Schmidt: Donald Trump’s own hate will likely destroy him today, but then what?
“Hatred, which could destroy so much, never failed to destroy the man who hated, and this was an immutable law.”
I’ve returned obsessively to this quote of James Baldwin’s in the waning days of this year’s presidential election. I cannot remember a general election in which hate has been so central an issue.
Indeed, the Republican nominee began his campaign for the presidency by directly appealing to the hatred of a white nationalist audience.
Now, I want to note here that I actually began to write, in that last sentence, that “Donald Trump founded his campaign by stirring up white racial panic,” but I don’t want to accidentally let Trump’s base off the hook. Saint Augustine once wrote that it’s worse to be successfully lied to about important moral issues than it is to tell lies about things that are trivial. Well, Donald Trump’s base wasn’t being fear-mongered when he told them about how Mexican immigrants are drug dealers and rapists; no, they chose to be complicit in his hate speech, and they share responsibility for its power. You can blame Trump for a lot, after all, but he hasn’t really fooled anyone since his nasty campaign to undermine American democracy began. All of us, Republican Trumpites and Republican “never Trumpers,” Clinton Democrats and Democrats for Bernie, and independents too (whatever that might mean this late in 2016), understand what Trump stands for and have since the beginning.
Anyway, ever since Trump began running for president of the United States by reassuring white nationalists that they could justifiably hate Latino immigrants, and Muslim immigrants, and refugees, and women, hate has been the central issue of the 2016 presidential campaign. But that hasn’t all been about Trump. Just as he finances himself by attaching his name to pre-existing, and generally shady, companies, Trump has leased his name to powerful racist, xenophobic, and misogynistic political movements that predate him.
The GOP nominee hasn’t created anything in this race; he has merely given hate a coating of glitter and offered it up for resale. And unlike his many bankruptcies and tax dodging schemes, which seem to have only damaged others, this particular confidence scheme is clearly taking a toll on Donald. It’s not easy to think about anyone but the victims of Trump’s venomous midnight tweet storms when one reads them, but try to imagine for a moment the person who lies awake at three in the morning, trying to ridicule all of the victims he failed to destroy, and who continue to stand up to him. Think of what it means for someone to endanger his own career just because he wants to impress an entertainment reporter about his own ability to commit sexual assault with impunity, and who is incapable of defending himself beyond bragging that he only rapes younger and more attractive women than the ones who are publicly accusing him.
Donald Trump’s hate is destroying him even as he might be claiming the White House. He’s like a phoenix in reverse, an animal that burns to death at his moment of ascent.
I hope that he is defeated today, of course. As a father, an American of German and Mexican descent, and, of course, as a human being, I hope that Trump’s public career ends in humiliation well before you go to bed tomorrow night.
But he isn’t actually the reason that I keep returning to James Baldwin’s quote. Donald Trump isn’t really the hater whose destruction has been worrying me.
Hate has been spreading, if I may paraphrase Pavement, like small-pox in the American republic, for over a year now. Donald Trump isn’t “patient zero,” and his defeat won’t dispel the contagion that has been his greatest political advantage. This epidemic spreads far beyond his potential path to electoral victory. Think of our own state! I can’t blame Trump for the fact that our governor not only called a state representative a “cocksucker” (because it was “the worst” epithet he could think of) and then asked that representative to share his rant with the press because, apparently, he was proud of it. I can’t blame Trump for the fact that members of our state legislature have indulged in hate speech in attempts to drum up candidates. And I can’t blame Trump for the hateful and insipid actions of members of my own university’s student senate, who have used alt-right sloganeering in what appears to be a failed attempt to frighten Muslim students away from running for positions in student government.
It seems incredible that anyone could take courage from Trump’s slapstick fascism. Perhaps all of this is part of the perfect storm of white nationalism that is currently wreaking havoc in Europe. In any case, trying to tie all of this to Trump would merely be a comforting and, I believe, dangerous evasion of responsibility.
Hate has dominated 2016 because we have found it easier to hate than to actually think about our own situation. Paul LePage’s victories at the ballot box clearly demonstrate the failure of both major political parties to explain the meaning of democracy to the Maine electorate. How could majorities, or even pluralities, of our population see genuine leadership in such an administration unless they had already begun to see public service as a degraded profession? Bullies who literally steal resources from hungry children in order to fuel their own agendas are empowered by our own complicity, and that complicity is purchased by our mutual suspicions, our refusal to accept the compromises required by our democratic system. And yes – if public service is generally perceived to be a grift, then professors of political science, people whose job it is to inform the public about our democratic system, have to take responsibility as well, and need to think about how to effectively reach the million other people with whom we share our state.
In any case, if Donald Trump goes down to ignominious defeat today, as I desperately hope he will, the hate that enabled his rise won’t be going anywhere. We have to find ways to deal with it, to disarm it, before 2020 presents us with a Trump that isn’t quite so visibly monstrous. We need to confront this hatred before, in obedience to that immutable law, it destroys us.
The urgency of that mission leads me to end this column as I began it – with the words of James Baldwin. “The earth is always shifting, the light is always changing … the sea rises, the light falls, lovers cling to each other, and children cling to us. The moment we cease to hold each other, the moment we break faith with one another, the sea engulfs us and the light goes out.”
Once all the votes are counted, we will still be there, with the sea rising around us, and our ability to keep faith with each other will be, more evidently than ever, the only thing that can stop us from going under.
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