In the candidate’s latest hate-coded tweet, the thing is not the incident itself; it’s the strategy behind it.
Trump may be a bigot, but he’s a bigot with a strategy. The strategy is bigotry.
When Trump, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, tweeted an internet meme about Democratic rival Hillary Clinton that appears to have been gleaned from a white nationalist Twitter account, it was but one in a series of such incidents. The Washington Post’s David Weigel summed it up this way:
For at least the fifth time, Trump’s Twitter account had shared a meme from the racist “alt-right” and offered no explanation why.
In this case, the meme featured an image of Clinton’s face against a backdrop of $100 bills, with a tagline encased in a red Star of David: “Most Corrupt Candidate Ever!”
After a predictable uproar ensued, Trump deleted the tweet, and then tweeted a new version of the meme with the Star of David magically transformed into a circle.
I’ll not debate here whether the star was actually intended to depict a sheriff’s badge (yuk-yuk) or go into the details of the uproar; the backstory is all over the internet.
The thing is not the incident itself; it’s the strategy behind it.
While Trump himself may be a bigot, incidents like the tweeted meme and utterances such as his damning of Mexicans as rapists and Muslims as probable terrorists strike me as Trump’s way of broadening the GOP base to energize turnout among America’s most racist, bigoted, and misogynist cohorts. And among the eligible American voter population, there is no shortage of such denizens.
Take, for instance, a 2012 AP survey that found “51 percent of Americans now express explicit anti-black attitudes, compared with 48 percent in a similar 2008 survey.” Add in the “implicit racial attitudes” formula, and the quotient jumps to 56 percent—up seven points from the previous presidential election.
That might account for another Twitter meme taken by Trump from a white supremacist group: one featuring astronomical and made-up numbers claiming to report the numbers of whites murdered by blacks. During the primary campaign, Trump made a point of riling up his largely white rally audiences to set upon black protesters. It was base-building among the viewers at home.
And Trump’s jihad against Muslims? Well, wouldn’t you know that only about half of Americans have favorable views of them, according to a survey by the Brookings Institution. Among independents and Republicans, favorability ratings for Muslims are 43 percent and 41 percent respectively, while 73 percent of Republicans view Islam unfavorably as a religion. Turn those haters out on Election Day, and Trump has a shot at the presidency.
Then there’s immigration. According to a 2015 poll by the Pew Research Center:
The survey also finds sharp partisan differences in views of immigration’s impact on the U.S. Among Democrats, 55 percent say immigrants are making American society better in the long run, while 24 percent say immigrants are making things worse and 18 percent say they are not having much effect. But among Republicans, views are nearly the opposite: 53 percent say immigrants are making American society worse in the long run, while 31 percent say they are making things better.
Get a chunk of that 53 percent to the polling place, and Donald Trump’s feet start itching for a victory dance.
And while, according to the Anti-Defamation League, anti-Semitic sentiment has fallen to record lows amid the population at large, it likely has life among the demographic that will peg its vote to the white ethno-nationalism that Trump is selling.
Overall, voter turnout fell in the 2012 presidential election to 57.3 percent of eligible citizens, according to the Bipartisan Policy Center—down from 62.3 percent in 2008.
If the energized voters are on the Trump side of the divide, he wins—and he could do so with a mere 30 percent of eligible voters.
Trump is betting on the racism, xenophobia, and misogyny infused in the timber of the American project since the nation’s inception. Donald Trump, casino mogul, is betting on the house.