The Closing of the American Mind

Trump has convinced far too many Americans that their prejudices aren’t really prejudices.

A year and a half ago, I observed that President Obama “has brought us through the worst financial heartache since the Depression. He has brought us through incidents of shocking gun violence. He has brought us through racial discord sparked by those who so obviously killed Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown and Eric Garner because they saw these men, subconsciously, as proxies for the President.”

Perhaps we should add the names of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile to that list: I’m not quite sure what else would motivate a man to, in essence, give someone the death penalty for selling CDs in a parking lot, or to blow away a cafeteria employee in front of his girlfriend and her four-year-old daughter. Hate is the only logical explanation for the deaths of Sterling and Castile, as well as the deaths of Dallas police officers Brent Thompson, Patrick Zamarripa, Michael Krol, Michael Smith, and Lorne Ahrens at the hands of a violent vigilante.

Sadly, our national healing won’t begin anytime soon, as Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump continues with a campaign that would make George Wallace envious. (Don’t be fooled by his response to Dallas.) Earlier this year, I noted that Trump had obviously inspired an incident of intolerance in suburban Massachusetts that generated national headlines. Several months later, it’s apparent that Trump’s mendacity towards minorities still motivates the malevolent:

A Freetown [Massachusetts] firefighter has been removed from the force after the fire chief was alerted to a racist comment he made about an Assonet house, owned by a black family, where a house party drew more than 1,000 guests earlier this month.

“I can see the next fire call will be this house on fire and I’ll make sure I can’t find the hydrant lol,” Kyle Grenier, a volunteer, paid-by-call firefighter for the Freetown Fire Department for the past five years, posted in a June 22 Facebook conversation.

“Lol wait in fear the water might come out too fast,” a Facebook friend replied to Grenier’s reference to the June 18 house party at 18 Leonard Avenue that neighbors complained was out of control. After town police declined to shut down the party, which lasted until 4 a.m, Freetown selectmen and public safety officials held a special public discussion earlier this week.

Nope just make sure no water so no more house [parties] with black Boston people,” Grenier wrote back.

Fire Chief Gary Silvia said he was alarmed by the comments and said that kind of behavior has no place in his department.

Well, thanks to Trump, “that kind of behavior” is America’s new normal.  

Remember when former First Lady Rosalynn Carter said that President Reagan “makes us comfortable with our prejudices“? Trump has convinced far too many Americans that their prejudices aren’t really prejudices, that it’s normal and necessary to scorn African-Americans, Latinos, Muslims, women, veterans and those with disabilities. He is Jesse Helms back from the grave.

Even if he loses in a landslide on November 8, Trump will have left our country in grave condition. He has already made us meaner, coarser, nastier, less tolerant, less civil, less American.

Remember when Trump said he could shoot somebody in the middle of Fifth Avenue and not lose any of his supporters? I fear that when he takes the stage at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland one week from now, we will see Trump at his most repellent, his most repulsive, his most repugnant–and he will still be revered by his fanbase. The question is, will the sight of Trump at his absolute worst finally awaken the moral conscience of the “moderate” Republican voters who still think Trump and Hillary Clinton are equally lacking in ethics, and who plan to abstain from voting on Election Day?

I hope that the “moderate” Republicans who believe there isn’t any real difference between Trump and Clinton consider the words of the late Elie Wiesel:

We must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. Sometimes we must interfere. When human lives are endangered, when human dignity is in jeopardy, national borders and sensitivities become irrelevant. Wherever men and women are persecuted because of their race, religion, or political views, that place must – at that moment – become the center of the universe.

Do the “moderate” Republicans who say they’ll remain neutral on November 8 realize their children and grandchildren will judge them harshly for doing so?

UPDATE: More from MSNBC and the White House.

D.R. Tucker

D. R. Tucker is a Massachusetts-based journalist who has served as the weekend contributor for the Washington Monthly since May 2014. He has also written for the Huffington Post, the Washington Spectator, the Metrowest Daily News, investigative journalist Brad Friedman's Brad Blog and environmental journalist Peter Sinclair's Climate Crocks.