When Donald Trump tweeted that four congresswomen of colour should “go back” to their own countries – even though they were in their own country, the United States – the reaction was scathing.
The 45th President was excoriated to a degree which was extraordinary, even for him.
Well good, it was thought. Maybe Mr. Trump learned a lesson. He can’t get away with that kind of discrimination. This is not the pre-Civil Rights era.
Unsurprisingly, that hope was misplaced. The President was back in the race-baiting business again in a matter of days.
His latest Twitter target is Elijah Cummings, the long-time lawmaker from Baltimore. Mr. Trump tweeted on Saturday that, instead of criticizing his administration’s handling of detained migrants, Mr. Cummings should spend more time fixing the “disgusting rat and rodent infested mess” that is his 7th Congressional District, a place, he said, where “no human being would want to live.”
Those remarks also produced outrage, but not enough to deter the browbeating President. His next target was Rev. Al Sharpton, the long-time civil rights campaigner who the President denounced as “a con man” who “hates whites & cops!”
If there wasn’t enough proof already, these incidents demonstrated that any expectation of Mr. Trump attaining a degree of decency and respect for the office he holds and the diversity of people he governs is shattered. By contrast, his eruptions were evidence of an intensifying racial demagoguery.
This President has taken offence to a new level. He is now moved into full bigot mode and he is comfortable in doing so. Recall, for example, the testimony of his former lawyer/confidant Michael Cohen before a congressional committee. “While we were once driving through a struggling neighbourhood in Chicago, he [Mr. Trump] commented that only black people could live that way. And, he told me that black people would never vote for him because they were too stupid.”
But there is more to Mr. Trump’s new turn than it being consistent with his nature. He has concluded that pitting whites against blacks and other people of colour is critical to his re-election. So much so that his politics are being compared to George Wallace, the segregationist governor of Alabama who ran for president in 1968, 1972 and 1976.
“There’s no one that Trump resembles more than Wallace” said David Gergen, who has worked for both Republican and Democratic presidents.
The stunning reality facing Americans today is that they have a President who, as former Michigan governor Jennifer Granholm puts it, is “giving permission to people to be divided.” Mr. Trump’s implicit message is that it’s okay for white Americans to take issue with other ethnicities.
If social and racial chaos results, so be it. As President, he could take on more authoritarian powers in the name of restoring order. The possibility that carnage will result as Mr. Trump ramps up his white nationalism cannot be easily dismissed. One incident can trigger a chain reaction.
The country is not at the boiling point yet. But he is moving it closer. George Wallace mellowed with time. Not him.
Mental-health experts warned Congress last week that Mr. Trump’s rantings can indeed incite violence. Hate crimes, mass shootings – there was another in California on the weekend – and the like are substantially up in number since he became President.
One of the most frightening examples of what the Trump provocations can lead to involved the case of Cesar Sayoc. Last October, Mr. Sayoc, a Trump supporter, mailed pipe bombs to Democrats and media figures who had condemned Mr. Trump and whom the President had gone after in return. The bombs were retrieved before detonation. Mr. Sayoc later said that the Trump rallies had become “a new found drug” that had warped his thinking.
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the high-profile first-term Democrat from the Bronx, has been a frequent target of threats. Last week, two police officers in Louisiana were fired over a Facebook post suggesting she should be shot.
Rather than warn his choleric followers against violence, Mr. Trump has often done the opposite. In a March interview with Breitbart, one of his favourite right-wing websites, he said that he had the support of the police, military and biker gangs and, if things reach a certain point, “it would be very bad, very bad.”
With the sensitivities he is stoking, that certain point may not be far off.
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