The Threat of Trump

My friends who consider themselves to be "in the know" when it comes to politics assure me that Donald Trump cannot and will not win the presidency of the United States.

But I am not so sure.

My erstwhile friends point out to me that it is only a small number, proportionately, who are Trump supporters. "Yes," said one friend this week in Washington, "he has 10 million supporters, but there are 300 million people in the United States. There is no way he is going to win."

Those 10 million supporters are supposedly angry, white, blue-collar workers who believe Donald Trump will cure their woes, and the vast number of people who vote are not ...them, my friend said.

But Trump doesn't speak only to that demographic. Trump speaks to a wide swath of Americans, primarily but not all white, who are determined not to let their power fade as more and more people of color go to the polls. Already, many are worried. Former GOP presidential candidate Pat Buchanan said last week in an interview on NPR that America is "25 years away from the fact where Americans of European descent will be in the minority in the United States."

The interviewer asked him why he saw that as a problem, and Buchanan said that no country which loses its "ethnic core" can survive. All over the world, he said, he sees people of different ethnicities "at each others' throats. The interviewer pressed him, and said that he, Buchanan, was laying out a vision of America that was white and Buchanan said, "It's an America like the country I grew up in, which was a pretty good country." (http://www.npr.org/2016/05/05/476844409/pat-buchanan-on-why-he-shares-trump-s-ideas-on-foreign-policy).

Pat Buchanan is not a blue collar worker. He is a professional, highly educated ...and his anger is no different on many levels than is the level of Trump's "out" 10 million followers. The whiteness of this country is diminishing, and many white people are simply afraid, yet bound and determined that the demography of this country will not change.

The "make America great again" is dog whistle language that everybody understands. When Richard Nixon was running for president, Lee Atwater admitted that "the problem is the blacks." The Nixon campaign wanted to win the votes of racists without sounding racist, and so the so-called "Southern Strategy" was developed. Atwater admitted that times dictated that the campaign be "politically correct," and so nobody could say the "n" word in campaign speeches - yet the populace being targeted had to understand the candidates' position on black people. And so Atwater said candidates had to start talking about things like "busing," "states' rights," and "cutting taxes." Everyone who was supposed to know would know that the candidates were putting black people down and blaming them for the state of the country.

While white Americans groan when race is mentioned, it is a fact that race is and has always been in the center of political dialogue and aspirations. The beloved Ronald Reagan used the dog whistle term "states' rights," declaring that he believed in the same, as he opened his run for president in 1980 at the Neshoba County Fair, in Neshoba County, Mississippi, the place where the bodies of three civil rights workers, Andrew Goodman, James Chaney and Michael Schwerner, were found. Mississippians and indeed many to most Southerners resented the interference of the federal government in their way of doing things, murders of innocent people notwithstanding. Reagan stood there and told the people, "I believe in states' rights!" The people cheered and Reagan went on to become beloved by white America.

But he wasn't just beloved by angry, white, blue collar workers. Even so-called "liberals" and "progressives" stopped short of acknowledging the full personhood of black people. No matter their geography, it is safe to say that a fair number of white people totally believed that black people were, in general, making much ado about nothing, and resented being called "racist" because activists were calling racist policies out.

The sentiments that Donald Trump is spouting is like a balm to dry, bruised white souls that believe America is supposed to be a white man's country. Trump is no different than Nixon. He knows exactly what he is doing and he knows that the reach of his appeal is wider than many would like to believe. Nixon won, and so did Reagan, and I would bet that many experts thought they wouldn't win, either.

Trump is playing the race card, as did Nixon and Reagan. And despite reassurances from "experts," I am not sure he will not win. Racism is a potent driver in the minds of some white Americans. They believe in their hearts that America is in trouble because its demography is shifting, and they are bound and determined that they will "make America great again" and put everyone back in their places, as soon as they get the right person in the White House.

And that is a scary, scary thought.