Vinay Menon: Before they can beat Donald Trump, his foes must learn to ignore him — even his racism
|Toronto Star 16 Jul 2019 at 19:13|
But what Trump critics — and I’ve been one for about 15 years — often fail to appreciate is that he is immune to moral outrage and conventional wisdom. It’s like berating a chair. He is a weed that grows in the dark. He marches to the beat of his own drummer, a percussionist who is belting out the intro to Nirvana’s “ Pay To Play .” Every single thing Trump does that triggers censure only strengthens the roots of his base. It makes them tap their toes with glee.
Trump once joked he could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue and not lose voters.
He was not wrong. He could decapitate a puppy on live TV and his approval rating would not dip. He could sell Melania to human traffickers for a sack of Viagra and his fans would cheer the great deal.
The people who support him, whether they realize it or not, do so precisely because he does not play by the rules. But the people who oppose him, whether they realize it or not, are only playing into his hands by making his chronic rule-breaking Exhibit A, one that continually sucks the living daylights out of every news cycle.
Look at this week’s controversy. On Sunday, Trump made the world recoil when he tweeted that certain “Democrat Congresswomen, who originally came from countries whose governments are a complete and total catastrophe” should “go back” and “help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came.”
As racism goes, this was not subtle. The “go back” to your homeland trope has a long and an ugly history in the annals of prejudice. Every now and again, I’ll get a caustic email from someone encouraging me to go back to my homeland, which is always confusing since I was born in Ohio and raised in North York. And though Trump didn’t name names, his missives were quickly and accurately interpreted as a shot at the so-called “Squad” of four progressive congresswomen of colour — Ilhan Omar (Minnesota), Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (New York), Rashida Tlaib (Michigan) and Ayanna Pressley (Massachusetts) — who’ve been outspoken against his presidency.
Since all four elected officials are U.S. citizens — and three were born on American soil — the reaction to Trump’s “go back” sentiment was as you might expect. Cable news — not including Fox — has been running relentless coverage this week in which pundits debate if Trump is or is not “racist.” That’s like wall-to-wall coverage about how Kylie Jenner may or may not be loaded. I mean, given Trump’s early observations about how Mexicans are rapists and murderers, given his travel ban on Muslim nations and his obsession with a border wall and his vows of ICE raids and his attempts to demolish asylum laws by executive fiat, don’t we already have sufficient evidence this intemperate fellow at least dabbles in xenophobia?
But by making his alleged bigotry the story, the media and popular culture — including the late-night comedians who spent Monday hammering Trump — are just doing his dirty work. At this point, racism is all he’s got heading into 2020. To much of his base, the R-word is not disqualifying — it’s a badge of honour. Immigration, illegal or otherwise, is the animating issue — something the Democrats don’t seem to grasp. Trump fans don’t care if the deficit balloons to 100 trillion or if they have no health care or if the environment goes to hell in a deregulated handbasket.
If he is keeping out the darkies, that’s all that matters.
To these people, “racist” is a compliment.
And this is where critics need to get wise and realize that Trump abides by two principles: 1. Divide and conquer and 2. All publicity is good publicity.
If everyone is up in arms about his alleged racism, nobody is talking about the Democratic candidates who might defeat him next year. Any lament on his character, however damning, is ultimately a win for Trump because it keeps him top of mind. This should’ve been the lesson learned from 2016, when he rode a tsunami of scandals and controversies straight into the White House. But amnesia has set in.
There is no point in trying to shame a shameless man. If by now his fans do not see his profound failings as a human, those blinders can’t be removed. Trump is not a politician. He is a cult leader who is bending his party to his will.
And the more awful he is, the more his base rejoices.
This summer, critics should pretend he no longer exists. Put the focus elsewhere. Stop taking the bait. Cease giving him a power he has failed to earn.