The Grand Old Party’s Final Turn Towards Tribalism
Reprinted with permission from Uexpress.
President Donald J. Trump is hardly a master of subtlety. He disdains the soft touch, eschews nuance, scoffs at mere exaggeration.
When he wants to rally his base of racially resentful white voters, he doesn’t use the time-honored dog whistle — so called because it is coded political rhetoric meant to be understood only by a specific audience.
No, the president mounts a platform with Bull Connor’s bullhorn, spewing vile rhetoric that is explicitly racist, intentionally divisive and purposefully false. So it is with his weeks-long tirade against a caravan of Central American migrants moving toward the United States. Almost nothing he says about the group is true, and almost everything he says about the migrants is intended to stoke fear and anger among his most loyal constituents. George Wallace would be impressed.
This egregious propaganda campaign is born of Republicans’ desperation over polling that suggests a Democratic surge in next month’s midterm elections. Democrats are expected to win control of the House of Representatives and to take several governors’ seats previously held by Republicans. There is even a chance that a black woman, Stacey Abrams, former minority leader of the Georgia House, could be elected governor of crimson-red Georgia. That’s because Trump is wildly unpopular among Democratic and independent voters — and so are most of the Republican Party’s policy positions.
Take health care, for example. You may recall that Republicans have spent nearly a decade trying to repeal Obamacare and replace it with — well, nothing. But polls show most voters now support Obamacare, especially provisions such as those that protect patients with pre-existing conditions. Democrats have run rings around their GOP rivals on that issue.
So what does Trump have to offer his voters? How can he make sure that they will turn out at the ballot box, perhaps in numbers large enough to stave off that blue wave? Why, the president has countered with a playbook right out of the dusty bins of history, when explicit racial prejudice was a prerequisite to election from certain precincts.
Give Trump his due: He understands the primitive instincts that give tribalism its power. (He understands the power of his hateful rhetoric, too, but he denies responsibility for the violence it promotes, as he has with the pipe bombs sent to prominent Trump critics.)
The president’s attacks on the caravan mark the final turn of the Grand Old Party as it morphs into a small tent of angry white people, resentful of cultural change, fearful of demographic shifts, paranoid about losing their social status. But let’s be honest about this: The GOP has been headed in this direction for decades. Its most respected politicians have long pandered to racists with a wink and a nod.
Trump has no use for the mere wink. In his full-throated racism, he has painted the caravan as an invading horde, a dire threat to national security, an imminent crime wave. Never mind that a large group that includes babies and small children is unlikely to be able to cross the border surreptitiously. The president has even said that Middle Easterners (oh, horrors!) are among them — a not-so-subtle suggestion that the Islamic State group is hiding in their ranks.
Without any evidence whatsoever, Trump has also accused Democrats of supporting the caravan (which comprises mostly Hondurans and Guatemalans and was in reality organized as a protest to newly elected Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez) and of wanting to dissolve U.S. borders so any and all immigrants would be welcome. At a rally recently, Trump insisted, “Democrats want to throw your borders wide open to deadly drugs and endless gangs.”
The power of tribalism notwithstanding, Trump’s fear-mongering probably won’t be enough to save the House for the GOP. His loyal supporters remain susceptible to his claptrap, but they don’t constitute a majority of voters.
Most of us know that a few hundred families from Honduras don’t represent a grave threat to democracy. The grave threat, instead, resides in the White House.