Anthropology / Everything Human

Trump’s Tactics and Republican Speechlessness


Trump’s Tactics and Republican Speechlessness

The most astounding thing about the rise of Donald Trump is not his willingness to use racist hatred as a central theme in his presidential campaign—it’s the unwillingness of the Republican Party to denounce him for it.

Trump’s rivals and sundry party notables proclaim that Trump must be stopped, yet in the debates those same opponents ultimately pledge to support the party’s nominee, whoever it may be. And while some GOP strategists and pundits call on their fellow Republicans to renounce Trump, more are willing to see the party united behind him, if necessary. For example, a recent Washington Post forum featured advice from “seven top Republicans” about how the party “should respond to Trump.” Two out of the seven counseled outright acceptance of Trump, while three Republicans equivocated, saying there was still time to defeat him in the primaries. Only two—William Kristol, editor of The Weekly Standard, a conservative magazine, and Danielle Pletka, senior vice president for foreign and defense policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute—offered principled rejections of Trump. But only Pletka explicitly rejected Trump’s racism and xenophobia as “compromising core American values.” The majority of GOP leaders are unwilling to call out Trump for his racism.

Indeed, it might be more than unwillingness—the GOP might be politically incapable of denouncing Trump, given their history. The bind for Republicans is the fact that Trump’s strategy is all too familiar. A refusal to validate anti-racist arguments has been a central strand in Republican discourse since the term “politically correct” (or “PC”) became common coin in the 1990s. Conservatives use the term to denounce the politics of anti-racism without proclaiming adherence to its logical opposite—a politics of racism.

When students at the University of Missouri, for example, protested racist hate speech directed at them, their critics ignored the substance of those complaints. Instead, they excoriated the students’ political correctness as a denial of free speech and the right of all individuals to express their opinions as they see fit. As such, the critics pushed back against the meaning of the students’ complaints by not engaging with it and instead forcefully dismissing it.

Trump put his candidacy into play with his claim that many Mexican immigrants are rapists. He has renewed his initial gambit with similar statements about Muslims—a lot of them hate the United States, he claims—and about demonstrators who protest against him—they are attacking free speech, according to Trump. His fundamental assertion is that all such individuals must be expelled from the body politic for the sake of our national well-being.

So far, Trump is following a familiar nationalist script. A supposedly homogeneous national “we” is defined by the values it shares, and outsiders are portrayed as a threat to those values and to that homogeneity. If we admit outsiders, nationalist demagogues say, they will pollute and ultimately destroy the nation. And thus follows one of Trump’s most outrageous arguments, which is for the necessity of the U.S.-Mexican border wall—the ultimate symbol of nationalist ideologies the world over.

Trump’s next move, his wiliest tactic, is uniquely adapted to a U.S. nationalism.

But Trump’s next move, his wiliest tactic, is uniquely adapted to a U.S. nationalism in which free speech is a central value. He marks as enemies of the republic not only outsiders but also insiders who criticize his racism. His critics, he suggests, have been brainwashed by a PC ideology that would, if unchecked, deprive him and his supporters of their right to speak. In this way, according to Trump’s logic, those who are against him are as un-American as the immigrants he also decries.

The Democrats’ response to Trump is straightforward. They denounce his racism and defend their continued inclusion of the people Trump would exclude. But this leaves his adroit attack on political correctness untouched. As for Republicans, they have long used contempt for political correctness as a cover for their own color-coded (that is, racial) appeals to their base. They can hardly call out Trump for doing the same thing—or attack their base as being racist or open to racist appeals. Through his twisted defense of free speech, Trump has rendered the Republican establishment speechless.

Some level of cosmic justice may be served by the fact that Trump forces the GOP either to own up to its electoral reliance on racism or to remain silent. But there will be no justice in the United States if those who value racial reparation above party politics fail to speak and work against Trump. The only way to counter his poisonous and anesthetizing verbal arrows is to defend discourse that is civil, inclusive, and democratic, and oppose that which is racist, xenophobic, and nationalistic.

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  • Barry Bainton

    Why anyone should be surprised by Trump and his success so far in gaining the lead in the Republican side of the Presidential race is interesting. It is a replay of the Weimar Republic ignoring Mein Kampf. In Chapter 2 TRUMP CARDS: The Elements of the Deal, Trump explains his strategy.
    “My style of deal- making is quite simple and straight forward. I aim very high, and then just keep pushing and pushing and
    pushing to get what I’m after. Sometimes I settle for less than I sought, but in most cases I still end up with what I want.” (1987: p.45)

    These are the opening lines of chapter 2 of Donald Trump’s book, The Art of the Deal. A clearer statement of a man’s guiding philosophy cannot, I feel, be found. Today (March, 2016), it seems strange that anyone would be surprised by Trump’s success so far in his campaign for the Republican nomination for the Presidency.

    Trump states, “I think deal-making is an ability you are born with. It is in the genes. I don’t say that egotistically. It is not
    about being brilliant. It does take a certain intelligence, but mostly it’s about instincts.” (p. 45)

    So what are the elements of a deal that one should be intuitively tuned into?

    THINK BIG – “I like thinking big.” (46)
    PROTECT THE DOWN SIDE AND THE UPSIDE WILL TAKE CARE OF ITSELF — “I believe in the power of negative thinking.” (p. 48)
    MAXIMIZE YOUR OPTIONS – “I protect myself by being flexible.” (p. 50)
    KNOW YOUR MARKET – “Some people have a sense of the market and some people don’t. (p. 51)
    USE YOUR LEVERAGE – “The best thing you can do is deal from strength, and leverage is the biggest strength you have.” (p. 53)
    ENHANCE YOUR LOCATION – “Location … has a lot to do with fashion. You can take a mediocre location and turn it into something considerably better just be attracting the right people.” (p. 54-55)
    GET THE WORD OUT – “You can have the most wonderful product in the world, but if people don’t know about it, it is not going to be worth much.” (p. 56)
    FIGHT BACK – “Much as it pays to emphasis the positive, there are times when the only choice is to be confrontational.” (p. 58)
    DELIVER THE GOODS – “You can’t con people, at least not for long. …If you can’t deliver the goods, people will eventually catch on.” (p. 60)
    CONTAIN THE COST – “I believe in spending what you have to. But I also believe in not spending more than you should.” (p. 61) and,
    HAVE FUN – “Money was never a big motivation for me, except as a way keeping score. The real excitement is playing the game.” (p. 63)

    This is the basic outline of the Trump strategy. It has been around for almost 30 years. It should come as no surprise to anyone. As one who has conquered the real estate game, and the celebrity reality TV business, why not turn to the political market and test yourself. Isn’t becoming the President of the USA the biggest prize of all? Trump’s success to date follows the 11 rules he laid out in The Art of the Deal.

    Source: TRUMP: The Art of the Deal, 1987, New York, Ballantine Books by Donald Trump with Tony Schwartz

    • John Platko

      I see nothing in what you quoted from Trump’s book that justifies a comparison to Mein Kampf. I also don’t see anything egregious in his quoted business strategy. What exactly are you objecting to in how he approaches business?

      Would you be so kind as to be a bit more specific in your comparison of The Art of the Deal and Mein Kampf.

  • John Platko

    Since the article tosses around the word “racist” in a discussion of Donald Trump’s remarks, I think it would benefit from either providing some examples of racist remarks by Donald Trump or leaving that term out. All I can find in the article are:

    “Mexican immigrants bring drugs and crime to the United States, and that many are rapists.”

    “Mexican immigrants are rapists. He has renewed his initial gambit with similar statements about Muslims—a lot of them hate the United States”

    Is Mexican a race? I’m glad this is an anthropology forum and someone can help me better understand these terms. Is this coded or implied racism?

    I’m pretty sure Muslim means follower of Islam and does not imply race. Is there something I’m missing about that?

    I’m not trying to excuse Trump’s remarks, which I too find vile and untrue, but I’m not understanding the role race and racism plays in them.