Donald Trump’s presidential campaign bludgeoned modern norms about the acceptability of racism. The candidate proposed a religious test for immigrants, and called a federal judge unfit on the grounds of his heritage. Trump could have decided to put the racial demagoguery of the campaign behind him, and it could have been remembered as a divisive ploy to win that did not define his administration, like George Bush’s manipulation of white racial panic to defeat Michael Dukakis in 1988. But Trump, perhaps predictably, is making a different choice. His early staffing choices are redefining the boundaries of acceptable racial discourse in Republican politics.Chait lists Steve Bannon, of course:
That Bannon’s ex-wife has testified to his hatred of Jews has attracted a great deal of attention, but this fact both over- and understates the racial nature of his beliefs. Bannon’s journalistic work is centrally dedicated to the task of refashioning conservatism along white-identity lines. His publication, Breitbart News, has promoted the “alt-right.” Breitbart itself defines the alt-right as a more intelligent version of skinheads...He also lists General Mike Flynn, who'll be Trump's national security adviser, and attorney general-designate Jeff Sessions. He's certainly right about Sessions:
When he was a U.S. Attorney, Donald Trump’s nominee for attorney general declared that “I wish I could decline on all” civil rights cases. Sessions called the NAACP and the ACLU “un-American” and “communist-inspired” organizations. He joked that used to think the Ku Klux Klan were “ok” until he found out they were “pot smokers.” He once called a black former assistant U.S. Attorney “boy.”And Flynn is a piece of work:
And his actual record is arguably even worse. “Jeff Sessions got his start prosecuting voting rights activists in Alabama on bogus voter fraud charges,” notes Sam Bagnestos, a professor at the University of Michigan Law School and the number two official in the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division under Holder. “Throughout his career, he has shown hostility to the historically important work of the Civil Rights Division. The damage he can do to civil rights enforcement as attorney general is incalculable.” Nothing about his subsequent history suggests that he’s changed.
On three occasions, Flynn tagged in his tweets Jared Wyland, an alt-right, anti-Semitic commentator who has tweeted about the "Liberal Jewish media." ...More:
In February, Flynn made waves when he tweeted it was rational to fear Muslims.
"Fear of Muslims is RATIONAL: please forward this to others: the truth fears no questions," Flynn said with a link to a video claiming Islamophobia was rational and that Islam wanted 80% of humanity enslaved or exterminated.
Flynn said in August that Islam is "a political ideology" rather than a religion. He also previously called Islam "sick" and described it as a “malignant cancer.”And:
The former general ... was responding to accusations by the Clinton campaign that Russia was behind a hack of the Democratic National Committee, and a subsequent leak of e-mails, in order to help Trump's candidacy.Chait writes that "Trump’s presidential campaign bludgeoned modern norms about the acceptability of racism." But I'm not sure those norms are gone exactly. Since Trump announced his presidential candidacy, quite a few minor officials, mostly in state and local politics, have made racist statements or written (or retransmitted) racist online postings. Those people continue to get in trouble for doing this sort of thing. For instance, just this week a mayor and a director of a county development corporation in West Virginia left office under pressure after the public learned about a jolly online exchange in which they agreed that First Lady Michelle Obama is an "ape in heels."
Flynn wrote that "the corrupt Democratic machine will do and say anything" to get Clinton elected. "This is a new low," he said, retweeting a message that read: "Not anymore, Jews. Not anymore."
But what Trump proved in his campaign is that it's easier to survive if you make dozens of offensive remarks than if you make one. One (justifiably) puts a target on your back. A multitude ought to rally the public against you in a big way, but instead you're marked as someone so brazen that the public and the political world respond with paralysis.
That's what Trump appears to be counting on in filling his administration: that there'll be so many appointees giving so much offense that no one will quite know where to start in attacking them. Obviously it worked in the campaign. It'll probably work in the presidency, too.