We have met the enemy and he is us. – Walt Kelly
Ted Cruz has just dropped out of the Republican primary race. This has effectively left the field open for Donald Trump to be the Republican candidate for president. This has a good many people somewhat concerned, and there’s a lot of Monday-night quarterbacking trying to figure out what the GOP leaders could have done to stop him. Did they wait too long to change the party rules? Could they have supported Cruz or Kasich more?
But GOP support for Kasich or Cruz wouldn’t have helped. Trump, himself, isn’t even the problem. The problem with Trump’s candidacy is – the fact that it has been getting support.
It’s true that Trump has more money in his campaign coffers than the others. He talks louder, he’s brasher, he’s more outrageous and gets more attention and more media coverage. But all of that only offers him a chance to declare what his message is, and declaring what his message is is only half the equation. All campaigns are conversations – and all conversations have two sides. Trump was speaking; but people have been listening.
And people have been agreeing. People have been agreeing with the idea that the American idea only stretches so far, and is only meant for a select few. People have been agreeing with the argument that success is something reserved only for a select, elite few. People have been agreeing with the notion that torture is justifiable. People have been agreeing with the notion that women should not have free access to facilities that could help them maintain their health. People have been agreeing with his arguments that an increase in the number of guns will make us safer, and that concealed carry permits are perfectly sound. People have been agreeing with his assertion that the government has the right to spy on its citizens, and the right to seize their property through eminent domain. People have been comfortable with him accepting the endorsement of the Ku Klux Klan.
People also believe his claims that Obamacare is failing, despite years of evidence to the contrary. They support his nose-thumbing claims that he doesn’t pay taxes. They believe his claims that he is a job creator, even though four of his business have gone bankrupt. They join him in crowing that global warming is a hoax. They join him in dismissing the evidence of the pollution caused by natural gas, coal, and oil as fuel. They see no contradiction between his claims to be a supporter for education one minute, and then stating he wants to cut the funding for the Department of Education the next minute. They are undeterred by his admission that he would be willing to use nuclear weapons, for the first time since World War II.
It’s easy to write his supporters off as being dumb or ill-informed. But that assumes that people simply don’t care enough about the election to declare themselves. And the problem is precisely the opposite – people do care, very very much. But it’s what they are caring for that is at issue. Trump has gotten where he is because there are people who not only agree with him, but are willing to publicly affirm that belief by casting votes for him. They are willing to shout down those who oppose him. And if one of those people shouting moves on to assault, the others cheer them on.
If we were a better nation, Trump would not have gotten this far. He would have made his claims, and he may still have gotten a few supporters, but the rest of us would have rolled our eyes, made a few pointed comments, and laughed and turned away, and casted our votes for wiser folk. The first time a person was assaulted at a Trump rally, the rest of the nation would have reacted with horror, including Trump, and the campaign would have folded. But instead, enough people agreed with Trump that he is now the leading candidate for the Republican Party.
Trump isn’t the part about Trump’s candidacy that scares me. The fact that Trump has that many supporters – the fact that that many people have carefully considered things, and still sided with him – that is what scares me. Because no matter what happens in the election, they will still be there, and they are sharing the country with me – and they have all but admitted that if they had their way, a lot of us would be kicked out. Trump’s candidacy has exposed the fact that nearly half our country wants to strip rights and citizenship and property and liberty from a lot of the rest of us; who it is that they’ve selected as their figurehead doesn’t matter so much – because I’m pretty sure that I would be left out of the America they want to create.