Well, Jefferson Davis didn’t collude with a foreign power, either.
That said, the U.S. senator turned Confederate president did lead a blood-drenched rebellion against his country to enshrine the right of whites to enslave blacks.
Without any assistance from other nations, Supreme Court Chief Justice Roger Taney declared (in the Dred Scott decision) that African Americans, whether in slave states or free, had no rights as citizens.
America’s darkest moments haven’t come when foreign powers have nosed around in our affairs. They’ve come when our own leaders have dehumanized their fellow Americans, which invariably has prompted acts — or waves — of violence against them.
Special counsel Robert S. Mueller III has concluded that President Trump and his 2016 presidential campaign didn’t collude with Vladimir Putin and his hacker apparatchiks to bring down Hillary Clinton. As to obstruction of justice, Mueller considered it an unsettled question, but Atty. Gen. William Barr settled it in Trump’s favor.
Jefferson Davis didn’t collude with a foreign power, either.
Trump’s most glaring misdeeds never involved, or required, collusion. He didn’t need Putin’s help to slander Clinton — or to become the most dangerous president in our history.
When great nations topple, it’s usually because they’re rotting from within, with one set of their residents pitted against another. Trump’s chief contribution has been to accelerate America’s rot by demonizing a large portion of the nation’s citizenry. His deep-seated racism has resonated with many anxious, provincial whites and set the stage for the rise we’ve seen in hate crimes. His fragile narcissism — deeming anyone, dead (John McCain) or alive, who fails to extol him to be an enemy worthy of destruction — has poisoned an already vituperative public discourse.
To be sure, Trump doesn’t pry apart our republic all by himself. He has plenty of help from the echo chamber of Fox News and talk radio, and from complaisant and cowed Republican elected officials who fear that their party’s voters will oust them in primaries unless they support Trump’s broadsides or at least mute their criticism of him.
For that matter, Republicans have been playing the race card and waging culture wars ever since Richard Nixon realized that the votes of many Southern (and some Northern) whites were his for the taking by demonizing the same minority activists, antiwar protestors and intellectuals whom Alabama Gov. George Wallace, in his failed bids for the presidency, had flayed. But Nixon, Ronald Reagan and their Republican successors had to appeal to more moderate voters as well; their attacks came in dog whistles and more genteel prose. They didn’t divide us quite so starkly, or encourage Klansmen to take their hoods out of mothballs.
Trump, by contrast, has returned us to Wallace’s frontal assaults. And just as Wallace’s rants were taken by the Klan and their ilk as a permission slip for violence, so too have Trump’s tirades — including his suggestion at a 2016 campaign rally that his supporters rough up a protestor — encouraged racist violence. According to recent research conducted by scholars at the University of North Texas, “counties that had hosted a 2016 Trump campaign rally saw a 226 percent increase in reported hate crimes over comparable counties that did not host such a rally.”
Trump has hardly toned it down since he’s been in the White House. Indeed, he seems at times to be inviting mayhem if that’s what’s required to keep him in office. Recently, he told Breitbart News, “I have the support of the police, the support of the military, the support of the Bikers for Trump — I have the tough people, but they don’t play it tough — until they go to a certain point.”
Trump’s affinity for blood and soil nationalism and the violence that frequently accompanies it is evident in what passes for his foreign policy, which mixes his manifest indifference to our democratic allies with his admiration for thugs of all nations, no matter their ostensible ideology: Hungary’s Viktor Orban, North Korea’s Kim Jong-un, Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro, the Philippines’ Rodrigo Duterte, and, yes, Russia’s Vladimir Putin.
But Trump didn’t need help from that rogues’ gallery to incite the worst in us. Decades of economic stagnation and the prompting of Rupert Murdoch’s Fox News rabble-rousers, combined with nearly half a millennium of racism, paved the way for him. In accepting the Republicans’ nomination in 2016, he claimed, “I alone can fix” what ails America. And, with no assist from Putin, he — if not alone, then with no foreign assistance — has betrayed our promise and imperiled our land.
Harold Meyerson is executive editor of the American Prospect and a contributing writer to Opinion.
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