In the third of a series entitled U.S. Election Notebook, Athabasca University professor Paul Kellogg suggests that Donald Trump’s extremist rhetoric cannot be dismissed as just ‘misspeaking’. Read the second in the series, which asks if there is a comparison between the 2016 campaign of Donald Trump, and the 1964 campaign of Barry Goldwater.
Donald Trump’s campaign is playing on a deep divide in U.S. society. One-third of U.S. society is racialized (the two biggest groups being African-American and Latina-Latino). Almost 80% of racialized voters indicate they will vote against him in November. But two-thirds of U.S. society is white, and Trump has the support of 52% of these voters, a level of support rising to 60% when the universe is restricted to white men. To address the problem of Donald Trump demands addressing the problems of racism and racialization.
Trump often plays the race card, with little or no concern for the facts. November 21, 2015, he made the completely unsupported claim that September 11, 2001, he “watched in Jersey City, New Jersey, where thousands and thousands of people were cheering as that building [the World Trade Centre] was coming down. Thousands of people were cheering”.
The next day, George Stephanopoulos challenged him on the truth of this statement. “You know, the police say that didn’t happen and all those rumours have been on the Internet for some time” asking Trump, did he “misspeak yesterday?” Trump stuck to his story, and racialized it. “There were people that were cheering on the other side of New Jersey, where you have large Arab populations. … I know it might be not [be] politically correct for you to talk about it, but there were people cheering as that building came down … There were people over in New Jersey that were watching it, a heavy Arab population, that were cheering as the buildings came down. Not good”. Steven Fulop, mayor of Jersey City, refuted Trump’s claim saying that Trump “either has a faulty memory or is lying.” Trump’s comments “also brought a rebuke from a Muslim advocacy group, the Council on American-Islamic Relations, and criticism from the Anti-Defamation League.”
A calculus of words
The awful truth is, Trump did not misspeak. His comments were clearly calculated to appeal to a racist minority inside the U.S. electorate. This was also evident in his official presidential campaign announcement in New York City, June 16, 2015, a speech which contained explicit appeals to racism.
* “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”.
* “I would build a great wall … I will build a great, great wall on our southern border. And I will have Mexico pay for that wall”.
* “I will immediately terminate President Obama’s illegal executive order on immigration, immediately”.
When in August 2016, Trump travelled to Mexico and met with that country’s President Enrique Peña Nieto, it looked like he might be softening the edges of his positions. Nieto indicated that perhaps Trump had been misunderstood, saying “I am sure that his genuine interest has been to build a relationship that will improve both of our societies”. But once back in the United States, Trump delivered a speech saying that “’no one’ among the 11 million people who are in the United States illegally ‘will be immune or exempt from enforcement’ on his watch and “reaffirmed the pledge he had not repeated in Mexico: ‘They don’t know it yet, but they’re going to pay for the wall’.”
His extremist, racially charged statements – his “misspeaking” – none of these are accidental. They are calculated. He is probing to find themes which resonate with “his base”, no matter how repugnant. This approach propelled him to the top of the Republican Party. He is gambling that it will also carry him into the White House in November.
In the next post, entitled Birther origins, Paul Kellogg looks at the ‘birther’ roots of Donald Trump’s political career.
U.S. Election Notebook #1: Grief of the Parents
U.S. Election Notebook #2: Memories of Goldwater
U.S. Election Notebook #3: Calculus of ‘misspeaking’
U.S. Election Notebook #4: Birther origins
U.S. Election Notebook #5: Memories of George Wallace
U.S. Election Notebook #6: The Colour Line
U.S. Election Notebook #7: Glass ceilings & backlash
U.S. Election Notebook #8: Slaves in the White House
U.S. Election Notebook #9: Locking up the vote
U.S. Election Notebook #10: The New Jim Crow
U.S. Election Notebook #11: Not a dime’s worth of difference?
U.S. Election Notebook #12: ‘A sort of public and psychological wage’
U.S. Election Notebook #13: Political futures
Paul Kellogg (Ph.D. Queen’s, M.A. York) is an Associate Professor, Centre for Interdisciplinary Studies, Master of Arts – Integrated Studies Program, Athabasca University. Among his courses at Athabasca is POLI 345, “American Government and Politics”. He is the author of Escape from the Staple Trap: Canadian Political Economy After Left-Nationalism (University of Toronto Press, 2015). His teaching and research interests are political economy, social movements and global governance.