Generation Trump

Published: Salon (August 17, 2016)

To understand precisely how Donald Trump’s presidential campaign has changed America, one need only look at a new pair of surveys. In April the Southern Poverty Law Center discovered that the Trump campaign has triggered an unprecedented wave of bigoted bullying in American schools: More than two-thirds of the teachers surveyed have had immigrant, Latino and Muslim students express fear about what will happen to them or their families if Trumps wins, while more than one-third have directly witnessed an increase in anti-Muslim or anti-immigrant prejudice.

More recently, Gallup’s Jonathan Rothwell learned that Trump supporters are less likely to be directly affected by trade and immigration (two of Trump’s top issues) and more likely to be white, suffer from diminished intergenerational mobility and feel generally apprehensive about nonwhite minority groups.

In short, there is no doubt that Trump has both capitalized on and inspired a new wave of racial hostility in this country. The only question left is, What will happen after he is gone?

A first hint comes from looking at the last presidential candidate comparable to Trump. In the 1964 election, when Sen. Barry Goldwater of Arizona defied the GOP establishment of his time to seize his party’s nomination, his open opposition to civil rights officially intertwined the Republican brand with the cause of active racism. Although Goldwater was trounced by President Lyndon Johnson in the general election, more subtle candidates picked up his baton in future elections. Most notably, Richard Nixon’s 1968 election and Ronald Reagan’s 1980 election both involved mastering the art of avoiding overt racist statements while finding cover issues (law and order, welfare reform, states’ rights, busing) that allowed their followers to avoid the stigma of being overtly bigoted.

Although future presidential candidates will probably be more circumspect in their language than Trump has been, it’s unlikely that they’ll completely ignore the implications of the racial nerves he’s touched. Gone are the days immediately following the 2012 election, when Republican leaders recognized that they needed to increase their appeal to Latinos, women and younger people. Those demographics may be key to winning a general election, but the Republican primaries are being decided by another type of voter. The next Trump may focus on fears of Mexican and Muslim immigration, or he or she may choose a completely different dog whistle. But any shrewd (and amoral) politician will take note that coded appeals to prejudice are the wave of the future. Those who fail to catch this will risk becoming political punch lines like the early-on presumed frontrunner Jeb Bush.

Trump’s influence won’t be limited to the realm of presidential politics. As Mitt Romney astutely observed, “Presidents have an impact on the nature of our nation, and trickle-down racism and trickle-down bigotry and trickle-down misogyny — all of these things are extraordinarily dangerous to the heart and character of America.” Unfortunately, this isn’t only true of presidents. There is an intangible quality to how a campaign as electrifying as Trump’s changes the nation’s ethos. After all, Trump was a pop-culture icon long before he was a presidential candidate, a self-proclaimed embodiment of wealth and power. When a man with his prominence encourages racial divisions — and mobilizes millions to join his crusade — it naturally has a ripple effect far beyond the ballot box and halls of power.

That’s why acts of violence against Latinos, Muslims, Black Lives Matters activists and others have consistently cropped up since Trump’s announcement of his candidacy last summer. Protesters have been thrown out of rallies, members of minority groups have been beat up or spat upon, and those who speak out against Trump are subjected to particularly vile rhetoric. As a Jewish American, I can personally attest to having received more ethnic attacks as a result of my outspoken criticism of Trump than I have from any other issue I’ve discussed in my journalistic career. The bullying of children in schools has been only the most overt manifestation of what is happening among adults.

I hate to conclude on a dour note, but it’s really hard to find a silver lining here. Sure, Trump has performed a service of sorts by drawing Americans’ attention to the fact that this vein of hatred still exists in this country. But the price of this knowledge is likely to be much higher than any decent person is willing to pay. America has had a problem with racism, xenophobia and other forms of bigotry long before Trump’s campaign began, and would have continued to have long after. But there was no need for those sentiments to become as intensified and toxic as they have become this year. Innocent people are suffering unprecedented discrimination and abuse — and will continue to do so — because of his words and deeds.

This will be Trump’s shameful legacy long after he has slunk away from the political spotlight.

The Moral Case for Hillary Clinton

Published: Salon (July 31, 2016), The Good Men Project (July 26, 2016)

“What would it take for you to vote for a third-party candidate?”

This question was posed to me by a good friend who, after supporting Barack Obama in the 2008 presidential campaign, became so disenchanted with the political process that he backed Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson in 2012 (not surprisingly, he plans on doing so again this year). Because I’m a progressive and he’s a libertarian, we naturally don’t see eye-to-eye on many policy issues. Nevertheless, he respects those differences of opinion as healthy and productive. What he doesn’t seem to respect, though, is my determination to vote for Hillary Clinton instead of a candidate who better reflects my own values – be it by supporting Green Party candidate Jill Stein or writing in Bernie Sanders, my personal choice during the primaries.

In light of the leaked DNC emails which prove that the Democratic establishment was actively biased toward Clinton, it may seem more difficult than ever to justify supporting that party’s ticket. Nevertheless, there is a strong moral argument for doing so, one that has never been effectively rebutted by anyone in my professional or personal life:

Presidential elections aren’t just about principles; they’re about human lives.

Perhaps my perspective is skewed by my academic career (four years studying American history tends to impact how a person views contemporary political events), but when I look at the choice between Clinton and Trump, I can’t help but think of how life would be better today if similar elections from the past had turned out differently. If Hubert Humphrey or George McGovern had defeated Richard Nixon, America would have been spared the trauma of Watergate. Had Jimmy Carter thwarted Ronald Reagan in 1980, we wouldn’t have had weaker labor unions and thus rising income inequality over the past third-of-a-century. Most famously, if only a few thousand votes in New Hampshire or Florida had voted for Al Gore instead of George W. Bush, we could have avoided the second Iraq War and had tax cuts that focused on families with children, college students, and aging parents instead of primarily benefiting the wealthy.

And what about Clinton versus Trump? According to a recent in-depth New York Times piece, Clinton would focus her presidency on two issues – immigration reform and creating jobs through infrastructure spending. By contrast, Trump would focus on building a wall on the US-Mexican border, banning Muslim immigration, auditing the Federal Reserve, and repealing the Affordable Care Act.

Let’s break down what these would mean in terms of human lives. Clinton’s immigration reform plan would provide a pathway to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented immigrants that would require them to pass background checks and pay both back taxes and a fine… In short, striking a balance between the humane (by not deporting them), the conservative (demanding that they pay for their crime), and the financially practical (again, by not deporting them). Her infrastructure plan would create millions of jobs while improving our nation’s roads and bridges, public transit, broadband Internet, and water systems. Last but certainly not least, the symbolic significance of her election would be an inspiration to the millions of women and girls who strive to realize their own professional dreams in this country.

With the exception of auditing the Federal Reserve, which would actually do some good, Trump’s policies would be an unmitigated disaster. Not only would his border wall cost at least three times as much as he claims, but it would be a logistical nightmare in terms of getting the rights to private land, avoiding an international incident with Mexico (which is our ally), and actually building the darn thing. Between that and his ban on Muslim immigration, Trump would cultivate what Mitt Romney accurately described as “trickle-down racism” – i.e., a national climate in which bigotry flares up against minority groups like Mexicans and Muslims. By repealing the Affordable Care Act, Trump would rip away services and legal protections that could help or have already benefited literally hundreds of millions of Americans. Finally, because there are legitimate concerns about Trump’s mental health, his blase attitude toward nuclear weapons poses an existential threat to not just our nation, but the entire world.

To answer my friend’s question: In an election where there is no substantive difference between the policies proposed by the Democrats and the Republicans, I would vote for a third-party candidate. That said, while it may be popular in some circles to claim that Clinton is no better than Trump, this assertion doesn’t bear close scrutiny. Elections are about more than conflicting ideals, but about the hundreds of millions of lives both here and abroad that will be shaped by who happens to occupy the Oval Office. Based on the facts of what Clinton and Trump would do in office, I cannot in good conscience vote against the interests of the people Clinton would help… or, for that matter, disregard the lives of the people Trump would hurt.

The Significance of Mike Pence

Published: The Good Men Project (July 16, 2016)

As The New York Times recently reported, there are an awful lot of social issues in which Donald Trump doesn’t now or didn’t in the past line up with his new vice presidential running mate, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence. These range from abortion and gay rights to whether smoking kills people. Considering that Trump has flip-flopped on a number of issues in this election cycle alone, it may not seem particularly noteworthy that he has chosen a veep whose views are so out of whack with what he used to believe.

Nevertheless, the Pence selection forces us to confront a very unsettling reality about how Trump would govern as president – namely, that he would move to the hard right, with all of the base hatreds to be found in that movement.

Think about it. When a presidential nominee chooses his or her running mate, they do so to benefit from the foremost assets that individual will bring to their ticket. When Barack Obama selected Joe Biden in 2008, it was because the latter’s 36 years of experience as a United States Senator was a great antidote to the charge that Obama himself was inexperienced; John McCain, by contrast, chose Sarah Palin because her youth and charisma would supercharge his flagging political brand; and Mitt Romney tapped Paul Ryan to solidify his credentials as a thoughtful conservative alternative to the Obama administration’s policies.

By focusing his presidential campaign on hoary stereotypes about Mexicans and Muslims, Trump has effectively declared that he would marginalize individuals within those groups if he ever rose to power. Now that he chosen Pence to be his vice president, he has said the exact same thing about homosexuals and women (at least those who want to control their own bodies).

Pence, on the other hand, only brings his longstanding reputation as a right-wing firebrand. Sure, he has a decade of experience in the House of Representatives and a single term as Governor of Indiana, so he fulfills the “political experience” requirement that Trump declared would be such an important consideration for him (though not more so than many of the other options he had considered). That said, Pence is best known to the political world for his support for Indiana’s notorious and toxic so-called Religious Freedom law, which allowed business owners in his state to deny service to LGBTQ individuals. Beyond that, Pence developed a reputation as a particularly rabid opponent of abortion rights, not only leading the crusade to defund Planned Parenthood but even comparing American abortion practices to the September 11th terrorist attacks.

It is important to note that when I bring up these stances from Pence’s past, I’m not cherry-picking random positions that he has happened to take. These policies are central to Pence’s political brand, just as much as Trump’s political brand depends on his opposition to illegal immigration and free trade policies. While politicians will obviously need to take a wide range of policy positions throughout their careers, they usually select a handful that ultimately define them. For George W. Bush, it was tax cuts and (later on) the war in Iraq; for Obama, it’s been health care reform and economic stimulus; and for Pence, it’s been his opposition to the rights of homosexuals and women.

This speaks volumes not only about the type of campaign that Trump is prepared to wage, but the manner in which he would plan on governing. Whatever his past positions may have been, Trump has now aligned himself with the hard right, a movement that in turn depends on asserting the superiority of white conservative Christians over the rest of us. By focusing his presidential campaign on hoary stereotypes about Mexicans and Muslims, Trump has effectively declared that he would marginalize individuals within those groups if he ever rose to power. Now that he chosen Pence to be his vice president, he has said the exact same thing about homosexuals and women (at least those who want to control their own bodies).

Needless to say, this clears up any confusion as to whether the Trump who used to be pro-choice and pro-gay rights bears any resemblance to the man now running for president. Moreover, it establishes that the stakes in this presidential election couldn’t be any higher. Whatever else you might think of Trump’s (incredibly inconsistent) policy positions, the main message of his campaign is that he and his team are driven by a multitude of hatreds. If you vote for Trump-Pence, you are electing a ticket that would roll back all of the progress America has made in the past few years at becoming a more pluralistic society.

There can be no doubt what we’re up against.

America has had a tyrant like Trump before: We fought a revolution to get rid of him

Published: Salon (July 4, 2016)

As America celebrates its 240th anniversary, the Donald Trump campaign confronts us with the vivid possibility that our democracy could look vastly different if he’s elected.

No, I’m not implying that Trump is another Adolf Hitler. You don’t need to be a latter-day Fuehrer to hold positions antithetical to the spirit of the Declaration of Independence. That said, when you look at Trump’s avowed ideology, it becomes apparent that he has inadvertently aped the very tyrant whose reign prompted the American Revolution in the first place… King George III.

To understand why, let’s look at three of the grievances identified by the Continental Congress in 1776:

“He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.”

The Naturalization Act of 1740 was hardly an ideal immigration law, at least by modern standards, since it only extended to Protestants and (under certain circumstances) Quakers and Jews… and definitely not Catholics. Nevertheless, the statute held that any foreigner who resided in one of the American colonies for at least seven years without being absent for more than two months would automatically become a citizen. Considering that subsequent scholars extended the Declaration of Independence’s proclamation that “all men are created equal” to groups excluded by the founding fathers (including African-Americans and women), it stands to reason that we can do likewise with the importance of the rights of immigrants. When Trump demonizes undocumented Mexican immigrants who come here in the hope of creating better lives for themselves and their families, or when he threatens to bar all Muslims from coming to this country because of the terrorist acts of a small minority, he puts himself at odds with our formative document.

“He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.”

When Trump attacked U.S. District Judge Gonzalo Curiel for being Mexican-American, he was rightly condemned as a bigot. That said, his comments also revealed a disturbing tendency to violate the doctrine of judicial independence that has been essential to curbing executive power. Trump’s comments about Judge Curiel weren’t just racist; they also contained the implicit threat that he would defy the court if it attempted to act against him during his presidency. Similarly, Trump has promised to “open up the libel laws” so that he can sue his critics, an act that would require him to disregard the entire judicial system when it attempts to protect citizens’ right to free speech. Combine these statements with his basic lack of knowledge about the structure of our Constitution, and it becomes disturbingly clear that Trump doesn’t view himself as beholden to the judiciary.

“He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil Power.”

When Trump was told that the military would be obliged to disobey his orders if he told them to kill terrorists’ families (which violates international law), he ominously replied that “if I say do it, they’re gonna do it.” Like his comments about Judge Curiel, Trump’s response here belies a belief that upon being elected president, he would quite literally be the end-all of political power in this country. Bear in mind, this answer came from the same man who admitted that he might have supported interning Japanese-Americans during World War II. Although Trump’s supporters may be voting for an authoritarian, our government was formed in large part to prevent tyrants from using the armed forces to actively violate civil authority and civil rights.

Although this article has criticized Trump for violating the spirit of the Declaration of Independence, that doesn’t mean he would be the first president to do so. I’m sure that liberals, conservatives and everyone in between can point to past presidents and policies that they believe were similarly disrespectful to the intent of our founding document. Nevertheless, there is a spirit of overt radicalism to Trump’s campaign that has no parallel in American political history. Even the most overzealous conservative critics of Barack Obama or liberal critics of George W. Bush would have to concede that, despite their shrill declarations that these men would destroy our freedom, they at the very least put on the pretense of wanting to preserve the American way of government.

Trump, by contrast, seems to view himself and his movement as something fundamentally different. He wants to “make America great again” through the imprint of his own personality. To do this, he is telling the people that — as Thomas Jefferson wrote — “whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.” To do this, he says, we simply need to put him in power. This makes it all the more cruelly ironic that Trump has so much more in common with the tyrant we overthrew than the freedom fighters we celebrate today.

Sanders voters should learn from Brexit: Don’t make the same mistake as Brits and support right-wing populism

Published: Salon (July 3, 2016)

If Bernie Sanders supporters can learn anything from Brexit, it is that the English-speaking world is in the mood for a certain type of right-wing populism. On one side of the pond, the anti-immigrant and anti-free trade sentiment that swept the United Kingdom prompted that nation to vote for a historic exit from the European Union. In the United States, this phenomenon has manifested itself in the historic presidential candidacy of Donald Trump, who as I’ve explained before is the most anti-free trade major party candidate since Herbert Hoover.

It’s easy to see how, being swept up in all this sentiment, we can forget the core difference between presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton and her Republican counterpart. While Trump may be effective at using a certain type of populist rhetoric, his economic plans would ultimately favor the wealthy. Clinton, though not as far to the left as Sanders, is pushing for policies that would benefit ordinary Americans.

Before delving into these differences, though, it is important to first explain where Clinton and Trump are the same. When the 2016 campaign started, Clinton had not taken a firm stance on the Trans-Pacific Partnership, but since then she has made it clear that she will oppose the agreement and would bar low-priced imports by creating a chief trade prosecutor and increasing the number of trade enforcement officers. While Trump has tried to claim that she initially supported the deal and only switched positions because of him, Clinton’s position is actually consistent with what she wrote in her memoir “Hard Choices,” where she explained that because TPP was still under negotiation “it makes sense to reserve judgment until we can evaluate the final proposed agreement.”

Now that the TPP has been finalized, both of the major presidential candidates have gone on record opposing it – which, as Sanders supporters should already know, is the same position taken by the Vermont Senator. So where do Clinton and Trump differ?

We can start with their tax proposals. As Fortune Magazine explains, the centerpiece of Trump’s tax plan is to replace America’s seven tax rates with three: A top rate of 25 percent (down from 39.6 percent) and two additional rates of 20 percent and 10 percent. In addition to this, Trump would eliminate the tax on large estates and cap dividends and capital gains taxes at 20 percent. All of these policies would benefit wealthier Americans and would most likely force the government to take money away from programs which help the working class – in effect, redistributing wealth from the poor to the rich. Clinton, on the other hand, would increase taxes on wealthier Americans, including increasing the top bracket to 43.6 percent by adding a 4 percent tax surcharge on incomes in excess of $5 million, establishing a minimum 30 percent income tax on individuals earning in excess of $1 million, closing tax loopholes frequently exploited by the wealthy, and increasing the estate tax.

Clinton and Trump also differ on the minimum wage — in large part because Trump, not Clinton, has flip-flopped on this issue. Although Trump used to insist that wages in America were “too high” compared to other countries (!!!), he now says he is “open”to doing something about the hourly rate, although he has failed to specify what. While Clinton’s support for a $12 minimum wage may not go as far as Sanders’ $15 proposal, it is certainly a vast improvement from Trump’s ambiguousness here. What’s more, unlike Trump, Clinton has offered specific proposals to guarantee family leave (12 weeks of paid family leave and 12 weeks of medical leave), break up the big Wall Street banks, and put an “end to the era of mass incarceration” — all economic issues that directly harm low-income Americans, and which Trump has either barely addressed or not at all.

The point here isn’t that Clinton is an ideal candidate; as Sanders demonstrated with his campaign, the Democratic Party establishment is deeply flawed, so naturally any politician produced by that system will share its weaknesses. Nevertheless, there is a clear and undeniable difference between Clinton and Trump on the major economic issues facing this country. Each and every time the two candidates part ways, it is because Trump has aligned his policies with those of the wealthy classes of which he is such a conspicuous part. Clinton, for all of her faults, has offered proposals that would demonstrably improve the lives of working class Americans. These are important differences – so much so that, if Sanders supporters are smart, they’ll make sure they define this election.

This doesn’t mean that they will, though. As the Brexit vote revealed, many on the left are allowing themselves to be co-opted by right-wing populists’ use of issues like immigration (where Clinton doesn’t support bigotry and Trump does) and free trade (where the two candidates are the same). If we don’t learn from the mistakes of our British counterparts, the consequences of this oversight may be dire.

Trump isn’t Goldwater… He might win.

Published: Salon (July 2, 2016), The Good Men Project (June 28, 2016)

Back in March, I observed that Donald Trump had transformed the Republican Party in a similar way as Barry Goldwater. For those of you unfamiliar with the reference, Goldwater was a plucky arch-conservative Senator from Arizona who defied the GOP establishment by winning their party’s presidential nomination in 1964. Although Goldwater was subsequently trounced in the general election by President Lyndon Johnson, his influence lived on in the policies pursued by Ronald Reagan and the two George Bushes.

Having said that, it is important that we not stretch the Goldwater-equals-Trump analogy too far. Otherwise we will wind up doing a disservice to Goldwater… and, in the process, misunderstand the exact nature of how Trump could win this thing.

Unfortunately, Fred Barnes of The Weekly Standard did precisely those things in a recent editorial for The Wall Street Journal. Here is the most pertinent passage:

“Donald Trump has committed the Barry Goldwater mistake. In his 1964 speech accepting the Republican presidential nomination, Goldwater said that ‘extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice’ and ‘moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue.’ His declaration sent two messages: Goldwater wouldn’t seek to reconcile with his GOP opponents in the cause of party unity. And he was every bit the uncompromising conservative his critics had said he was.

Mr. Trump, since becoming the presumptive Republican nominee after winning the Indiana primary on May 3, has sent pretty much the same message. Rather than concentrate on unifying the GOP, he has spent considerable time bashing Republicans who haven’t endorsed him and even some who have. Though he would like to have party leaders on his side, Mr. Trump says he can win the White House without them.

Barnes’ op-ed in The Wall Street Journal assumes that this presidential election still follows the traditional rules of political baseball, but Trump has created a brand new game. It’s time to start paying attention to it.

He also insists he won’t change his wild-and-woolly campaign style, though it tends to buttress the idea, popular among Democrats and the media, that he’s unfit to be president. It is one thing for Hillary Clinton to suggest that. But some Republicans agree and say so, usually privately but occasionally in public.”

♦◊♦

There are three critical details overlooked in Barnes’ analysis.

  1. Unlike Goldwater, Trump doesn’t have a consistent political philosophy. Although both men stoked the fires of racism in order to galvanize supporters, Goldwater’s opposition to civil rights was part of a larger ideology that wanted to slash taxes to the bone, reduce the federal government’s power on economic and social issues, and beef up the military-industrial complex. For better or worse, Goldwater was an intellectual with a coherent right-wing belief system – and, consequently, adhering to one plank in his platform required a voter to adhere to all of them. By contrast, Trump has been all over the board in his stated political views, which gives him greater flexibility to adjust his stated positions and thereby win over reluctant voters.
  2. Unlike Goldwater, Trump’s campaign has been fueled almost entirely by his own personality. Although Goldwater’s most zealous supporters tried to develop a cult of personality surrounding their champion, the man himself was noticeably reserved and preferred whenever possible to redirect attention to the issues that mattered most to him. When Goldwater seized the Republican nomination in 1964, it was because his supporters had developed a sophisticated grassroots campaign that the establishment candidates of his time simply could not match. Trump’s campaign staff, on the other hand, has been remarkably small, with Trump rallying supporters by attracting obsessive coverage from a media that can’t get enough of him. This lack of any organizational framework could prove Trump’s undoing – or it could give his candidacy a versatility that will defy political precedent.
  3. Lyndon Johnson benefited from a good will that Hillary Clinton sorely lacks. While Goldwater probably would have lost the 1964 election regardless of who he was running against, the fact remains that Johnson had been in the White House for less than a year by the time Election Day rolled around. Because he came to power as a result of John Kennedy’s assassination and was widely praised for his masterful soothing of the nation’s collective trauma, voters were generally inclined to approve of his presidency and wanted to give him a chance to lead the nation with his own mandate. Clinton, on the other hand, has negativity ratings so high that she would likely be easy prey for any Republican candidate other than Trump. The good news is that, according to recent polls, Trump’s negatives are hurting him more than Clinton’s are hurting her. Because Clinton is no Johnson, however, this may not always be the case.

♦◊♦

Does this mean that Trump should disregard Barnes’ advice? Not necessarily. As long as he doesn’t alienate his core supporters by cozying up to the GOP establishment, it certainly couldn’t hurt him to build bridges, and quite possibly could help. That said, I suspect the 2016 presidential election is going to boil down to three variables:

  1. How much will bigotry toward Mexicans, Muslims, and women help Trump?
  2. How badly will Clinton’s scandals hurt her?
  3. How many votes will third-party candidates like the Libertarian Party’s Gary Johnson and the Green Party’s Jill Stein siphon from the Democratic and Republican tickets?

Of these three factors, Variable #1 is by far the most important here. If the economy takes a turn for the worse and swing voters blame undocumented immigrants; or if fear of Muslims spreads due to future militant Islamic terrorist attacks on American soil; or if latent misogyny convinces voters to cast their ballot against the major party candidate who happens to be a woman; or if any combination of these three things occurs, Trump could pull off the greatest political upset in American history. Clinton’s scandals and the threat of losing support to third-party candidates are the backdrop against which these issues will play out, but ultimately America’s fate depends on how Variable #1 plays out.

Barnes’ op-ed in The Wall Street Journal assumes that this presidential election still follows the traditional rules of political baseball, but Trump has created a brand new game. It’s time to start paying attention to it.

Right-wing media is just this gross: Donald Trump has unleashed forces more destructive than Fox News

Published: Salon (May 18, 2016)

It’s hardly surprising, that Breitbart recently referred to William Kristol as a “renegade Jew” in one of its headlines. The conservative website has been shilling pretty hard for Donald Trump over the past year, so it makes sense that the less savory aspects of Trump’s political style would eventually rub off on them.

What is that style, though? Outlets from The Washington Post to The Atlantic have spilled plenty of ink describing The Donald as un-politically correct, but Trump’s rhetoric does more than simply transgress the boundaries of polite conversation. From the moment he launched his presidential campaign until the present, Trump has repeatedly used ethnic labels and stereotypes to both define his opponents and discuss major policy issues. In the process, the Trump movement has trafficked a distinct brand of racial and religious tribalism into American life, one that is entirely comfortable with forgetting about who a person is and instead collectively defining individuals based on what they are.

Take the article about William Kristol. Written by conservative columnist David Horowitz, it attacked Kristol for leading a movement among establishment Republicans to run a third-party candidate, who could then thwart Trump by denying him a majority in the Electoral College. Given how no reference is made to Kristol’s Jewish background until the last paragraph (which feels shoehorned in), one wonders if Horowitz was actually involved in putting “Renegade Jew” in the title. Certainly it can be safely said that Kristol’s background was irrelevant to the article’s main argument. Unfortunately a large segment of Breitbart’s pro-Trump readers is drawn to this kind of inflammatory language…  and by referencing how Kristol is Jewish, Breitbart was pandering right to it. As former editor-at-large Ben Shapiro recently wrote, “They’ve become a site that openly panders to alt-right anti-Semitism and soft white supremacism… This began in the pro-Trump comment section at Breitbart while I was there; now, it’s filtered up.”

When Shapiro writes about the “alt right,” he’s referring to the modern white supremacist movement, one that Rosie Gray of BuzzFeed described as “perfectly tailored for our times: 4chan-esque racist rhetoric combined with a tinge of Silicon Valley–flavored philosophizing, all riding on the coattails of the Trump boom.” Although white supremacy has existed for as long as the country itself, white supremacist movements experienced a boom after America elected Barack Obama as its first black president in 2008. Even when this hasn’t led to literal violent extremism (which has also increased in the Obama era), it has still managed to normalize a strain of rhetorically violent racism that had been taboo for quite some time. To the rest of the country, uttering slurs and playing on stereotypes are boorish and should be deplored as hateful; to white supremacists, these actions are courageous and should be celebrated as salvos for racial liberation.

Not surprisingly, this movement overwhelmingly agrees with Trump when he perpetuates long-debunked racist canards, from his support of the birther conspiracy theories (the basis of his 2012 campaign) to his claim that undocumented Mexican immigrants are more likely to be criminals and rapists (a line from his announcement speech for the 2016 campaign). It isn’t just that his wild assertions play right into America’s paranoid political tradition; by blending that with sweeping generalizations about non-whites and non-Christians, he validates underlying prejudices against these minority groups. Indeed, as The Huffington Post pointed out, “virtually every time Trump mentions a minority group, he uses the definite article the, as in ‘the Hispanics,’ ‘the Muslims’ and ‘the blacks.’”

This also explains why so many of Trump’s racist policy proposals are bound by their collectivist assumptions, treating large and diverse groups of people as if they are a single entity. When Trump insists that America build a wall on our Mexican border, it’s to keep out the aforementioned bogeyman of the dangerous illegal alien; when he says he would implement a national database to register Muslims, it’s because he lumps America’s three million Muslims with the handful of violent terrorists; and when he openly opposes the Black Lives Matter movement, it is because he has a history of generalizing black people as having “anger” and being “lazy.” The people supporting these aspects of Trump’s political agenda do so because they share this fundamentally racist worldview – and, presumably, will actively work to help him implement it if he becomes president.

Hence Breitbart’s cheap shot against Kristol. Anti-Semitism – like Islamophobia, xenophobia, and racism – is a popular prejudice among the alt right because it views all the individuals within a non-white group (so to speak) as a monolith. While hatred of Jews hasn’t played a major role in Trump’s campaign (although he has dabbled in it), it still factors heavily into the thinking of his white supremacist supporters. Consequently, when a pro-Trump site decides to attack a leading Republican intellectual who dares oppose their champion, it makes perfect sense that they would dredge his Jewishness into the conversation. It’s a perfect way of signaling others in the alt right that, yes, they truly are one of them. Not only will they support your kind of candidate, but they will do using your kind of language.

While Breitbart’s anti-Semitic headline against Kristol will likely be forgotten, it is an ominous foreshadowing of what is to come. Even if Trump loses this election, he has opened floodgates that it will not be easy to close. The stigma associated with overt bigotry was a powerful disincentive, averting not only offensive language but the real violence that often follows it. Now that that has been weakened, it is quite likely that our divisions will get worse long before they can get better, regardless of whether Trump is still on the scene to stoke the flames.

Democratic candidates blast Trump’s Muslim ban at debate

Published: MSNBC (December 20, 2015)

Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders and Martin O’Malley were unified on one topic during the last Democratic presidential debate of the year Saturday night: The toxicity of Donald Trump’s proposed temporary ban on Muslims entering the United States. Each candidate seized on the opportunity to decry racial and religious bigotry — and encouraged the rest of America to follow their example.

O’Malley set the tone in his opening statement when he discussed a recent visit to a mosque in Northern Virginia and talked about “the danger that democracies find themselves susceptible to when unscrupulous leaders try to turn us upon each other.”

Clinton picked up on the theme of anti-Muslim discrimination, stating that “we must work more closely with Muslim-American communities.” The former secretary of state repeatedly warned against “the rhetoric coming from the Republicans, particularly Donald Trump, [that] is sending a message to Muslims here in the United States and literally around the world that there is a ‘clash of civilizations,’ that there is some kind of Western plot or even ‘war against Islam.’”

At one point the Democratic front-runner even praised George W. Bush over his contemporary Republican counterparts, pointing out that “one of the best things that was done, and George W. Bush did this and I give him credit, was to reach out to Muslim Americans and say, we’re in this together. You are not our adversary, you are our partner.” Jeb Bush was the only GOP candidate to attack Trump on his ban during the Republican debate last week — and he denounced the Republican front-runner as “a chaos candidate” who would be “a chaos president.”

Sanders urged Americans to ignore candidates like Trump who “divide us by race or where we come from,” by saying “the answer is that all of the Mexicans, they’re criminals and rapists, we’ve got to hate the Mexicans, those are your enemies” or “we hate all the Muslims, because all of the Muslims are terrorists. We’ve got to hate the Muslims.”

The Vermont senator returned to this subject again near the end of the debate, responding to a voter’s question about the lack of trust between law enforcement and citizens by emphasizing the need to “come together as a country and end institutional racism,” especially “police officers shooting unarmed people, predominantly African-Americans” and the United States putting “more people in jail than any other country on earth, 2.2 million people, predominantly African-American and Hispanic.” Clinton touched on these themes as well, likewise speaking out against “systemic racism and injustice and inequities in our country.”

There are sound political reasons why the Democratic candidates have been so outspoken about the importance of pluralism and tolerance. Since the days when the Democratic Party was rebranded by Franklin Roosevelt, the Democrats have depended on appealing to the diverse range of marginalized groups who have turned to political institutions for protection against discrimination. During the twentieth century, this took the form of fighting the Great Depression or racist Jim Crow laws in the South; today it involves protecting Muslims from Islamophobia, Mexican immigrants from xenophobia, and African-Americans and Hispanics from law enforcement excesses.

Regardless of the time period, however, the strategic advantage of this approach is that the number of affluent white voters (i.e., the GOP’s base) has continued to shrink while the number of non-white and working class voters (i.e., the Democrats’ base) continues to grow. As a result, appeals to bigotry that helped Republicans win general elections in the past – from Richard Nixon’s “Southern Strategy” to Ronald Reagan’s rhetoric about “welfare queens” – are now statistically imprudent. The minorities, after all, are now the majority.

That said, the Democrats did more to advance the cause of civility than simply advocate that it be displayed toward minority groups; they also did so by displaying it toward each other throughout the course of the debate. The most notable instance of this occurred in the very beginning, when Sanders apologized to Clinton for several staffers from his campaign who illegally accessed data from her electronic voter registry. In addition to accepting his apology, Clinton echoed Sanders’ famous declaration from the first Democratic debate that he was “sick and tired” of hearing about her “damn emails,” calling for the party to “move on” because the American people are “more interested in what we have to say about all the big issues facing us.”

Clinton and Sanders struck a stark contrast between themselves and the most recent Republican debate, one that was dominated by bickering between Donald Trump, Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, and virtually every other major candidate on that stage in Las Vegas.

Perhaps the most telling quote of the night came from the Democrat least likely to win the nomination, former Gov. O’Malley himself. “My friend Kashif, who is a doctor in Maryland… was putting his 10 and 12-year-old boys to bed the other night – and he is a proud American Muslim – and one of his little boys said to him, ‘Dad, what happens if Donald Trump wins and we have to move out of our homes?’”

Even as Trump and other Republicans promote a message that can so easily be interpreted as deliberately excluding marginalized racial and religious groups, the Democrats have used their mistakes to place themselves in the best possible light for the upcoming presidential election.