“How do you stop these people?”
The question comes from Donald Trump during a recent rally in Florida: the kind of thing his electoral base loves and that the unlikely president, met by a swell of red “Make America Great Again” caps, relishes. The chief demagogue of course refers to “criminals, rapists and drug smugglers,” the titles he gives to Latino immigrants seeking to enter the United States. A theme that certainly contributed to his election in 2016 and that he counts on reusing in the upcoming campaign.
“Shoot them!” replied a woman in the crowd.
Unfortunately, this order was executed last weekend in the border town of El Paso by a 21-year-old American. The outcome: 22 dead, 24 injured. “I am simply defending my country from cultural and ethnic replacement brought on by an invasion,” wrote the suspected killer in a manifesto published on social media a few hours earlier.
Donald Trump obviously did not invent the ideology behind many of the recent massacres. Born in the aftermath of the Vietnam War and initially bringing together neo-Nazis, skinheads and members of the Ku Klux Klan, the “white-power” movement had its first impact with the Oklahoma City attack in 1995. Despite the fact that domestic terrorism had just taken a dramatic toll (168 dead, 680 injured), it was never taken seriously by American authorities. Not then and not since. Since the attack on the World Trade Center, six years later, all attention has turned toward Islamic terrorism, leaving white extremist nationalism to flourish at its ease in the nation’s damp cellars and the dark corners of the Internet.
Successive attacks by white supremacists, particularly since Trump’s election, including 39 killings last year alone, have therefore been seen as isolated acts, perpetrated by the “mentally ill” or, even better, “video game addicts.” Will the El Paso attack change the trend? Will we finally see violence of the extreme right for what it is? “The great threat to the United States today,” according to the Anti-Defamation League. Will we finally dare to formalize the link between the rise of this violence and the current occupant of the White House?
Despite the killer’s clear motivations, despite the inspiration he had clearly drawn from Trump himself (often copying the same terms “invasion,” “open borders,” “fake news”), nothing is less certain. If Trump surprised people by holding a press conference for the first time to denounce racism and white supremacy, it was the cardboard president who showed up to the podium last Monday. The one who settles for reciting prepared sentences, obviously written by someone else. To be taken with great care, in other words. It is not an act of contrition; it is hypocrisy. This is not a new start for Trump; it is a very small step backwards so he can have greater success next time.
Remember that the man who just laughed when he heard “shoot them” has not disappeared. It is this man, after all, who calls immigrants aliens, who admires dictators and autocrats, who boasts of sexually assaulting women, who does not pay his taxes, who is indeed the king of cheating and cover-ups, who succeeded in being elected in 2016, and who could well succeed again in 2020. However much he may grind his teeth, Donald John Trump has not only managed to retain his electoral base and transform the Republican Party into his own image, but he has also succeeded in bringing about a cultural revolution.
“[Trump] is redefining what you can say and how a leader can act,'' says New York Times columnist David Brooks. “He’s reasserting an old version of what sort of masculinity deserves to be followed and obeyed ... We are all subtly corrupted while this guy is our leader. And throughout this campaign he will make himself and his values the center of conversation. Every day he will stage a little drama that is meant to redefine who we are, what values we lift up and who we hate.”
Donald Trump is a rebel who, far from repenting, doesn’t give a damn. The drama, which regularly makes you want to cry in your mother’s arms, only helps this melodramatic clown. It contributes to legitimizing a diversion of common sense, a looting of democracy, simply because this man has been duly elected. It must be noted that the democratic rules Trump spits on with impunity actually give him a certain normality. Even when ousted from the throne, the corrosive effect of this man is likely to permeate the air for a long time to come.
The question to ask is not how to stop immigration, but rather, how to stop Donald Trump.