On Monday, December 7th, 2015, Donald Trump called for an end to all Muslim immigration to the United States, absurdly including any Muslim Americans that happen to be currently traveling abroad.
In June, he accused Mexican and other Latin American immigrants of being a class of rapists and murderers.
Just a few weeks ago, he tweeted a troublingly inaccurate statistic on interracial homicides that attributed 81% of murders of white Americans to black people. The actual number is closer to 15%.
Trump is, of course, absurdly wrong about these things. The United States has no official mechanism for blocking entry based on religious beliefs and any plans to do so would likely be unconstitutional. Immigrants from Latin America do not represent a wave of super-murdering rapists. Lastly, most homicide victims in the United States tend to be killed by people who live near them, and because neighborhoods remain racially segregated, most white murder victims are in fact killed by other white people. To his supporters, however, the fact that Trump is wrong about just about everything does not seem to matter — because he affirms something they feel in their bones: that their rightful place in the order of things, or rather atop the order of things, has been usurped by immigrants, blacks, and Muslims.
Trump’s fans are an alienated bunch. They are older, generally less educated, and earn less than the average Republican. Like many Americans, they feel the burden of income inequality and the insecurity of a country engaged in global wars. But they also feel alien to the demographic shifts in the United States and the broadening multicultural features of our society. When marginalized groups fight back for a modicum of respect and equality of opportunity in the form of Black Lives Matter and DREAMers, Trump’s supporters see this as signs of invasion and plundering, of insubordination from the lower ranks. This is the juicy vein that Trump has tapped.
The calculus of Trump’s egregious comments is that they serve to justify the suspicions and bigotry of white supremacy in the public discourse. They provide a cozy explanation for mass incarceration, deportations, and aggression toward Muslims for many who do not know that they themselves are white supremacists. Trump’s language legitimizes excessive, dangerous, and fascistic policies. This is no hyperbole; with his distrust of difference, selective populism, and his constant focus on perceived enemies, he is in fact articulating the ideas of a textbook fascist.
But also — and more importantly — he validates an unbridled hatred of anyone who does not fit into the narrow, white supremacist definition of what it means to be American, and anyone who seeks to rearrange the hierarchy as it stands.
Writing about the appeal of fascism, George Orwell observed that it spoke to “people with something to lose, or people who long for a hierarchical society.” These are Trump’s supporters today. Years before he wrote 1984, Orwell worried that society might “underrate” the danger posed by fascism. Today, if we treat Trump as nothing more than a sad, ugly, racist joke, we too may be underestimating this danger.