Donald Trump made his name in Republican Party politics as a “birther,” a true believer in — and an evangelist for — the racist conspiracy theory that Barack Obama was a foreign-born, illegitimate president. Having stoked a wave of white grievance and resentment, Trump rode it, first to influence — let’s not forget that Mitt Romney came to receive Trump’s endorsement in person during the 2012 presidential race — and then to the summit of power as president himself.
Now, because of a pandemic Trump refuses to address (“We need to live with it,” officials in his administration say), his power is at risk. If the election were held today, Trump would almost certainly lose in a landslide. His sole good fortune at the moment is that the election won’t be held for another four months, giving him time to close his 10-point gap with Joe Biden and turn his campaign around.
But to do that, Trump would have to take responsibility for and respond to events properly. He would have to show the voting public that he is capable of presidential leadership. And this, more than anything, is beyond both his interest and his ability. Trump does not want to govern and could not do it if he tried.
Instead, as he sees it, the path to re-election lies with the instincts that brought him to power in the first place. With enough racist demagogy, Trump seems to think, he’ll close the gap with Biden and eke out another win in the Electoral College. But it is one thing to run a backlash campaign, as Trump did four years ago, in a growing economy in which most people aren’t acutely worried about their lives and futures. In that environment, where material needs are mostly met, voters can afford to either look past racial animus or embrace it as a kind of luxury political good. When conditions are on the decline, however, they want actual solutions, and the politics of resentment are, by themselves, a much harder sell. [Continue reading…]