The Aug. 31 Time Magazine cover had Trump’s image with the caption “Deal with it,” as if to say that the problem is with all of us and not with the candidate’s racism. Jorge Ramos, the anchorman of the largest Latino TV network, had to “deal with it” during Trump’s press conference when bullied out of the room after asking the candidate a question concerning his immigration proposals. The episode speaks volumes about Trump’s increasing hostilities toward immigrants and Mexicans, in particular, with the illegal distinction being only a façade.
Trump’s entry into the nomination contest witnessed an immediate assault on Mexican immigrants as the candidate bombastically proclaimed: “[Mexico is] sending people that have lots of problems, and they are bringing those problems to us. They are bringing drugs and bringing crime and their rapists.” Since the June announcement Trump continued battering Mexican-Americans by using the racist “anchor babies” to frame the immigration problem. Trump is leading the Republican field by double digits. Trump tapped into a deep xenophobic and racist reservoir across the country by launching the assault on Mexican immigrants, refusing to apologize and going after media personalities.
Donald Trump’s stunning meteoric rise and domination of early polls has left many perplexed. However, it has to be seen as the culmination of a tide that began years earlier. What Trump has been able to do is to successfully and in a showman style ride an existing xenophobic and racist wave in today’s America.This new xenophobic and racist wave began to take shape immediately after the successful election in 2008 of President Barack Obama. In more than one way, Obama’s election in 2008 ushered the arrival of a new multiracial coalition into the heart of America’s political life, and this was profoundly unsettling for whites in the central and southern parts of the country.
The consternation around Obama’s birth certificate and his supposed Muslimness were utilized as a signpost for resurgent racist discourses that used distorted patriotic themes and defense of the country as a rallying point against a supposed take-over of America. In the days and months after Obama’s victory, the sales of weapons skyrocketed nationally, and we witnessed the rapid rise of the Tea Party, which quickly degenerated into racism and xenophobic discourse. Mainstream and traditional Republicans having lost the elections, a disastrous Iraq war and an economic collapse were in no position to confront or challenge the new racist and xenophobic forces and opted to play along and ended-up embracing the Tea Party.
The Republican clasp of the Tea Party translated into success and the trouncing of the Democrats in the 2010-midterm elections but also pushed the party further into the racist fringe. Thus, the xenophobic fringe dominated the mainstream of the Republican Party, which was further egged-on by a set of insidious corporate and foreign policy interests. Right wing media outlets like Fox and radio talk shows magnified the Tea Party movement and helped it set the terms of debate, which were decisively xenophobic and racist.
Tea Party members and Republicans vehement opposition to Obama’s policies were more about what he represented and an attempt to mount a defense of whites, who up to this point constituted the numerical and political majority in the country. Not being able to provide a cohesive response to demographic shifts, the Republicans opted to demonize, frustrate and delegitimize Obama in the eyes of the American public at every turn in the hope that they would be rewarded with a return to the White House.
In the years since Obama’s 2008 and 2012 election victories, the Tea Party and Republicans have managed to break the psychological barrier of overt racism and xenophobia, while casting white Americans as victims of a stolen country and facing financial ruin. Thus, opposition to Obama’s policies and his black personhood was utilized by the right wing to sharpen overt anti-black racism, anti-Muslim rhetoric (Islamophobia), anti-Asian sentiments focused on China and anti-Mexican xenophobia, while all along presenting Whites as the “true American” cavalry coming to the rescue.
Not being able to provide new ideas or expand a demographically shrinking base, the Republicans opted for a divide and conquer strategy by using racism and anti-immigrant rhetoric to achieve it. Denying immigrants a path to citizenship resulted in preventing further expansion of the Democratic Party voter base among new citizens. Similarly, dismantling the Voting Rights Act and incarceration are two tools to push African Americans voters out of the voting booth across the country. Trump understood the game better than those who set it up and turned the magic on the right wing magicians by being more openly xenophobic and racist than anyone else and calling the Republicans on the carpet publically.
Trump has become the face of xenophobia and racism in today’s America, but this will not be sufficient to carry him to the nomination. Throwing Jorge Ramos out of the press conference will re-energize millions of Latino voters who will come out on election days to punish the Republicans, deny them the White House and possibly losing them the majority in the House and Senate.