Commentary

Trump is trying to nullify our democracy

September 28, 2020 8:21 am
President Donald J. Trump waves Tuesday, Sept. 8, 2020, at Joint Base Andrews, Md., as he boards Air Force One to begin his trip to Florida. | Official White House Photo by Joyce N. Boghosian via Flickr Public Domain

President Donald J. Trump waves Tuesday, Sept. 8, 2020, at Joint Base Andrews, Md., as he boards Air Force One to begin his trip to Florida. | Official White House Photo by Joyce N. Boghosian via Flickr Public Domain

Sitting at a bar recently, a self-described “Trumper,” unbidden, explained his support of our current president. Trump’s tweets and other utterances are nonsense, he said, but he supports the president because he has opened his eyes to the “deep state.” This is a variation of a common assertion by Trump supporters. They overlook various flaws for a greater good.

I needed to leave because my tongue was hurting so much from having to bite it. I didn’t respond, not out of cowardice (I built a career in opinion journalism responding to ignorance), but because I sensed that demonstrating he was wrong would not have made a whit of difference to this man or his wife. Moreover, I would have contributed to disrupting what is surely a sanctuary for others besides me. 

But when I hear such tripe a query naturally presents itself. How can so many people have ridden the roller-coaster of the last three and one-half years and concluded this country needs four more years of same? If the polls can be believed, a majority of those likely to vote in November don’t feel this way, but enough perhaps to give Trump the election anyway via the Electoral College.

So, let us explore why and how so many people ignore the facts on the ground — particularly since the most glaring fact on the ground is that Trump is a white nationalist racist.

This was evident even before Trump descended that escalator to launch his campaign in 2016. You remember, he claimed that Mexican immigrants are rapists and criminals, while  conceding that “some” might be good people. Before that, he and his father reached a legal settlement with the Justice Department because they refused to rent to African Americans. There was the matter of the Central Park Five, the minority youths accused of a barbaric rape who were later exonerated. Trump called for their execution and persisted even after their exoneration.

And since then he has praised the “fine” people among the white nationalists protesting anti-racists. He put Mexican children in cages and separated them from their parents. Trump has continued to fearmonger about immigrants generally. He labeled COVID-19 the “Chinese virus” to deflect from his own mismanagement of the pandemic that has left 200,000 dead. He referred to “sh*thole” countries (Norway not among them) and tried to ban Muslim refugees completely. He talks in transparent code about the evils of desegregating white suburbs and the need for “law and order,” the latter to stave off the rainbow masses, mostly peaceful, arguing for justice for Black men murdered by cops, for police reform and for racial equality generally. 

This is an incomplete list. But the reaction of “Trumpers” to even this evidence is stupefying.

Many Trump supporters assert that even if Trump does and says racist things, that doesn’t make them racist. They support Trump for other reasons, including fighting the deep state and getting more conservatives on the Supreme Court. 

But supporting a racist and being a racist is a distinction without a difference. This is true even if some variation of the cliche “some of my best friends are … ” can be invoked. 

And to ignore Trump racism because of other attributes or policies amounts to selling one’s soul to abet racism, which is — you guessed it — racist. 

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Beyond the fevered imagination of conspiracy theorists, there is no deep state, mostly just a principled civil service. In any case, Trump battling the deep state has amounted to firing or attacking anyone in his administration who investigates, refuses to cooperate with or tries to stop illegal acts. 

The other tack taken by “Trumpers” is to insist that none of his racism is really racism. It is something else — reasonable expectations of keeping our borders secure, for instance. 

Sorry, liberals also want secure borders and know the system is broken but know immigration reform is the best way to fix this. In any case, the xenophobia Trump spews in furtherance of this is a dead giveaway. He wants to keep those people out of his America. How he attempts to reach this goal — cages, family separation and vastly inflating criminality — is the tell. 

But there is something else just as disturbing as many Americans’  embrace, acknowledged or not, of Trump’s racism. For President Trump to be reelected, democracy must fail.

Trump’s camp has almost certainly given up on winning the popular vote. They are depending on winning enough states to put him over the top in the Electoral College. And the rush to fill the vacancy created by the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is tacit acknowledgement that they fear even this strategy might fail. 

But the anachronistic, undemocratic Electoral College and dampening the popular vote remain Trump’s best bets. In other words, this administration is perfectly OK with winning less of the popular vote than Joe Biden. Hence the attempts to hamstring the U.S. Postal Service so it can’t  deliver of the high volume of mail-in ballots during a pandemic. Hence Trump’s active efforts to undermine confidence in the vote. It is displayed in his downplaying of Russian involvement in his election in 2016 and in its efforts to hand him another win in November.

This is what Trump supporters have signed up for. In their world, racism isn’t racism and if it is there, it doesn’t matter because Trump is a means to specific ends. Likewise, corruption isn’t corruption and it’s perfectly OK if Trump is reelected even while more Americans vote against Trump than vote for him.

I know, pointing all this out won’t change any minds in the Trump camp. But there is much value in knowing what is at stake: nothing less than nullifying E Pluribus Unum.

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O. Ricardo Pimentel
O. Ricardo Pimentel

O. Ricardo Pimentel has been a journalist for about 40 years. He was most recently the editorial page editor for the San Antonio Express-News in Texas; the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel before that. He has also worked in various editing and reporting positions in newspapers in California, Arizona, Texas and Washington D.C., where he covered Congress, federal agencies and the Supreme Court for McClatchy Newspapers. He is the author of two novels and lives in Wisconsin.

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