By Tom Ehrich
Donald Trump’s emergence as presumptive Republican nominee for president takes me back to my cross-country road trip in the winter of 2015, before the Trump train began rolling.
On my car radio, in news reports and in conversations, I kept hearing what I termed a “white-power insurgency.” White men, and the preachers who enable them, were determined to deny voting rights to people of color, to dial down the entry of immigrants into the American economy, and to deny any public respect to women and homosexuals.
All restraints were off. Civility was gone. This was a declaration of war on people whom this subset hated with a passion that shocked me. I grew up in a racist world, but it was a more genial, if still toxic, racism that simply ignored people of color as worthy of being neighbors. The hatred I heard fifteen months ago was like that of the Ku Klux Klan: aggressive, determined to inflict harm. People were buying firearms for the express purpose of intimidating and shooting people of color, immigrants, women and homosexuals.
As the Trump train gained momentum and undid all pundits’ confident predictions of a return to common sense, the usual trope was “white male rage” caused by decades of economic assault by the wealthy. That assault certainly happened, and it is the underlying factor of economic dislocation. That narrative suggested that “white male rage” was a reasonable response to the behavior of the entitled set. Worrisome, but reasonable.
I think we fool ourselves. This rage is about race. It is about gender. It is about sexuality. It doesn’t have any reasonableness to it. It is hatred, pure and simple, and now it is out in the open. What a large number of people have harbored in the silence of being ignored is now swamping the public square, thanks to the Trump candidacy. The bully in the pulpit has made it legitimate to shout the curses of racial invective, to demonize women, and to declare homosexuals loathsome. Goons acting on Trump’s behalf are pummeling protesters, and social media bullies echoing his disdain are going after every target, even the president’s daughter.
Many are hearing this hatred as if for the first time, and they think it is new and reversible. It isn’t new, and it isn’t reversible. This hatred and the fascist specter that it threatens need to be overwhelmed by superior numbers, named as a clear and present danger to democracy, and dealt with by a legal system and law enforcement system that do their jobs.