Had enough of Donald Trump yet? I have. Not because his antics cheapen the presidential debate, or because he sucks all the oxygen out of any other issue or candidacy, or because his money and celebrity illustrate pretty much everything that’s wrong with our political process — although all of that is true. I’m fed up with Trump because his casually ugly slurs against immigrants have given legitimacy to a virulent strain of nativism that is doing real damage to the American idea.
Trump’s tirades against immigrants — his unfounded claim that undocumented Mexicans are responsible for an increase in drug addiction and crime, his call to repeal the 14th Amendment that guarantees citizenship to U.S. newborns — have poisoned the atmosphere. His rantings found their full expression last Wednesday when a homeless man allegedly was attacked by two South Boston thugs who claimed Trump as an inspiration. According to police, the man, a Mexican immigrant, was sleeping at the JFK Red Line station when he was debased, urinated on, and beaten with a pole by two brothers returning from a Red Sox game. Scott Leader, 38, reportedly told State Police as he was being arrested, “Donald Trump was right, all these illegals need to be deported.”
his casually ugly slurs against immigrants have given legitimacy to a virulent strain of nativism that is doing real damage to the American idea.
Meanwhile, a white Supremacist in North Dakota named Craig Cobb wants to rename his all-white town in North Dakota after Trump. The publisher of The Daily Stormer, a prominent neo-Nazi blog, has endorsed Trump’s candidacy. This week’s New Yorker magazine has a chilling report from the campaign trail on Trump’s more rabid followers on the far right: border vigilantes, self-proclaimed militias, promoters of “white racial consciousness” and so on. The Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks racist hate groups, finds a surprising number of extremists drawn to Trump’s “tell it like it is” crusade.
Up until now, it’s been tempting to dismiss Trump as harmless entertainment on the long dull road to the presidential nomination. But his campaign has become more dangerous than that. Trump is like one of those vile websites where haters can go to have their prejudices or conspiracy theories confirmed. Rather than feeling isolated or ashamed of their bigotry, they can take comfort in the company of a man with wealth and fame, a man free to “speak the truth” without concern for political correctness or other niceties like the U.S. Constitution.
Boston, and especially South Boston, does not need a reprise of a bad old reputation for racial intolerance. It’s good to see Mayor Martin Walsh and South Boston Congressman Stephen Lynch speaking out against what was clearly a hate crime. On Thursday Lynch said the attack “reflects poorly on South Boston,” and called on Trump to “come down heavy on anyone who resorts to violence on somebody they suspect to be an immigrant.” As most everyone knows, Trump at first seemed unaware — or unconcerned — about the vigilantism carried out in his name, indulging his supporters as “very passionate.” Two days later he allowed as how “I would never condone violence.” Trump isn’t responsible for the actions of every one of his supporters. But he has created a generalized climate of hate that can incite bitter, disenfranchised hotheads looking for scapegoats.
Trump isn’t responsible for the actions of every one of his supporters. But he has created a generalized climate of hate that can incite bitter, disenfranchised hotheads looking for scapegoats.
The victim’s story also opens a lens on a host of social policy ills. First, immigration: The U.S. Congress cannot agree on the most modest reforms even to address the backlog of visa applications, and any comprehensive efforts for the 11 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S. went out with John McCain’s last run for office. Second, racism: According to the Mexican consulate, the victim came to Boston 10 years ago from Chicago, where he had been a janitor in a veterinary clinic. He speaks English, pays taxes, and sends money home to his mother. And yet he was vilified as a faceless "other" without basic rights. Third, economic inequality. Despite owning a social security card and working various jobs, the man cannot afford housing or find a decent shelter bed. To these real and complex problems, Trump offers almost nothing by way of solutions.
The mayor of Antler, the tiny North Dakota town where Craig Cobb is buying up property in an attempt to establish a whites-only enclave called “Trump Creativity,” says Cobb is just a gadfly looking for publicity. “If I were you,” he told a reporter for the Grand Forks Herald, “I’d just ignore the guy.”
It’s too late to do that with Donald Trump.