Originally published on Medium
Donald Trump gave the United States a lesson in dog whistles. What they sound like, who they appeal to, and how they are often translated into hateful attacks against Black people, Latinos, and other people of color. The speeches were there. If you didn’t learn from them it’s because you chose not to. Similarly, now that he’s no longer in office people have chosen to ignore him.
Trump, along with his brand of politics (if that’s what you want to call it), is running full steam ahead and his die-hard fans are in no short supply. While those in your proximity may have softened their tones as they focus on Joe Biden and “communist democrats,” make no mistake, they still offer him their most ardent support. He appeases them by saying things they cheer for the most and because of that, what he’s saying has escalated into more dangerous territory.
Exposing coded language and explaining how it works is something I’ve done for a very long time. When I would write about Trump’s previous dog-whistles, many would chime in without reading the work and saying something along the lines of, “he threw dog-whistles out the window a long time ago.” A statement that clearly says they’re not paying attention.
The normalization of political hate speech began long before Trump and his racist birther nonsense. From Nixon and Reagan to the Bushes and the Clintons, racial animus in political speech has been evolving for decades. Meanwhile, most white people in the U.S. disregard the rhetoric, like that of the Southern Strategy, because it appeals to them.
Political bigotry has been horrible for years. It seems that most didn’t notice until Donald Trump announced his running for president. Even as the Republican/Libertarian Tea Party before Trump employed Klan-like language against Barack Obama and Democrats, the population at large didn’t seem all that bothered. People who talked about it, like me, heard it all.
“They’ll go away if you deny them the attention they seek.”
Dismissive attitudes were far too common during the Obama era.
So many Americans declared racism was over as if it just magically disappeared because we just elected the first Black president. Even worse, conservatives began accusing Obama of bringing racism back. Again, acting as if it suddenly didn’t exist. He was also their proof. What they never tell you, however, is how the majority of white people voted against him. Twice.
Those same white people would later embrace Trump. A man who picked up on the extremist rhetoric and made it work. It worked because his campaign knew who to reach, how to talk to them, and more specifically, what language to use. Trump surrounded himself with a team made up of the vilest bigoted people within larger online communities.
People with reach in the real world.
It Aint Over
Now, Trump is deeply intertwined with a massive voting population across the country. Made up of voters who are willing to overlook his bigotry. Some believe he’s better for the country overall and if people would just give him a chance, they would see that. Meanwhile, they ignore the mass murders, assaults, and hateful rhetoric caused by his language.
Others either believe as Trump does or don’t see a problem with his hateful speech. They don’t care about the harm. Either way, it’s all problematic. Trump supporters permitting him to speak as he does and cheer him on has allowed his language to only get nastier. Now, it’s full-blown white nationalism. Even offering to pardon those responsible for the attack on the Capitol.
In 2019, I wrote an article on Medium discussing how Donald Trump adopted a modernized version of Nixon’s Southern Strategy:
“The Southern Strategy is a Republican electoral strategy designed to increase political support among white voters by appealing to their racism and bigotry. Likewise, the Trump administration’s electoral approach has adopted the same divisive ideology — which has been quite useful thus far. By playing on those same racial tensions, Trump has been successful in driving a wedge between rural white voters and people of color.”
It’s still happening.
In many ways, it’s much more dangerous. Not just because of the language Trump uses, but because many of the extremist groups that were once front and center have gone underground or dispersed into smaller newer groups. Extremism is already difficult to track because of the paranoid nature of being in a hate group or so-called “militia.” Now, it’s even more so.
As Trump continues to rile up his base with racist dog whistles, we must be conscious of the dangers he presents. All signs point to him running for president again in 2024. Whether he does or not, doesn’t matter so much. He’s having rallies about once a month and the turnouts are about as big as they have been. Despite what you might think, Trump hasn’t slowed down.
And his supporters are ready for whatever.
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