I have been searching for meaning, perhaps even a revelation or two, in the ascension of the political arsonist known as Donald Trump. This quest, which I have undertaken both as pundit and horrified citizen, has become more imperative as the man with the small hands and peculiar hair has clawed his way to the top of the Republican presidential pack with win after primary win, including victories and a huge delegate haul in three more big states yesterday, all but making him the inevitable nominee.
Well, I finally have succeeded in my quest: Out of Trump's very inarticulateness and ignorance, it has been revealed to me that bigotry and racism not only are alive and thriving in America, but that they can be harnessed for great evil when a political party welcomes disciples of hate, even if that political party later realizes that a consequence of its pandering may be its own destruction. And that Trump's ascendancy and the party's death wish have become existential horrors for people like myself who once looked on both with glee.
Bigotry and racism are not the same thing, mind you: A person can be bigoted on their very own, whether it involves gender, religion or race, while racism requires a group effort, and Trump, in fact, has hit the trifecta in demeaning women, demonizing Islam and disparaging blacks and Hispanics.
Meanwhile, Trump's rallies have become increasingly violent confrontations between people who believe their dignity and economic futures are under threat, as the news media so piously describes their not so transparent hope that Trump can somehow restore the racial hierarchy upended by Barack Obama, and on the other side people who are fearful of the consequences of his venomous rants, which include threats to take down his enemies if he is elected.
As diabolical as the vainglorious Trump's ascendancy has been, the cowardice with which it has been greeted by the Republican elites and their deep-pocketed oligarchic backers has been worse.
Not one Republican of prominence spoke out against Trump until the laughter and ridicule dissipated and he became a threat to the party's viability, and only then did he begin to come under attack for the very views the elites had so silently and smugly supported, including working against the economic needs of Trump's core supporters . And make no mistake about it, the pushback has far less to do with those views than the knowledge that Trump does not answer to the elites. He only answers to himself.
(Let's do a quick reset on the results of the so-called third Super Tuesday: The vile Ted Cruz is now Trump's only obstacle of any consequence, and Trump may have been denied Ohio because of the humiliated Marco Rubio's death bed plea that his supporters vote for John Kasich. At this point a little more than halfway through the primary season, it would take an upset of staggering proportions to deny Trump enough delegates to win the nomination outright or at the least be the convention kingmaker. Hillary Clinton's position is even more secure after the Law of Gravity reappeared in her five-state sweep, and despite the naysayers, she is still likely to kick Trump's sorry ass.)
Beyond the combustibility of Trump's angry white males, one of the most uncomfortable realities of this political season is that he has played fair and square, if loudly and vulgarly, by the primary and delegate selection process rules altered by the party elites after the Romney-Ryan debacle in 2012 to better assure that the candidate the elites wanted could shake off unwelcome interlopers, wrap things up more quickly through winner-take-all primaries like several of those yesterday, and turn his sights on the general election. It is not a stretch to imagine a version of this happening to the Democrats in a future election year.
A consequence of the Republicans' self-created mess is that Trump's supporters expect him to be treated fairly at the nominating convention this summer in Cleveland.
Ross Dothat, the conservative New York Times op-ed columnist, had plenty of company in being painfully slow in realizing the threat Trump is to party and country, but he got fully on board with a powerful column the other day in which he acknowledges that:
"As Donald Trump attempts to clamber to the Republican nomination, there will be a lot of talk that the party's rules and quirks and complexities are just a way for insiders to steal the nomination away from him, in a kind of establishment coup against his otherwise inevitable victory."
Dothat references previously disastrous nominees like Barry Goldwater and George McGovern. He notes that they were men of principle even if they were losers, but that did not make them demagogues.
"Trump, though, is cut from a very different cloth. He's an authoritarian, not an ideologue, and his antecedents aren't Goldwater or McGovern; they're figures like George Wallace and Huey Long . . . No modern political party has nominated a candidate like this; no serious political party ever should.
"What Trump has demonstrated is that in our present cultural environment, and in the Republican Party's present state of bankruptcy, the first lines of defense against a demagogue no longer hold. . . . But the party's convention rules, in all their anachronistic, undemocratic and highly negotiable intricacy, are also a line of defense, also a hurdle, also a place where a man unfit for office can be turned aside."
Denying Trump the nomination would be beyond ugly, and the fisticuffs at his rallies would pale in comparison to the unrest fomented by his followers if he is cuckolded at the convention. National Guard units will be mobilized, there will be bloodshed, and the rioting of undereducated angry white males will make the unrest in Ferguson and Baltimore seem like church picnics by comparison.
How extraordinary -- yet in a way how predictable -- that the racist backlash against Barack Obama the Republican Party has used to win elections is now manifesting itself as the party's death wish.
With a huge assist from the news media, I should add, which has given Trump and his big mouth far more "earned media" -- free time as opposed to ad-buy time -- than any candidate in history. And in doing so has blatantly mischaracterized the pitchfork populists drawn to Trump as upwardly aspiring Americans hamstrung by an economically stacked deck. There is much truth to that, but it masks the stench of racism.
"It may not be good for America, but it is damn good for CBS," chirps Les Moonves, the network's head honcho in an astonishingly candid admission that Trump is a cash cow. "The money's rolling in and this is fun. I've never seen anything like this, and this is going to be a very good year for us. Sorry. It's a terrible thing to say. But bring it on, Donald. Keep going."
Nobody's fool but his own, Trump has subtly shifted gears with the nomination now within his grasp. This includes toned-down debate performances, calls for unity, dog-whistled appeals to violence when protesters are present, and blatherings about how adherents who sucker punch, kick and shove those protesters are merely showing "love . . . because they want to see America be made great again."
But do not be misled, because what all of this comes down to -- and it is a lot to grasp -- is a clear choice for Republicans: Betray Trump's supporters or betray their country.
POLITIX UPDATE IS WRITTEN BY SHAUN MULLEN, A VETERAN JOURNALIST AND BLOGGER FOR WHOM THE 2016 PRESIDENTIAL CAMPAIGN IS HIS 12th SINCE 1968. CLICK HERE FOR AN INDEX OF PREVIOUS COLUMNS.
© 2015-2016 SHAUN D. MULLEN.
IMAGE FROM DONKEYHOTEY/FLICKR.
USED WITH PERMISSION.
IMAGE FROM DONKEYHOTEY/FLICKR.
USED WITH PERMISSION.