In West Virginia, Republican Senate candidate Don Blankenship accused Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) of creating jobs for “China people” and getting donations from his “China family.” (McConnell’s wife, Elaine Chao, was born in Taiwan.) In Georgia, Republican gubernatorial candidate Michael Williams drives around in a bus he promises to fill with “illegals” who will be deported to Mexico. On the rear is stamped: “Murderers, rapists, kidnappers, child molestors [sic], and other criminals on board.” In Arizona, Republican Senate candidate (and former Maricopa County sheriff) Joe Arpaio is a proud “birther” with a history of profiling and abusing Hispanic migrants. Vice President Pence recently called Arpaio “a great friend of this president, a tireless champion of strong borders and the rule of law.” In Wisconsin, Republican House candidate Paul Nehlen runs as a “pro-white Christian American candidate.”
Yes, these are fringe figures. But they are fringe figures in a political atmosphere they correctly view as favorable. In the Republican Party, cranks and bigots are closer to legitimacy than at any time since William F. Buckley banished the John Birch Society.
For some of us, this was a concern from the beginning of President Trump’s rise — not just the policies he would adopt but also the attitudes he would encourage and the passions he would provoke.
The problem is one of social psychology. Human beings are wired to favor their ingroup and to view people in outgroups as interchangeable and dispensable. We are willing to form ingroups at the drop of a hat, based even on minor characteristics. We tend to believe that bad things that happen to people in our ingroup are bum luck, while bad things that happen to people in outgroups are evidence of a just universe. Because we are inherently predisposed toward stereotyping, we are particularly vulnerable to propaganda.
Whatever else Trumpism may be, it is the systematic organization of resentment against outgroups. Trump’s record is rich in dehumanization. It was evident when he called Mexican migrants “criminals” and “rapists.” When he claimed legal mistreatment from a judge because “he’s a Mexican.” (Judge Gonzalo P. Curiel was born in Indiana.) When he proposed a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States.” When he attacked Muslim Gold Star parents. When he