Donald Trump will be remembered for many things. He injected obscenities into the New York Times’s White House coverage. He turned conspiracy theory into Republican orthodoxy. And he cut out the middleman on ugliness, happily doing the political wet work himself.
The Bush family had retainers, like Lee Atwater, who would hand off the dirty tricks and the scaremongering Willie Horton stuff to outside groups, and use direct mail and radio ads.
Trump dispensed with the idea that the candidate was above it all. He was excited to show he was beneath it all – the naked id of the Republican Party. His soulless followers, like Ron DeSantis and Greg Abbott, are happy to mud-wrestle and perform Grand Guignol as well.
In some ways, it’s easier to battle racism, sexism, xenophobia and fakery when the principals are gleefully spewing it. You can fight back on the record and in real time.
In other ways, however, having it all out in the open sends a foul stench through American politics, intensifying the brutish and bleak mood of the country.
Politicians who purport to be guardians of American “values” are rewarded for being inhumane. The nastier, the better. Republican politicians have gone from kissing babies and rope-line handshakes to full-on viciousness.
I asked Trump during the 2016 campaign why he had gone so dark.
“I guess because of the fact that I immediately went to No 1,” he replied, “and I said, ‘Why don’t I just keep the same thing going?’”
As it turned out, he was spinning up the mob, laying the groundwork for a violent attack on the Capitol. Trump riled up the mob again on Thursday in an interview with radio host Hugh Hewitt. If he’s indicted on a charge of spiriting away classified documents to his Mar-a-Lago estate, the former president said, there will be “problems in this country the likes of which perhaps we’ve never seen before. I don’t think the people of the United States would stand for it”.
Trump created the cynical and boorish template for other presidential hopefuls on the right.
It can be amusing to mock elites. But there’s something exceedingly creepy – and blatantly opportunistic – about DeSantis chartering two planes to send some 50 migrants, mostly Venezuelan, from San Antonio to Martha’s Vineyard. The lawyers for some migrants said that they were deceived about their destination, and Martha’s Vineyard officials said they had no notice. Abbott sent two busloads of migrants to vice-president Kamala Harris’s home at the Naval Observatory.
It was reported that a woman who said her name was Perla offered the migrants in Texas three months of rent and work in Boston. But then they ended up, as one put it, “on this little island”.
This caper to expose the hypocrisy of Democratic elites ended up being compared to human trafficking. The Republicans are exploiting people’s misery for a political game. The migrants simply want to work, which a bunch of Americans don’t want to do anymore.
With their pre-midterm publicity stunts, as with their draconian push to outlaw abortion, the Republicans are increasingly letting politics take precedence over people.
The argument that migrants coming across the border have a more severe impact on border states is obviously valid. You can’t have a nearly unchecked flood of people coming in – an average of 8,500 a day, according to Axios.
It is also a valid criticism that Democrats – both in the White House and Congress – are going out of their way to avoid what they see as a third rail with progressives. The border is just the tip of the spear. Democrats are too afraid of angering the base to bear down and overhaul the system, including tackling the backlog of court cases and fixing how those cases are adjudicated.
President Joe Biden ignores the border, leaving it to Harris to get under control. We all know that’s not happening. Republicans like Marco Rubio and Lindsey Graham who once tried to work on solutions have now just degenerated into using the border issue to bash Democrats as flaccid.
But the Republicans’ contentions about geographical unfairness and Democratic inaction are undercut by their mean-spirited behaviour.
They are willing to make life worse for vulnerable, exhausted people who are already in a terrible position – and chortle while they’re being cruel.
As Blake Hounshell noted in the New York Times, DeSantis is courting Trump donors by adopting the racially charged playbook of Trump, who “made frequent and aggressive political use of Latino migrants during his run for the presidency in 2016 and long thereafter, casting many of them as ‘criminals’ and ‘rapists’ during his presidential announcement at Trump Tower”.
The callousness of DeSantis’ manipulations is clear. Ugliness is what the GOP is wearing this fall.
– This article originally appeared in the New York Times