The Politics of Fear: Why Donald Trump Is No Laughing Matter

Donald Trump speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, MD, March 6, 2014. Donald Trump speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, Maryland, March 6, 2014. (Photo: Christopher Halloran / Shutterstock.com)

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump has been doing better than many people ever expected he would, eliciting astonishment and shock at his gains in the polls. His lead in Iowa was described in The Washington Post as “almost not surprising.” Still, for many it’s very surprising. There are many words you could use to describe Donald Trump: Rude, callous, racist, unabashed and bold are just a few of them. At some point, these have become things that people don’t associate with presidents. But, the fact of the matter is that Donald Trump embodies many of the characteristics and principles that have defined the United States for centuries.

The United States has a problem with accepting its historical truths. This nation represents the ruthlessness needed to build a quick empire in modernity. The political effects of the revisionist histories presented in US textbooks and undergirding optimistic political sentiments underline the danger of dishonesty. Let’s face it: Many of the founding fathers were bigoted, wealthy, arrogant and sexist, much like Donald Trump. His presence as a contender is representative of an element that obviously identifies with him as a return to these core values of white supremacy.

There is no bottom to the depth of the paranoia about “outsiders” coming to detract from the “American dream.”

After two tumultuous terms with President Obama, many white conservatives are infuriated. All throughout Obama’s presidency we’ve heard white people uttering the phrase “take our country back.” President Obama has been painted as a communist, dictator and ultra-leftist by his detractors despite being a centrist in many places politically. One could argue that his Blackness makes the response to every political move he makes that much more intense. Regardless, his election drew a stark increase in right-wing hate groups.

It would be naive to see the hostile racial environment in which the United States is currently situated as a completely separate issue here. Trump’s racist and sexist statements can be seen as a breath of fresh air for those who are bitterly returning from their symbolic loss regarding the public display of Confederate battle flags. “I’ve been challenged by so many people and I don’t frankly have time for total political correctness,” were the choice words Trump used to thunderous applause at the first Republican debate.

Shortly before, Republicans were rushing to disassociate themselves from donations they had received from hate group leader Earl Holt of the Council of Conservative Citizens. This direct link to a white supremacist in the shadow of the Charleston massacre is one more fact that illustrates the proximity of our racist environment to the politicians who “represent” us.

Zoé Samudzi described this phenomenon in an op-ed addressing Dylann Roof’s massacre in Charleston.

Roof’s whole-hearted embrace of Confederate ideologies, his hatred of Blacks and Latinos, his naming of the “Jewish problem,” and his perception of East Asians as a “model minority” and the group in most active collusion with white supremacy may all be considered fringe and extremist views, but they are all political understandings that exist within mainstream conservatism and within mainstream whiteness more broadly.

Liberals and their voter base alike, however, have broadly failed at taking Donald Trump seriously. He’s often the butt of jokes, skits and snarky blogs. But, as Henry Giroux has also argued in Truthout, this is something very dangerous. No matter how anyone feels about Donald Trump, it’s unwise to think that conservatives and hateful people would do anything other than support him in large swathes. After all, the United States is a country that is often moved by fear and hatred, rather than love for fellow citizens.

This fear and hatred has led this country to invade other nations, destroying millions of lives unapologetically. This fear and hatred has led the United States to murder indigenous people and abandon them to disrepair and poverty. That fear and hatred has led this nation to deport millions of immigrants in the last decade and say that’s still not enough. There is no bottom to the depth of the paranoia about “outsiders” coming to detract from the “American dream.”

This fear mongering has always been utilized to stir up patriotism and loyalty among US citizens. After all, as Trump told “Fox & Friends” recently, he’s “just trying to make America great again.” The Republican Party plays into white fear in a very radicalized way, whether by telling white people that immigrants are coming to take their jobs or by telling them that lazy Black people on welfare are stealing their tax money. Playing into white fear is a very powerful political strategy. It’s something that has mass appeal for politicians globally.

In Europe, the far right has been maintaining steady momentum. The rise of Greece’s ultra-nationalist Golden Dawn party has been troubling. France’s far-right Front National party might make gains during this month’s local elections. The same right-wing elements are rising in Germany and throughout the European Union. While US liberals joke about the likes of Donald Trump, his brand of corporatocracy-styled thinking – fueled by anti-immigrant rhetoric – is becoming increasingly common throughout the world.

Yet again, the United States sits in a position to let these elements advance, just as the Tea Party advanced before (to the horror of many, including Republican Party leaders). Here the Republicans are again with a Frankenstein’s monster they’ve helped to create: Donald Trump. He’s embarrassing them and causing turmoil in the party, forcing other Republicans to go far right or risk looking cowardly to some of their voters. Donald Trump’s unforgiving honesty might be humorous to some, but we still need to take him seriously.

Should former Toronto mayor Rob Ford not have been taken seriously? What about Boris Johnson or the UK Independence Party? All around the world, laughable politicians take positions of power where their goofiness becomes no laughing matter. Things aren’t so funny when the joke becomes a reality involving the lives of vulnerable people.

Meanwhile, Donald Trump told Tucker Carlson of “Fox & Friends,” “Our country is in very, very serious trouble, Tucker.” He’s right. Never underestimate the uniting power of hate.