The only evidence backing up its wild claims are racist innuendo
What’s the difference between David Duke and Donald Trump? If you’re a liberal, you’ll probably say, “Nothing” and high five a fellow vegan.
But the difference is crucial and needs to elevated beyond subtext; it’s the difference between white supremacist policies being laughed out of polite company and them being adopted on national scale.
In our interview with Ian Haney Lopez — author of the essential book Dog Whistle Politics: How Coded Racial Appeals Have Reinvented Racism and Wrecked the Middle Class — he reminds us how both Duke and Trump were on the ballot in November as Duke sought a U.S. Senate seat in Louisana. Trump had the backing of almost the entire GOP while the former Klan leader was effectively ostracized by the party and, as a result, that racist clown got a sliver of the vote — a much-too large sliver but still a sliver. Trump’s sliver, however, was large enough to “win” the electoral college.
But when it comes to policy — from ending DACA to comforting neo-Nazis — Duke continues to be thrilled with Trump’s policies.
Because Trump’s history of white supremacism is so obvious to us, it’s easy to believe that he is a break from the tradition of coded racial appeals that have helped the GOP break the back of the middle class. But he rarely transverses into the realm of outward bigotry — and when he does, he circles back with traditional defenses of his racial tolerance including his “____ friend.” He adds to that defense with an aggressive assault on critics, pleas that he’s “the least racist person ever” and appeals to the aggrieved spirit of the right that sees white Christians as the real victims of discrimination in modern America.
Trump didn’t invent any of this, just as he didn’t invent birtherism. He was just willing to embrace these non-issues in a shameless way that invited accusations of racism that he knew would only make him more popular with a right well schooled in culture war grievances.
Donald Trump’s anti-immigrant rhetoric picked up on the policies and scaremongering of Kris Kobach, whose white nationalist ties have long been ignored by the press. So it was only a matter a time before Trump also delved into rank voter suppression that Kobach has championed as Kansas’ Secretary of State.
Kobach is the vice-chair of Trump’s so-called Voting Integrity Commission and pushing every myth he can to justify making it harder to vote, even though America has some of the worst voter turnout in the developed world.
Again, this isn’t new.
Ari Berman has documented how there has been a nearly half century war to roll back the advances of the Voting Rights Act. After the purging of Florida’s voting rolls under governor Jeb Bush helped George W. Bush take the presidency, the right invested heavily in the effort to reduce minority voting, even after a 5-year investigation by the Bush Department of Justice found that claims of widespread voter fraud were fiction.
Trump spent much of 2016 attacking America’s elections as “rigged” and when he ended up as the biggest popular vote loser ever elected in 140 years, he claimed 3-5 million votes were illegal.
His evidence for this?
The same evidence he provided for birtherism, speculation and racist innuendo. How could he be a citizen? They must be voting. Just as there is irrefutable evidence Obama was born a citizen even without seeing his birth certificate — his mother was a citizen! — there is proof that voter impersonation fraud is almost non-existent, 31 cases in more than 1 billion votes cast.
Again, Trump wasn’t inventing anything, except perhaps the idea of trying to invalidate his own election. He is trafficking in the same sort of well-mannered white supremacism that the North Carolina GOP was when it was caught targeting “African Americans with almost surgical precision” in an effort to “impose cures for problems that did not exist.”
We know strict voter ID laws target minority voters, placing poll tax like burdens on those with the least political power. We know that even without these laws minority voters have to wait much longer to vote. We know that America has no significant history of voter fraud swaying elections but we have centuries of history where minorities were denied the vote, which then systematically denied them the power and wealth that went along with it.
And we know that in 2016 America suffered the greatest attack on its democracy from a foreign power in our history, with the voting systems of as many as 39 states hacked. Instead of focusing on that, Trump has America trying to “solve” the epidemic of black people voting.
In retrospect, our inability to shame Trump out of public life for elevating barely veiled white supremacism into mainstream discourse helped make this all possible. It’s easy to call Trump a white supremacist because the evidence is clear. But it’s also important to note that he’s trafficking in the same coded discourse and policies the GOP has backed for decades in order to sell white supremacism to people who don’t consider themselves bigots.
Until we can expose the differences and the similarities between Trump and Duke and why they matter, we’ll struggle to make the case that when racism wins, everyone loses.
[Image by brownpau | Flickr]