As the 2018 midterms wind toward a conclusion, the Republican Party and Donald Trump are choosing not to run a traditional GOP campaign.
For example, they have all but ignored those massive tax cuts for corporations that a few months ago were to have served as the center pole of their campaign. And instead of renewing their assault on Obamacare, they have awkwardly tried to seize its banner as their own, claiming after a decade of opposition that they are the true protectors of those with pre-existing conditions, that they are the party that will use government regulation to bring down pharmaceutical prices.
Instead, following Trump’s lead, their closing strategy is to campaign on fear and resentment. It is birthright citizenship, with Trump claiming the power to overturn longstanding constitutional law with a simple executive edict. It is immigration and the caravan, with Trump ordering thousands of armed American soldiers to “our sacred border” to halt an “invasion” of poor people on foot, many of them women and children, still almost a thousand miles away.
“The Caravans are made up of some very tough fighters and people,” Trump warned falsely in a tweet this week. “Fought back hard and viciously against Mexico at Northern Border before breaking through. Mexican soldiers hurt, were unable, or unwilling to stop Caravan.”
In his rallies and in interviews, Trump has also taken to describing himself as a “nationalist” and his opponents as “globalists.” “Globalist” and “nationalist” are terms with deep roots in the racist, anti-Semitic and far right. In Hungary, fascists call themselves nationalist and rant against George Soros and the globalist elite; so do their counterparts in places such as Poland, Russia, Britain, France and now America.
Such words serve as code, to signal to others at home and across international borders that they share a common cause and understanding. That understanding is based on a world view that white Christian supremacy is under attack by outsiders of lesser races. “Nationalism” in all those various countries is understood to have a common meaning, and that is “white nationalism.”
So when the president of the United States uses “nationalist” to describe himself and “globalist” to describe his opponents, the racists and fascists both here and at home are thrilled. They see him as one of their own, and are greatly encouraged in their cause.
Trump and some of his supporters try to deny that is Trump’s intent, defending his rhetoric by explaining that he doesn’t use those words in the same sense that the fascist, racist right uses them.
“To me, I don’t have to clarify,” Trump says of his self-description as a nationalist. “It means I love the country… I call that nationalism; I call it being a nationalist and I don’t see any other connotation than that.”
Yet the English language is a rich language. It contains many possible ways of expressing love of country without resorting to words that are guaranteed to — in fact designed to — give encouragement to the ugliest among us. David Duke, for example, is ecstatic that Trump now calls himself a nationalist. Trump “defends the rights and heritage of white people and white people love him for it,” Duke tweeted this week. “That’s why the Zio Nationalist Media calls Trump a White Nationalist!”
In short, this is not an accident; this is conscious choice by Trump. A president who claims to know the best words instead uses the worst words. And if you don’t think he is trying to send a message by doing so, you aren’t paying attention.
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