Washington - President Trump and the Republican Party have run the most racist national political campaign since the 1968 presidential bid of segregationist George Wallace. We shall soon see how much the country has changed in 50 years — and in what direction.
I grew up in the South under Jim Crow, so I’ve seen and heard this garbage before. Trump claims that Democrat Stacey Abrams, who happens to be African-American, is “not qualified” to be governor of Georgia because of her “past.” What past? Her degrees from Spelman College, the University of Texas and Yale Law School? Her work as a tax attorney? Her service as minority leader of the Georgia state legislature?
In Florida, referring to another African-American candidate, Trump has said that “Andrew Gillum is not equipped to be your governor. It’s not for him.” He has also, apropos of nothing, called Gillum “a stone-cold thief.” Gillum has a degree from Florida A&M University and has been mayor of Tallahassee since 2014.
Trump chooses his attack words carefully. "Not qualified" and "not equipped" are of a piece with the "low-I.Q." jibe he uses when he tweets about Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif. — smarmy and unsubtle suggestions that these accomplished black Americans are intrinsically inferior to whites. Implying that Abrams has a shady past and that Gillum is a thief echoes the old segregationists' claim that black people simply cannot be trusted. Trump might as well have called the two candidates lazy and shiftless.
I understand that Trump is in a panic — Gillum is slightly favored to defeat Republican Ron DeSantis, and Abrams has been running neck-and-neck with Republican Brian Kemp. For Democrats to win governorships in these two big, important Southern states would be an ominous sign for the future of the GOP, not to mention for Trump's re-election bid.
But I also understand that the president is blatantly encouraging his white supporters to buy into ugly, long-discredited racist stereotypes about African-Americans. Even Wallace — who stood in the schoolhouse door to try to prevent integration of the University of Alabama — was less openly bigoted during his run for the White House.
Trump's racism toward Latinos is worse. And the Republican Party shamefully goes along without even a word of protest.
Last week, Trump tweeted a campaign spot that made the infamous Willie Horton ad look mild by comparison. It features an undocumented Mexican immigrant named Luis Bracamontes, who brazenly boasts of having slain two California police officers in 2014 and says he wishes he had killed more. “Democrats let him into our country,” the ad states. “Democrats let him stay. ... Who else would Democrats let in?”
As the Washington Post's "Fact Checker" column noted, the ad is a lie. Bracamontes came into the country illegally under both Republican and Democratic administrations — and was deported under both Bill Clinton and George W. Bush. Nobody "let him into our country." Nobody "let him stay" — not even the Republican prosecutor in Arizona who, at one point, decided to dismiss drug and weapons charges against him. Bracamontes is an evil individual who now resides on death row.
But facts are never the point with Trump. The theme of the ad isn't law and order; it's immigration. Bracamontes is presented as the kind of person who will terrorize your neighborhood if you vote for Democrats — one of the "bad hombres" who, in Trump's dystopian fantasy, have created an acute crisis along the border.
Trump began his presidential campaign by portraying Mexican immigrants as drug smugglers and rapists. He has ended the GOP’s midterm campaign by pretending that a ragtag “caravan” of Central American asylum seekers — still in southern Mexico, far from the Rio Grande — poses such a threat that 15,000 combat-ready troops are needed to guard the border.
Except for Trump's short-lived policy of separating asylum-seeking parents from their children, the GOP has been content to go along with Trump's general program of demonizing Latino immigrants. Republicans know that illegal border crossings are far down from their peak; that undocumented immigrants are not responsible for any kind of crime wave; and that most asylum seekers who are provisionally admitted to the country dutifully report for their court hearings. But when Trump lies about all of this, Republicans just smile.
Trump encourages his base to hold and express racist views about African-Americans. He encourages the crowds at his raucous rallies to see Latinos as predatory criminals. He stokes fear, anger and resentment toward minorities. Republicans who do not reject and condemn Trump's demagoguery are complicit in it and will share in history's judgment.
Eugene Robinson’s email address is email@example.com.