2016-08-27 / Opinion

The haters always lose

Cokie and Steven Roberts

Rocky Suhayda, chairman of the American Nazi Party, wrote recently to his followers: “Donald Trump’s campaign statements, if nothing else, have SHOWN that ‘our views’ are NOT so ‘unpopular’ as the Political Correctness crowd have told everyone they are!”

Suhayda is not the only white nationalist thrilled with Trump’s campaign. The video blogger Paul Ray Ramsey tweeted, “The GOP is becoming the de facto white party. Nothing wrong with that.”

David Duke, a former Ku Klux Klan leader now running for the Senate in Louisiana, was asked on NPR if “Trump voters are your voters?” His reply: “Well, of course they are. Because I represent the ideas of preserving this country and the heritage of this country, and I think Trump represents that as well.”

We are not calling Trump a racist; most of his supporters aren’t racists, either. And the candidate, albeit reluctantly, disavows the support of white nationalists.

But words matter. Candidates have to take responsibility for the impact of what they say. And there’s no doubt that Trump’s anti-foreigner tirades deliberately appeal to the darkest instincts in the American soul.

Republican leaders were already appalled at Trump’s rhetoric. Paul Ryan, the speaker of the house, called his attacks on a federal judge of Mexican ancestry “the textbook definition” of racism. But their despair only deepened when Trump appointed Stephen Bannon, head of Breitbart News, to head his faltering campaign.

Ben Shapiro, who worked at Breitbart for four years, wrote in The Washington Post that Bannon had turned the website “into a cesspool of the alt-right,” a political movement he describes as “shot through with racism and anti- Semitism.”

Republican consultant Rick Wilson, an ardent Trump foe, told the Post, “Bannon will pivot you in a dark, racist and divisive direction. It’ll be a nationalist, hateful campaign. Republicans should run away.” Just to confirm Wilson’s point, self-described “racialist” Jared Taylor expressed elation: “Bannon is making me hope again, making Trump Trump again.”

Peter Wehner, a veteran Republican strategist, said of the “alt-right” championed by Bannon: “Movements like this, with toxic and nasty stuff, have existed in one form or another, but they’ve been kept on the outer fringes of American political life. Now it’s command and control at headquarters.”

Trump is a very American figure. The “toxic and nasty stuff ” he spouts is painfully familiar. As Steve wrote in his book, “From Every End of This Earth,” “throughout American history, immigrants have been demonized for despoiling or diluting the country’s ethnic heritage.” And that nativism tends to flourish in times of economic dislocation and anxiety – like now.

In 1753, Ben Franklin called the Germans flocking to Pennsylvania “generally the most stupid sort of their own nation,” and warned: “They will soon outnumber us, (and we) will not, in my opinion, be able to preserve our language, and even our government will become precarious.” Franklin’s xenophobia was echoed in the anti-Catholic platform of the Know-Nothing Party that won 25 percent of the presidential vote in 1856. In 1882, Congress passed a law barring immigrants from China – a law that was not repealed until 1943.

In 1891, 11 Italians were lynched in New Orleans. During World War II, more than 100,000 Japanese-Americans were shamefully interned on the West Coast as “threats” to national security.

In the early 1950s, Sen. Joe McCarthy conducted an anti- Communist witch hunt laced with anti-Semitic overtones. In 1968, George Wallace ran for president on an openly segregationist platform and won five states and almost 10 million votes.

So when Trump calls Mexican immigrants “rapists,” when he advocates a wall across the Southern border and vows to bar Muslims from the country, he is joining a long and sordid line of American politicians who have stirred the same embers of fear and hatred than Franklin inflamed 263 years ago.

Wehner is right to warn that Trump is taking these despicable appeals and moving them from the fringe of American political life to the center. McCarthy and Wallace, after all, never came close to a major party nomination, let alone the White House.

History, however, offers some reassurance. The haters might win for a time, but in the end, they always lose. The groups they once reviled – the Germans and the Irish, the Italians and the Jews, the Chinese and the Japanese, the descendants of African-born slaves – are now full and vital members of the American community.

That’s true for Hispanics and Muslims, as well. No matter how loudly the white nationalists now cheer for Trump.

— Steve and Cokie Roberts can be contacted by email at stevecokie@gmail.com.

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