For years, the Republican Party has blocked immigration reform, denied women the right to their own bodies, and refused to acknowledge the existence of climate change, all while restricting voting access so as to disenfranchise the country’s poorest voices.
In the past few months on the campaign trail, Donald Trump has vowed to deport millions of Americans, suggested women who choose to have abortions should be “punished,” made clear his intention to burn more coal than ever, and done so all under the barely crypto-white supremacist banner of making America “great again.”
The ascension of Donald Trump to the Grand Old Party’s nomination for president represents less a hijacking by a radical few than the total conquest of the party’s core message. Trump’s demagoguery is merely the most effective medium for the message that the Republican Party has been peddling for a decade. The Republican Party is the party of Trump.
It’s true that some among the conservative elite have jumped ship, aghast that a boorish celebrity billionaire willing to say what their preferred politicians would only imply won the nomination. A few of these elite — George Will and Robert Kagan come to mind — have resigned from the party in protest. But the flailing GOP establishment remains in an impossible bind, both repudiating Trump’s racism while affirming its readiness to vote for him.
Trump himself stoked the flames of racism within the party’s base in the early days of the Obama presidency by advancing the birther conspiracy. The belief that the President of the United States was not, in fact American, could only be advanced under the premise that anyone who isn’t white in America is dangerous. Is it much wonder that the man who turned the Republican Party’s racism and misogyny from implicit to explicit — and did so with braggadocio meant to bowl over a supposedly widespread, censorious “pc culture” — ignited enough of a constituency to propel him to the nomination?
This is all to say — we cannot stop at defeating Trump. We must defeat the ideas that have fueled his meteoric rise. In order to stand a credible chance at neutralizing the resurgent ethno-nationalism of the Trump campaign, progressives have to level with themselves about repudiating Trump’s message. We must take a principled stand for justice that leaves no room for the maneuverings of a hateful bigot.
Like all bullies, Trump wants to play on his own field. He’s only comfortable when he can call the shots. When he’s on the offensive, he gets to define the message — which, as we’ve seen, is a message of hate.
To defeat Trump and the ideas that have made his rise possible, the left must stake out a playing field of our own. The militarization of the police, hardline and hateful immigration policies, panicked attacks on women for controlling their own bodies, and reckless fossil fuel extraction belongs on Trump’s turf. The Democratic Party cedes a crucial point to the party of Trump when it describes horrific gun violence as “radical Islam.” By injecting their moral courage into the platform, social movements have re-defined what the Democratic Party stands for. Only by sticking to these points — a fifteen dollar minimum wage, a rejection of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, an end to extraction of fossil fuels, a pathway to citizenship for all undocumented workers — can progressives not only defeat Trump, but also defeat his message of hate.
Miles Goodrich is the National Rapid Response Organizer for 350 Action.