October 22, 2018

Trump’s Needed Act

This has been a tough blog to write. I am as dumbstruck by Tuesday’s results as everyone else—the polls were dead wrong (except for the Los Angeles Times)—and my forty plus years in the civil rights field had convinced me that an individual like Donald Trump who insulted and demeaned minorities, women and undercut our notions of tolerance simply couldn’t get elected.

What may be the most troubling takeaway from this week’s results is that a decades-long societal effort to make bigotry and tolerance of bigotry unacceptable in America’s political lexicon has been seriously undermined, if not totally trashed.

As this blog has written on several occasions (“>here, “>here, “>here), whether Trump is himself a bigot and a misogynist is irrelevant. That’s an issue between him, his conscience and his God. What is absolutely relevant is the demonstrable way in which he espoused, tolerated and almost welcomed bigotry into the mainstream of his campaign.

His hostility to Latinos and Latino immigrants, despite the blatant falseness of his allegations about immigration, crime and the dynamics of immigration is beyond dispute. His absurd pledge to deport millions of undocumented immigrants which was a cornerstone of his campaign along with the multi-billion dollar wall on our southern border was based in racist misinformation. Latinos have every reason to be troubled.

His nastiness to Muslims and his broad brush condemnation of Muslim immigrants is breathtakingly bigoted and terrible policy. His comments about women—on videotape no less—are shockingly vulgar, puerile and undeniable. His hesitancy in distancing himself from former Klan leader David Duke was distressing to every minority historically targeted by the Klan and America’s all too resilient hate groups.

His dependence on a conspiracy nut like Steve Bannon (former head of Breitbart) to run his campaign betrays the notions that underpin his dog whistles to bigots.

Now that Trump must face the reality of governing a diverse nation of over 350 million souls (a plurality of whom did NOT support his election) the craziness of many of his campaign slogans and assertions may jolt him and his saner aides into a modicum of reasonableness.

But one set of issues can’t wait for the slow movement of transitions and bureaucracy— Trump’s disgraceful normalizing of intolerance, misogyny, and bigotry.

Until this week, several generations of Americans were taught and have come to believe that even a hint of bigotry makes a public figure, much less a candidate for public office, unacceptable and unelectable. Even a hint of racism, anti-Semitism or anti-gay sentiment openly expressed—whether in public comment or overheard in private jabber—was sufficient to torpedo careers and campaigns. Not so with Donald Trump. He managed to weather the expression of vulgar bigotry, the flirtation with haters and the winking and nodding at intolerance time after time after time.

His political calculation that tens of millions of Americans wouldn’t care (or would applaud his brash un-PCness) appears to have been right.

This may be the most depressing aspect of Tuesday’s results—bigotry had no obvious price.

The notion that intolerance can be expressed and women demeaned without penalty is now in the ether and may find far too many folks willing to test its limits. Why not when it appears cost free? 

Whatever policies Trump may choose to advance in the months ahead—whether on the economic, foreign policy or social policy agendas—there aren’t any that will benefit from an environment of racial, religious and broader inter-group tensions; and tensions there will be without some leadership corrective.

Hopefully, Trump’s aides (at least the saner ones) will induce him to seek to bridge the chasms that he has fostered. He must make clear that campaigning was one thing, but governing is quite another. He must demonstrate that he understands that the president has responsibilities that transcend party, policies, partisanship and even past conduct.

Mario Cuomo's dictum about “campaigning in poetry but governing in prose” may need to be reversed. The nation is in need of some serious poetry to undo a year's worth of awful prose.