I have followed politics closely since 1968. I have seen many unpleasant political figures. I have also seen many clear dog whistles to racists, with the racism lurking just below the surface.
When Richard Nixon talked about being tough on crime, everyone knew the race of the criminals whose specter he was invoking. The same was true of Ronald Reagan with his racist stories about young Black men buying steaks with food stamps. And when George H.W. Bush ran an ad featuring Willie Horton, a convicted murderer, no one thought he was talking about prison reform.
But, these politicians felt a need to at least put a thin veneer over their appeals to racism. That is not the case with Donald Trump and today’s Republicans. The racism is there for all to see, mixed in with a huge helping of anti-Semitism.
Blatant racism and anti-Semitism is on display as the election approaches with Donald Trump hyperventilating about the prospect that a few thousand people from Central America may seek asylum in the United States. But there is a long list of actions and words that tie Donald Trump and the Republican Party to racists and anti-Semites.
The list begins with Trump’s efforts to ban Muslim immigrants in the first days of his administration. It includes failing to mention Jews as victims of the Holocaust. Trump also couldn’t bring himself to condemn the Nazis who marched in Charlottesville, chanting “Jews will not replace us.”
Trump openly encourages his audience with chants of “lock him up” in reference to George Soros, whose major “crime” is being a progressive Jew. In the last weeks the president has made up ever more absurd claims about the risks posed by a group of people (the so-called “caravan”) that is coming up from Central America through Mexico and intends to seek asylum at the border.
I realize from my Twitter feed that alarmism is spreading about what it would mean for the US to absorb the asylum seekers from the caravan. A few numbers may help counter that alarmism.
I have seen all sorts of estimates of the size of this group, but let’s say it is 5,000 people. That’s more than any estimate I have seen. Based on past precedent, the vast majority of these people will be denied asylum, but let’s say that the impossible happens and all 5,000 get asylum.
We are a country of 330 million people. Five thousand people getting asylum amounts to less than 0.002 percent of the US population. To put that in a slightly different perspective, if you had $10,000 in the bank, the asylum seekers, relative to the US population, it would be less than 16 cents out of your bank account. And, these people are excluded from most government benefits, so there is no credible story about taxes being changed in any noticeable way.
In short, the only issue here is racism. Trump and the Republicans are saying, “Don’t worry about your wages, your family’s access to health care, your kids’ ability to go to college, we are going to keep white people safe from people emigrating from Central America.”
And it’s not just that Trump and the Republicans are not offering help to working people, they have made it very clear they want to make things worse. Their health care plan is all about removing the Affordable Care Act’s protections for people with health issues like cancer or heart disease.
They also have made it very clear that they want to cut Social Security and Medicare. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said this explicitly last month when he argued that the large budget deficits caused by the GOP tax cut will make it necessary to cut Social Security and Medicare.
Of course, the vast majority of the benefits from the tax cut went to the rich. So, this is yet another part of the upward redistribution story we have been seeing for the last four decades.
Trump and the Republicans are trying to present themselves as a populist party, but they offer nothing but racism and bigotry to ordinary workers. This is a sharp contrast with right-wing populists in other countries whose parties combine xenophobic and racist appeals with platforms supporting public benefits like Social Security and Medicare.
In countries where right-wing populists have come to power, like Hungary, they have pursued policies that led to large gains in living standards for white workers at the middle and bottom of the income distribution, even while stoking sentiments that have increased discrimination and violence toward workers of color.
By contrast, Trump and the Republicans are looking to reduce the meager benefits that ordinary workers now have. (Our Social Security system is stingy by international standards, and the US stands out as the only wealthy country without national health care insurance.)
So, Trump really has nothing to offer to his working-class supporters in terms of improving their standard of living. All he can tell them is that Jews will not replace them.