Trump’s campaign is a scary phenomenon. He’s spread fabricated statistics about homicide by blacks, declared he’ll conduct a massive program to expel eleven million people, and declared that all Muslims should be made to register. This would make him the most tyrannical president in my lifetime, at least (Truman was president when I was born), yet for a long time he’s been leading the Republican polls.
Focusing too much on Trump would be a mistake. He’s a gibbering yahoo who just happens to have enough money to disseminate his nonsense widely. The real problem is the large number of people who are receptive to what he’s saying. Xenophobia as a national insanity has turned up again and again in our history. Theodore Roosevelt denounced “hyphenated Americans” and said “there ought to be no room for them in this country.” In the nineteenth century, job ads often specified “No Irish need apply.”
Murderous attacks by religious fanatics have provoked a new wave of xenophobia. The government’s reluctance to say that religious fanaticism is the motive has left a vacuum which people blaming all Muslims have started to fill. The claim “Religion has nothing to with it” is obvious nonsense, but political leaders think Americans aren’t capable of dealing with distinctions between Islamic sects that uphold a barbaric, medieval view and Islam in general. We also have to count the repeated, grossly exaggerated efforts to make us afraid of terrorists. After all that, what’s surprising is that there isn’t more outright violence toward Muslims.
Trump is merely in the right place at the right time to take advantage of this. We shouldn’t underestimate the danger he poses; frankly, he reminds me of Hitler with his campaign of ranting, his promotion of hatred of minority groups, his promise to restore past national greatness, and his plans to commit the most egregious Constitutional violations in decades. But if he walked away from his campaign today, the people whose hostilities he’s exploiting would still be here. The people who’ve put up Trump signs in my neighborhood would still be my neighbors.
People like his followers have been conspicuous in Europe for quite a while. They’re the followers of people like Geert Wilders. I don’t think they’re fanatically Christian for the most part; if they were, they’d go with someone like Ted Cruz. Nor are they necessarily racist. People on the “left” often assume that genetics and physical appearance are huge motivators in the behavior of everyone but themselves; I think that foreign culture, language, and customs are the Trumpists’ driving factors. Regardless, they’ve carried hostility to reason and facts to a new level, and they won’t go away even if Trump drops his campaign and retires to a monastery.
It’s going to be a bad next few years.