppose it.
By contrast, 75 percent of Democrats and 55 percent of Independents oppose such a ban.
Ironically, what is new about Trump the presidential candidate is that the Republican Party made his campaign possible.
It was the GOP that increasingly over the decades played the right-wing-extremist and white-supremacy “cards” Trump has used to beat the GOP establishment candidates. It was the GOP that used the Citizens United case the Supreme Court decided in 2010 to destroy the restraints on the financing of political campaigns.
So, it’s really the GOP itself that is responsible for the damage Trump is doing to the party — and to the nation.
Lee A. Daniels’ collection of columns, “Race Forward: Facing America’s Racial Divide in 2014,” is available at www.amazon.com.