It's almost impossible to get a handle on what is going on.
For the past twenty-four hours, the media buzz has been all about Donald Trump's racism. The proximate cause for this outburst was Trump's repeated claim that the Indiana-born judge in the faux Trump University civil case has an inherent conflict of interest because of his Mexican heritage. This has taken Muhammad Ali's death and Hillary Clinton's presumptive nomination and placed these stories, if not off the front page, then decidedly below the fold.
Erstwhile GOP supporters (or, as they now call themselves, those in the party who intend to "vote" for him) have claimed that Trump's attack on Judge Curiel was "completely unacceptable" (Newt Gingrich), "flat out wrong" (John Kasich), and "absolutely unacceptable" (Sen. Susan Collins of Maine). House Speaker Paul Ryan called Trump's claim a "textbook . . . racist comment." And South Carolina Sen. Lindsay Graham, who won't endorse Trump but has of late at least cozied up to him, said those who have endorsed Trump should now "rescind" their support.
For a number of reasons, however, I don't get it.
To begin, anyone surprised to discover that Donald Trump is a racist wins this year's Captain Renault award.
Renault, for all of you young enough not to know, was the Vichy police chief in the film-version of French Morocco's Casablanca who, on enforcing his Nazi superior's order that Rick's be closed immediately, told Humphrey Bogart that he was "shocked" to discover gambling going on in the Cabaret. Within seconds of this announcement, Renault pockets his evening's "winnings."
Roughly the same thing is going on now with Trump.
The Donald has run a racist campaign from the get-go. Whether he was calling Mexicans rapists, or banning non-citizen Muslims from entering the country, or feigning ignorance of David Duke's white supremacy, or eating Taco bowls in service to a self-proclaimed love of Hispanics, or pointing out his "African-American" at a recent rally, the campaign's central trope has been overtly racist. The birther-in-chief who questioned Obama's nativity was appealing to all those out-of-work blue and not-so-blue collars quite certain that the cause of their demise was not Wall Street . . . or corporate greed . . . or the lack of any fiscal policy worthy of the name, but rather was on account of . . .
Where "them" was always some group whose identity "they" either could not change (nationality, race, country of origin) or were ostensibly free to choose without adverse consequence (religion).
The notion that Trump has only now crossed some unacceptable line is a farce.
He crossed that line long ago.
In fact, he began his whole campaign on the wrong side of it.
The elites cannot have it both ways. They cannot endorse or say they will "vote" for Trump on the one hand but condemn his racism on the other. The former cancels out the latter and turns any pretense of disapproval into hypocritical word salad.
The same, moreover, is true of the media. On today's edition of Morning Joe, Mika Brzezinski said that any Republican endorsing Trump in light of his attack on Judge Curiel would be forever "stained." As a guest on the show, the Washington Post's Eugene Robinson echoed both those comments and his own in an op-ed published the day before. In that op-ed, Robinson warned "GOP leaders" that those "who choose 'party unity' over principle should know that there is no way back; when you embrace Trump, you make a decision that will stay with you forever."
Both of them are right.
But both of them are also late to the game.
Why the delay?
As part of her analysis this morning, Brzezinski also said that Trump's comments on the judge were different from his Mexicans-as-rapists and ban-all-Muslims assertions earlier in the year. The latter, she said, worked; in other words, they helped Trump win the primaries and the nomination. Brzezinski, however, contended that the attack on Judge Curiel "will not work."
And therein, I think, hangs the tale.
The answer, as it were, to the riddle of Trump's endurance.
Too many pundits and politicians, for too long, asked "will it work" either before or instead of "is it right." And as long as it worked, the sheer depravity of Trump was either ignored or tabled.
This is dangerous. My guess is that Trump will not win the general election and that, when all is said and done, we will have dodged the ethical and utterly insane bullet that is the Donald. I am willing to speculate that the coming general election campaign will render him toothless and his elite supporters spineless.
Nonetheless, because Hillary is not loved, and Trump is for good reason actually hated, the distance from here to there will give mud-slinging new meaning. And, at the end of the day, our frustrated electorate will heap even more negative ratings on the political class.
It didn't, however, have to be this way.
The elites could have rejected Trump long ago.
They could have stood for something other than themselves.
This week we celebrate the life of a boxer willing to go to jail because he wouldn't go to war.
Muhammad Ali did not ask himself or his advisers what would work. Had he done so, the answer would have been obvious -- enlist; you are the heavyweight champion of the world; you will be sent to some safe haven, called upon to build up troop morale, and then sent home when your time is up. Robbed of his livelihood at precisely the time his gifts were supreme, he still chose conscience over accommodation.
Lots of Republican office holders will be at Ali's funeral in Louisville this Friday, mourning his loss and singing his praises.
But when they go home . . .
They need to start following his example.