Donald Trump Is Not a Problem. Donald Trump Is a Symptom of a Problem.

"You know that thing you really don't want to think about? Here are nine billion stories about it!"

“You know that thing you really don’t want to think about? Here are nine billion stories about it!”

This was always going to happen.

America was always hurtling toward a debate in which the Republican frontrunner bragged about the size of his own genitals in front of an audience of millions. We were destined to watch three contenders spend nearly two full hours accusing the frontrunner of every dirty trick under the sun—scams, lies, flip-flops, foul language, breaks with the party line—and then we were of course going to see those same three contenders, in the last ten minutes of the debate, pledge to support that same frontrunner unconditionally in the general election. In retrospect, it’s as obvious as winter turning to spring. It just had to happen.

At the time, nobody could have predicted that the election of the first African-American president, a Democrat, to the presidency would result in a shameless celebrity seizing the Republican Party’s nomination in 2016. But that’s what happened, and now that it’s happened, it’s beyond obvious.

The Republican Party over the last eight years has fallen prey to institutional racism. A small but vocal subsection of the party, the ideological heirs to the Dixiecrats who turned Republican, capitalized on conservative unrest after Obama’s first election to seize the discourse. They have since consumed the party, infecting every level of it—from the language Republican elected officials use to the laws they pass.

Racism is a tool through which the powerful suppress those with less power. Though racism belongs to no class in particular, it benefits those at the top—in other words, the Donald Trumps of the world. When a large number of Americans are obsessed with taking rights away from other Americans, they don’t worry about protecting or growing their own rights. If the people who vote you into office are concerned about making sure that minorities don’t get any benefits, they will cheer you on when you cut taxes on the rich and reduce benefits for everyone.

I’m not saying that every Republican is a racist, but I am saying that the entire party has served the culture of racism, and it’s caused some genuinely ugly rifts in the democratic process. At its core, beneath even the letter of the law, democracy requires civility to function. We’ve seen with the Senate’s outright refusal to even consider an Obama nominee for the Supreme Court vacancy left by the deceased Justice Antonin Scalia that civility doesn’t exist anymore.

From Joe Wilson’s “you lie!” to the birther “debate” to then-Speaker John Boehner’s undiplomatic invitation to Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu to the battle over Confederate flags, the Republican Party has unfailingly railed against decency and honesty in the political conversation in a way which surpasses even the worst partisan rancor that we’ve previously ever seen. At its core is bigotry: if you don’t believe President Obama is human, you don’t have to treat him with the respect a human deserves.

Other issues are at play here, of course: Ronald Reagan’s distrust of government has been canonized so unthinkingly that it’s not uncommon for Republican representatives—people who receive government healthcare and taxpayer-funded salaries—to get into pissing matches about how much they hate the government. A lot of the current Republican dynamic is caused by fear, too, though fear often gets wrapped up in racism. (Racism is fear’s firstborn child.) And the unimaginative Republican obsession with trickle down economics has hurt them at every turn.

But how else can you explain Donald Trump’s ascension from a reality TV star to the frontman for the conservative obsession over Barack Obama’s birth certificate to the Republican presidential frontrunner, without racism? How else do you explain Trump’s popularity among white supremacists, all the veiled talk about political correctness, his long history of racism? Without the racist talk and the support from open bigots, Trump would be nothing more than a less-qualified Mitt Romney, another rich guy with delusions of grandeur. Instead, he’s in the lead for his party’s nomination.

The bright side is that Romney proved in 2012 that it’s almost impossible to win the presidency on the support of white voters alone. I’m having a hard time imagining how Trump regains the trust of minority voters after characterizing them as criminals, rapists, and terrorists who should be refused access to the nation. But the Republican Party has been working hard to deny access to voters over the last eight years—yes, still more racism—so it’s possible that turnout could be low enough that Trump’s self-dubbed “silent majority” could brute-force a path to victory at the polls.

Supposedly, in conjunction with Mitt Romney’s too-late speech, the most recent Republican debate was going to be the moment when the Republican Party gained a hold of its sanity again. But then all three of the nominees said that they would vote for Trump in November, and all that mud they slung proved to be utterly useless. They’re not the only Republicans to fail on this mission: John McCain attacked Trump repeatedly, but then he said he would vote for Trump in the general election because he’s loyal to his party.

Party loyalty is admirable, I suppose, but whatever happened to the idea of being loyal to your country? The difference between Republicans and Democrats has become exaggerated to the point where we’re enemies pitted in a never-ending war, as opposed to human beings with different solutions for our common problems. Politics is supposed to be the institutionalized conversation we have about how we make America a better place. Instead, it’s become a death match.

If Republicans really want to have a party when all this is said and done, there’s really only one thing they can do: Disavow Trump and Trumpism, as loudly and as publicly and as often as they can. That means more than just refusing to vote for Trump. It means they’ll have to dismantle this ugly system of racism that they’ve constructed since 2008, from ridiculous voter registration laws to unreasonable obstruction to local legislation that targets minorities—laws like stop and frisk and stand your ground. Either their party burns itself to the ground this fall, or they acknowledge that their problem is bigger than one very orange, very loud man. What they are, is the last resort for racists and scoundrels in an America that is rapidly becoming more inclusive than ever. And in 2016, that is absolutely unacceptable.

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Paul Constant
Paul Constant has written about politics, books, and film for Newsweek, The Progressive, the Utne Reader, and alternative weeklies around the country.