‘Trumpism’ more scary than Trump in office

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Like many Americans, I have watched our current election season with a growing sense of disbelief, anxiety and horror. As concerned as I am about the implications of a Donald Trump presidency if he were to win, what should really worry Americans is the precedent his candidacy sets. If this election season is any indication of the direction American politics will take in the future, it does not bode well.

Trump is an authoritarian populist who preys on the fears, hatred and ignorance of a segment of American society who see a political strongman as the only solution to the effects of globalization, demographic change and political corruption. Trump claims that he alone can change things by deporting 11 million undocumented immigrants, building a dystopian wall across our southern border, limiting immigration based on religious belief and reinvigorating our economy while simultaneously conducting trade wars with countries like China.

Trump skirts the edge of outright fascism with several of his policies, and in recent weeks that line has grown less distinct. Trump and his supporters stab at the heart of our democracy when they float signals that they will view his eventual defeat as illegitimate, call for his opponent to be imprisoned or assassinated, openly court the “alt-right” (a euphemism for racists and white nationalists) and wink and nod at endorsements by prominent Klansmen.

But as much of a vicious demagogue as Trump is, without a Republican supermajority in the Senate, the worst that his presidency would bring in terms of policy is an unprecedented level of gridlock in Washington. While many of his proposed policies are abhorrent to any thinking voter, would anyone honestly expect a bill to build a border wall or ban Muslims from entering the country to make it through Congress? Trump’s worst policies would be dead in the water in terms of implementation.

Besides, Trump isn’t really a right-wing neo-fascist, he just plays one on TV. Trump only started pretending to be a conservative around five years ago, just before his previous run for president. All of his current positions, from gun rights to immigration, were invented at that time to create a character that would appeal to the worst of the American conservative movement.

In addition to all that, Trump is going to lose in a landslide. According to Josh Marshall of Real Clear Politics, if you count only the states where Hillary Clinton currently leads Trump in the polls by 10 points, she’s already got the necessary amount of electoral votes to win. There aren’t enough undecided voters alive to turn that around.

I’m not too worried about the incredibly unlikely possibility of Trump sitting in the Oval Office. I’m afraid of the young people he has influenced who are voting in their first presidential election in November and may lack the context to realize how unusual Trump’s candidacy is.

I’m afraid of the everyday Americans at Trump rallies who stare in slack-jawed amusement as their candidate denigrates women, immigrants and anyone who thinks differently. I’m afraid of the Trump supporters who respond positively to their candidate’s encouragement of violence toward dissenting protesters. I’m afraid of people who think it’s appropriate to question a federal judge’s decisions due to his Hispanic heritage. I’m afraid of Trump voters who are apparently so filled with frustration and hatred that they would turn the party of Lincoln into something like France’s far-right National Front party. I’m not afraid of Trump, I’m afraid of Trumpism.

If someone like Trump can dupe so many into supporting a quasi-fascist platform, what happens when the real deal attempts the same thing in future election cycles? Trump already has a sizable support base of hardline fascist and white supremacist groups behind him.

The leader of the American Nazi Party has called Trump’s campaign a “real opportunity” for white nationalists. Former Klan leader David Duke is actively campaigning for Trump. Going forward, could American higher office be within the grasp of these people and their fellow travelers?

By refusing to substantively denounce Trump, the conservative political class encourages young voters to view Trumpism as acceptable. That the Republican establishment would rather put a dangerously unqualified clown in the White House than see their opponents succeed reveals a total lack of moral and political courage that risks losing their party to a wave of xenophobic populism.

While Trump will almost certainly lose in November, the damage he has already caused to American politics will take years to work itself out. We will either reject this form of far-right populism, or see it embraced by a new generation of voters who see reactionary politics as the only solution to their frustrations and fears of a changing world. Is the current election simply a horrible aberration fueled by economic decline and racial resentment, or is it the shape of politics to come?

Before casting their votes in November, first-time voters should consider the long-term effects of voting for someone who jokes about assassinating their political opponents, blames America’s woes on multiculturalism and immigration, panders to racists and continually surprises us all with how low he can drag our national political discourse.