In this election, Donald Trump has used a grieving black father’s loss to try to pit black voters against Mexican immigrants. He employs black spokespeople to tell black voters that immigrants are taking their jobs. He tweets false crime statistics as a ploy to get black people to talk about “black-on-black” crime and distract from the hate crimes at his rallies.
He deploys female supporters to undermine other women on TV by criticizing—of all things—their breast size. When a reporter grilled him on his treatment of women, he rallied women to viciously attack that woman.
Then, when his campaign manager manhandled a reporter, Trump 1) sent women out as “grab-gate truthers” to insist it never happened, and 2) dispatched women to—predictably—blame the victim and insinuate that she deserved it.
Mr. “I’ll be the best thing that ever happened to women” (yes, he actually said that) is fond of employing rape metaphors in service of his xenophobia (re: China). All the while, he openly cavorts with actual, convicted rapists. So obsessed with rape as idiom, he’s unconcerned with rape as fact.
In this election, this career beauty pageant owner will facilitate women slut-shaming, fat-shaming and all-around body-shaming one another. That’s made easier in a year when “There are probably more ugly women in America than attractive women” comes from the mouth of even a Hillary Clinton surrogate.
The Queens, N.Y., native, who won the majority of his state’s Hispanic primary voters last month, will appeal to chasms among Hispanics: of income, citizenship status, national origin and exiles vs. immigrants (“Nothing against immigrants, but my parents were exiles. And the exile experience is different than the immigrant experience,” Marco Rubio has said). Trump will employ a strategy, as candidly described by one senator, “to divide and conquer the people … on assistance,” to get them “to look down at” each other.
This is how Trump—a man who wants to ban Muslims from the country—got the leader of the Nation of Islam to say about him, “I like what I'm looking at,” on the strength of Trump’s giving the most anti-Semitic speech of any presidential candidate since David Duke (who, not coincidentally, has endorsed Trump).
That’s the 2016 presumptive GOP presidential nominee’s path to victory: getting enough people like Louis Farrakhan to make common cause with people like David Duke. If that sounds preposterous, consider that the Nation of Islam and Nazis have famously played footsie together before.
Trump knows all of this.
He also knows that history is replete with minority groups used as foils—Chinese and Mexican immigrants as strikebreakers on the railroads, and black workers as a “labor reserve” in the North, having fled the Jim Crow South, where black people served as the original cheap labor: free.
Unfortunately, history is so easily forgotten or deliberately distorted. We lose our ability to see through the mendacity of charlatans who, like Trump, propose to restore the nation by dividing it.
Artificial wage floors—whether by lies like “women’s work” or by creating a low-wage caste—exist to harm everyone. But demagogues always keep voters blaming other voters. “The women,” “the blacks,” “the Mexicans,” Donald likes to call them. He knows that as long as you’re blaming people, you never question the hierarchies on which entire systems rest.
That women, blacks, Hispanics and Asian Americans will sink Donald Trump’s candidacy is no guarantee. Beating him requires helping voters appreciate:
1. Policy over personality: George Wallace and Lester Maddox both employed black people. Strom Thurmond and Thomas Jefferson slept with them. And recently we learned, if you give them free air time, Ku Klux Klansmen will even let a black man come to their cross-burning (because, ya know, branding). Being nice to a person of color is not the same as caring about people of color.
2. It’s harder to be conquered if you’re not divided: Political scientist Michael Dawson coined the term “linked fate” to describe why very rich black voters and very poor ones display remarkably similar politics. Trump’s strategy in this election will be to get wealthier Hispanic voters to jettison a “linked fate” lens, decoupling their interests from lower-income Hispanics and the undocumented.
3. Voting for something, not against people: If you vote against a group, rather than for some policies, you end up, politically, in the same coalition with people who think that slavery, secession and Japanese internment were good ideas—all positions that, polling shows (pdf), a shocking number of Trump’s supporters hold. If you’re insufficiently attentive to your shared fate and linked interests, then you become bedfellows with the people waging war on your very existence.
Given Trump’s 24-7 free media bonanza, Malcolm X’s words are ever prescient: “If you’re not careful, the newspapers will have you hating the people who are being oppressed, and loving the people who are doing the oppressing.”
Stay woke, folks.
Charles Badger is a Republican political strategist who served as coalitions director for Gov. Jeb Bush’s 2016 campaign.