We knew the all-out fight for power would be ugly. On an epic scale. But the depth of unthinkable blackness spewed by our aberrant hatemonger-in-chief set a shocked America back on her heels.
She shuddered and braced for the nadir of ugliness yet to come. The 2020 presidential battle will be toxic on steroids. We know that. It will test the very essence of who we are as Americans. The defining election of our lives will either save the collective soul of our self-government or destroy it with four more years of contempt for the Constitution, runaway corruption, rank incompetence and outright tyranny.
Think I’m overstating the starkly black and white stakes here? Did you hear the siren blasting a distress call to arms for every thinking, feeling, respecting American recently? The urgent appeal for action — beseeching a heartsick nation to restore what truly makes America great again — came the week before last at a Trump rally in North Carolina.
The alarm went off (it is still blaring) following the chilling spectacle of the president of the United States personally attacking a woman as bait to hook an appalling response from receptive followers. In the packed basketball arena, awash in white faces, an awful chant arose with the charged contagion of fans swept up in the frenzy of a sporting event.
But the twisted sport being played by Donald Trump — that elicited such an organically racist reaction from Team Trump fans — was intentionally vile and exceedingly dangerous. The goal of the game was brutally transparent; to win by race-baiting and demonizing a Somali-American congresswoman targeted for the shade of her skin and her cheeky audacity to disagree with a white privilege president.
Trump masterfully served up this red meat to his audience knowing full well it would resonate the way it did. He threw the crowd a Muslim woman and former refugee who, as an outspoken freshman lawmaker, obviously exhibited improper appreciation for the USA. The rhetorical subtext was clear: What gives a black woman born in Somalia the right to criticize anything about America? She must hate her adopted country.
She doesn’t belong here. “Send her back!” repeated the chanters against the first naturalized citizen from Africa elected to the U.S. House of Representatives. A smugly satisfied Trump paused in silent approval. Then he continued to goad his assembled devotees by assailing the patriotism and hostile agenda of U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., along with three other women of color serving in Congress.
But the president zeroed in on Omar. She’s custom fit for the anti-woman, anti-minority, anti-immigrant narrative Trump routinely weaves to stoke his base. The diminutive congresswoman fills the bill for his degradation as a woman, a nonwhite, and a naturalized U.S. citizen from one of the “s***hole countries” Trump derided during a White House meeting.
Omar, and her minority Capitol Hill sisters, are also unabashed critics of the administration — which further provoked a thin-skinned Trump to pounce with racist tweets imploring them to “go back” to the “totally broken and crime-infested places from which they came.” That’s coded language about people who aren’t white for people who are. It’s a dog whistle blown loud and clear for listening white supremacists.
Let that sink in. Trump purposely exploited ingrained, simmering racism in the country by portraying four elected women as “outsiders” who look different and who ought to keep their mouths shut about America or leave. It doesn’t matter if he used his tweets against the congresswomen to redirect public attention from the Jeffrey Epstein scandal, caged children at the border, ongoing investigations, or the Mueller testimony.
It matters that Trump overtly and deliberately courted the darker angels of our nature — with raw racial animus — to benefit himself. It matters that he recklessly lit a fuse to start a fire. Days later, his chanting admirers were complementing his words with their own vile refrain.
God help us. Congressional Republicans won’t. Members of the GOP are either reliably mute or quick to mitigate the escalating shameless behavior of their party’s standard-bearer. That makes them complicit in the open racism he is now promulgating to retain power. History will judge them harshly for pretending not to notice.
So it’s up to us. We the people, of all political stripes and from all walks of life, cannot allow an attention-seeking demagogue to continue to debase all that is decent and enduring about the American experiment. We the people, who still recoil in shock when Trump embraces dehumanization for political expediency, must take a stand against the fear and hate he embodies.
We cannot fail to stop Trump from inflicting even more harm to this nation. Nothing in 2020 — no policy, no platform, no politician takes precedence over defeating the black heart in the Oval Office killing our core.
Johanek is a veteran print and broadcast journalist.