NEW YORK – Unlike many of my colleagues, I knew Donald Trump would probably win. Based on the president’s congenital laziness and short attention span that I documented in my biography, I also predicted that his administration would be characterized by a lack of focus or follow-through. I did pretty well by my readers.
But there’s one thing I never saw coming.
I didn’t know he was a far-right extremist.
Who would have ever thought that a president would defend Nazis and Klansmen — repeatedly, even after catching hell for doing so? That, to appease “very fine” Nazis and Klansmen, a president wouldn’t bother to phone the family of a high-profile political murder victim? (Trump waited four days to call — and first did so during her funeral.) That a president of the United States would elevate the leaders of the defeated, treasonous Confederacy to the level of America’s Founding Fathers?
As CNN’s Anderson Cooper observed after Trump’s now-infamous news conference, “A few hours ago, the president of the United States revealed to us so clearly who he really is.”
Who is he? At best, an enabler and apologist for fascists.
At worst, a fascist himself. Though, to be fair, comparing Trump to fascists is unfair to fascists. Fascists got things done. Infrastructure, for example.
There were plenty of signs of Trump’s fascist tendencies. He promised to bring back torture; on Aug. 17 he approvingly recounted an incredibly (i.e., literally untrue) racist story that U.S. occupation troops executed Muslim Filipino patriots with bullets dipped in pig’s blood. He repeatedly encouraged violence against peaceful liberal protesters at his rallies; he was still at it last month, when he “joked” that cops ought to bash suspects’ heads into the side of their squad cars. He wants to refill the infamous concentration camp at Guantanamo.
During the campaign there were also indications that Trump might be a reasonable man. Gay Republicans assured us his White House would respect pro-LGBTQA rights. During the campaign, Trump said Caitlyn Jenner should feel free to use the Trump Tower bathroom of her choice. Strange to think about now, but this is the same guy who endorsed single-payer health care, called for a tax increase on the wealthy, promised to lay off Planned Parenthood, and came out for amnesty for illegal immigrants (albeit after deporting them, then letting them back in … to help out the airlines, maybe?).
Candidate Trump was satisfyingly all over the place.
President Trump has been terrifyingly consistent.
Presidents Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush hired Democrats to top posts. Not Trump. His Cabinet and top staff is staffed by rabid right-wing lily white ideologues; it features more generals than an old-school junta. Trump’s first major policy initiatives — repealing Obamacare with no replacement and tax cuts for the rich — have tilted so far right that he can’t even secure the support of the usual sellout Vichy Democrats, or right-wing Republicans.
Even by the standards of a country whose citizens — even the “liberal” ones — believe they have the right to invade and bomb any country they feel like without justification, Trump’s presser and ensuing tweets were truly special.
“Mainstream” Republicans like Mitch McConnell may have the soul of a Nazi. But actual Nazism — the uniforms, the flags, the crazy rune shields — Americans don’t do that stuff. Actual Nazism is for a few thousand pasty tatt-covered muscleheads with little pig eyes. They are freaks. They are few.
Yet they have a friend in this president.
Let’s be clear: there isn’t much ideological daylight between “mainstream” Republicanism and little-pig-eyed Nazism. Nazism is militarily expansionist; so is U.S. foreign policy (which, to be fair, is equally supported by Democrats). Nazism centers around a dynamic cult of the Leader; Republicans rally around their president no matter what outlandish crap gets vomited out by his mouth. Nazism relies on scapegoating and harkens to a mythic past when the nation was united by a common cause and everyone (everyone who matters) was happier and more prosperous — cf. “Make America Great Again” — and Republicans’ baseless claims that illegal immigrants are criminals and rapists.
So Trump’s defense of Nazis and Klansmen isn’t a radical departure from the GOP political norm. Where he’s gone off the rails by American standards is a question of style.
Trump’s manner — as Sen. Bob Corker aptly describes it, his lack of “steadiness” and “competence” — is why he almost certainly will not complete his term.
Racism isn’t the issue — Republicanism is racist. It’s a matter of decorum.
Trump is too tacky and high-strung and unpredictable for the business class. America’s ruling elites like their racism served up quietly in a well-tailored suit, under a tight helmet of elder statesman hair, delivered calmly and slowly, so bland that no one pays attention.
This is where Mike Pence comes in.
Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), a political cartoonist, columnist and writer. His latest book is “Trump: A Graphic Biography,” an examination of the life of the Republican presidential nominee in comics form.