When Your Only Political Strategy Is Division

I recently watched a clip of Rachel Maddow on the Tonight Show where she made an important point while discussing Trump’s attack on NFL players as Puerto Rico was literally drowning.

She points out that the attack on NFL players wasn’t simply a spontaneous outburst by the president. After all, talk about Colin Kaepernick had died down at the time and hardly anyone was paying attention to the protests. But Trump’s remarks were immediately followed by an advertising campaign and a fundraising appeal. That means that his initial remarks about the issue during his speech in Alabama were both planned and coordinated.

After VP Pence’s stunt to keep the issue alive over the weekend, the president tweeted affirmation that this whole thing is a planned strategy.

It is important to note that all of this came on the heels of Trump cutting a deal with the Democrats about the budget and the debt ceiling as well as a promise that he would work with them to protect the Dreamers. There was a lot of talk about the president finally doing that longed-for “pivot” towards the center of the political spectrum. As that talk was reverberating through the political world, this attack on players protesting against police violence was in the works.

Since then, Trump has issued an executive order that removes the insurance mandate for birth control coverage and AG Jeff Sessions released guidelines on protections for religious liberty—which many have described as giving license to discriminate. He followed those up with a list of hostage demands that must be met in order for him to protect the Dreamers.

Whether it is inherent to his personality or a planned political tactic (or some of both), it is clear that the president is betting on a strategy of division. This certainly isn’t the first time Republicans have done that. For example, in 2004, Karl Rove was credited with developing a “base strategy” in which he calculated that 50 plus 1 percent was good enough for the win. One of the tools he used in his efforts to get Bush re-elected was to place the question of gay marriage on as many state ballots as possible in order to inflame the base.

Trump and his strategists have taken that kind of thing to a whole new level. The so-called “culture wars” not only include the agenda of the “court evangelicals,” but also Trump’s intention to exploit Islamophobia and the age-old issue of racial fear-mongering for political gain.

This is why I’ve been saying for a while now, that those who claim that Democrats are hurting themselves by embracing “identity politics” are, at best, naive. The Trump administration is doing everything humanly possible to attack women, people of color, immigrants, Muslims and LGBT Americans. That is their strategy right now. It is one that is based on nothing but fear, hate and division. To stay quiet or ignore those attacks is to be complicit.

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly.