by Justin Rosario
It's been a full week since Trump walked out in front of the press and, on camera before the entire planet, defended Nazis. Despite frantic assurances from his administration that he does not, in fact, support the most evil ideology to ever exist in human history, Trump shows no signs of backing down. In fact, after dismissing white nationalist Steve Bannon from the White House, Trump took the unusual step (for him) of wishing him well instead of publicly stabbing him in the back:
It's clear that Trump has no interest in distancing himself from his white nationalist base because they're the only thing keeping his approval rating from dropping into the low 20s. If a terrorist attack carried out by one of his ardent supporters won't put him off their movement, nothing will. We must not sugarcoat the reality that the President of the United States is a Nazi sympathizer.
At the same time, we have to understand that the Nazis are not going away. We can shame them. We can cost them their jobs. We can cost them their families. We can scare the hell out of them. We can reduce them to tears but there will always be more because one of their own is in the White House and that is electrifying white nationalists like nothing ever has before. They will continue to march and loudly support Trump because as far as they're concerned, they're the advance guard of the White Revolution. And if they have to assault or kill their enemies to defend the white race from "white genocide", then that it more than acceptable.
That, in turn is a problem for the rest of Trump's supporters. Americans do not like Nazis. World War II is the last war we were in that was morally black and white. Nazis wanted to take over the world and kill billions of people so we killed Nazis. And we did it with gusto. Nazis have been the bad guys for the past 70 years. No one likes Nazis.
Except, it seems, Donald Trump.
But conservatives, thanks to decades of dumbing down by the right wing media machine, are infinitely malleable. They are capable of forgetting a lifetime of opposition in the span of a few months. The party of Ronald Reagan has gone from loathing Russia to having the warm fuzzies for them:
In the summer of 2014, both Democrats and Republicans held negative views of the Russian president. His net negative rating with Democrats was 54 points; with Republicans, it was 66 points. At the time, the mainstream Republican foreign policy opinion was that a wily, aggressive Putin was rolling over U.S. interests in Europe. There was some punditry about Putin as a greater leader than President Obama, but it did not shift views of Putin himself.
Trump's campaign did so. There's been a 56-point positive shift among Republicans in their views of Putin; his net negative rating is now just 10 points. While Clinton voters view Putin negatively by 72 points, Trump voters do so by a slim 16-point margin.
That 56 point shift is the direct result of how easy it is to essentially reprogram the right wing. These are people who, by and large, lived through the Cold War and venerate Reagan as the man who defeated the evil Russian empire. But that was then and this is now. Today, they are being told that Russia is our friend and, just like that, borscht and caviar for everyone!
Should Trump stick with his current rhetoric of the alt-right as the victims of evil liberal aggression, there is every reason to expect the mainstream conservative movement to embrace them as well. Accordingly, expect to see a rise in Holocaust denial, increased suggestions that Hitler was a victim, and a sharp spike in open anti-Semitism. In other words, we're looking at the mainstreaming of white nationalism because Trump is pathologically unable to admit he made a mistake. The more he is pressured to do something rational, like denounce Nazis, the more he will do the opposite. Any concession, even one that would be beneficial to him, is seen as weakness.
In this context, it's a calculated risk to keep pressuring Trump to denounce his Nazi followers because he will naturally seek to do the opposite if only to troll the left. The risk is that this further emboldens white nationalists by feeding into their white male persecution mythology as well as making it easier for the right to take up their cause as a way of pushing back against "political correctness." A great deal of Trump's support came from people who wanted to do something, anything, to make liberals cry so it's not that much of a stretch for them to take it one step further.
But the electoral backlash from the left would be immense. There is nothing subtle about Nazis and the "lesser of two evils" argument that empowers far left nihilists evaporates. Sorry, Jill Stein, you'll have to find some other way to help Republicans win. We're already looking at a wave election but Trump and the right "palling around" with Nazis would turn it into a tsunami that would make 2010 look like a ripple in a pond.
A Democratic House would immediately investigate every aspect of Trump's presidency and unlike the Republican attempts to manufacture scandals to hurt Obama and Hillary, we already know Trump is historically corrupt just from his record as a real estate developer. The amount of damaging information that would be uncovered would be devastating, dragging any Republican still standing with him down as well, setting the stage for even more pain in 2020 as even Republicans run against Trump to get him out of the way.
On the other hand, every time the right loses, they double down on the nastiness that cost them the election and that, in an understatement for the ages, would be bad. After getting trounced in 2012, there was a moment where the GOP seemed to realize they needed to appeal to Latino voters but almost immediately went all in on anti-immigrant rhetoric that paved the way for Trump's campaign of white nationalism. This instinct to always lurch to the right could easily push them to openly accept Nazis into the party in much the same way they accepted the rabidly racist and incoherent Tea Party. The right has become unable to admit their ideology has become toxic to the average American so instead of broadening their coalition, they focus on limiting the electorate and energizing their shrinking base with more rage and paranoia.
The upside to all of this madness is that when Trump inevitably quits/has a fatal heart attack/is forced out, the Nazis will go violently crazy, giving the conservative movement breathing room to pull up from the kamikaze dive they're in. Will it be enough to shock them to their senses? "We were cheering Nazis because we were told to. What the fuck is wrong with us?" One can only hope. An addict has to hit rock bottom but it's not clear that even getting in bed with Nazis is enough to overcome the decades of cumulative damage wrought by conservative media. There may no longer be a limit to how filled with hate and paranoia the right can become.
The Nazis may not turn out to be Trump's Achilles' Heel after all. They may just turn out to be America's.