How Did We Get Here?

As we reflect on the horrific El Paso and Dayton shootings, it’s clear that we’ve reached an inflection point in our society. We’re teetering on the edge of civil war. Lets take a couple of steps back and consider how we got here.

Donald Trump is a symptom of a set of larger problems.  Yes, he’s cancer; but cancer resulting from a toxic environment.  The product of three poisonous trends with American society.

1.Racism: There’s no doubt that Trump is a racist and that his brand of brand of racism has fomented violence — most recently the El Paso shootings.  But racism didn’t begin with Trump; it’s been around since the founding of this country.

We’re in the modern era of U.S. racism that began with the 1964 Civil Rights Act and culminated with the 2008 election of Barack Obama.  It has three manifestations: Republicans have become the party of white racists; Republicans covertly disenfranchise people of color; and, until Trump, it was politically incorrect to use historic racist jargon — such as the N-word.

It’s not an accident that Trump now leads the Republican Party.  The members are not all racists but they — card-carrying Republicans — are enabling racism.  (How many times have we heard wealthy GOP donors say: “I don’t like what Trump says but I love his tax cuts.”)

Since the passage of the civil-rights act, we’ve seen the demise of “classic” racism — for example, segregation and Jim Crow laws — and the emergence of clandestine racism — for example, redlining and voter-id laws. ( During the past 55 years, in some parts of the country, the living conditions of people-of-color have not changed.)

Donald Trump has embraced the new clandestine racism and added his own flourishes: resentment and antipathy to political correctness.  From the moment that Trump announced his candidacy (June 17, 2015) he embraced the politics of racial resentment: “The US has become a dumping ground for everybody else’s problems… When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best.. They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists.”  He referenced a Hispanic “invasion” a phrase he’s repeatedly returned to.  Trump’s appealed to dissatisfied white (non-Hispanic) voters with a singular trope: “These people are taking what’s rightfully yours, your share of the American dream.”

In addition, Trump has called for an end to “political correctness” — “I shouldn’t be saying this, but….”  We’ve gotten so used to Trump tweets that it’s important to remember that before January 20, 2017, we’d never seen a President act like this.  Goodbye to telling the truth.  Goodbye comity.  Goodbye to setting a moral example.  Goodby to the Golden Rule.  (Goodbye to Christian ethics.)

Trump’s bashing of “political correctness” has opened the door to white supremacists.   Trump has normalized racism and racial violence.

2. Violence: The United States has a culture of violence.  We like violent novels, movies, TV shows, and video games.  We love guns.  Check the front page of any daily newspaper and you’ll find reports of murder and mayhem.  I hesitate to say that we’re addicted to violence but it’s obviously a large part of our culture.

Americans are obsessed with guns.  We have more guns in private hands than does any other nation.  The National Rifle Association (NRA) is one of the most powerful Washington lobbies.  (The U.S. requires a license to drive a car but — in most states — not to own a gun.)

There’s physical violence and psychological violence.  Trump has normalized violence in our everyday interaction.

Not only has Donald Trump called for an end to “political correctness,” he’s called for an end to nonviolent conflict resolution.  He does not treat people with respect.

Trump’s strategy for resolving conflict is to demean his opponents and insist on getting his way.  (If Trump was a football running back, he would not try to finesse would-be tacklers, he would always chose to run over them.)

Trump doesn’t apologize, he “doubles down.”  Recently Trump tweeted demeaning remarks about four Congresswomen — all women of color — suggesting “they go back” to their countries of origin, even though all but one was born in the United States.  When Trump was criticized for what was obviously a racist remark, he didn’t apologize, he doubled down.  (Trump went to El Paso on August 7th but didn’t apologize to the Hispanic shooting victims for his incendiary remarks about Hispanics; instead Trump told the press how much all the victims loved him.)

3.Pay to Play: The third poisonous trend within American society is unbridled capitalism.  In Trump’s case it has two malevolent faces.  One is the replacement of Christian ethics by Capitalistic ethics — the end justifies the means.  (“Love those tax cuts!”)  The other toxic impact of Capitalism is the buying of politicians.

It’s too easy to write off Donald Trump as an extreme narcissist; someone who has no empathy and is, therefore, incapable of taking responsibility for his actions.  We’ve gotten so used to bizarre Trump tweets that it’s reflexive to dismiss him as mentally ill.  Another explanation is that since Trump only cares about money, he acts the way he does because it brings in huge campaign contributions and fills his wallet.  Trump is the most ostentatious representative of a general Republican position: We’re for sale.

The modern Republican Party has swallowed the ethics of Capitalism — and Ayn Rand.  Their politics begin and end with money.

It’s easy to see this in the behavior of Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.  He refuses to do anything about election integrity — Russian interference in our elections — because he’s getting donations from Russians.  Similarly, McConnell refuses to do anything about gun control because he’s getting donations from the NRA and Kentucky-based  gun manufacturers.

Trump and McConnell act the way they do because they are being enabled by their Republican colleagues and by wealthy GOP donors.  That’s why a real solution to our problems requires more than defeating Trump in 2020.  Real change requires voting out Republicans at all levels of government.  And, penalizing Republican donors.