Monday, September 5, 2016

Six questions for John K. Wilson, author of 'Trump Unveiled'

In today’s segment of Five Questions, we’re going to an expanded format. I’ve got six questions today for the author of a new book that dives deep into the dungheap that is Donald Trump.

John K. Wilson is the author of Trump Unveiled: Exposing the Bigoted Billionaire (, to be published on Sept. 1 by OR Books. His previous books include The Most Dangerous Man in America: Rush Limbaugh’s Assault on ReasonBarack Obama: This Improbable Quest, and Patriotic Correctness: Academic Freedom and Its Enemies. Also, John interviewed me for In These Times when my book came out, so I’m happy to turn the tables on him here.

To what degree is Trump exacerbating the racial/cultural anxieties felt by a segment of white America, and to what degree is he simply drawing on existing feelings?

The Southern Strategy is now a national strategy: Trump is appealing to anxious white males, and trying to translate economic anxiety into racial terms. For all the people who have been hurt by corporate America and the Bush Recession, Trump is telling them their economic problems are the fault of minorities and immigrants and the government. But it’s interesting that Trump’s supporters tend to have higher incomes than the average American. Trump’s message isn’t actually working with poorer Americans. Instead, his strongest appeal is to wealthier old white men with little education. And racial and cultural anxiety is the most successful message that he’s selling.  The racism in America has always been there, but Trump is the first major presidential candidate in recent memory to focus so much blame on immigrants and foreigners. And ultimately, this election is a test of American values: Are the majority of Americans so racist that they’ll vote for an unqualified, ignorant jerk just to make a statement about their cultural anxiety?

What kind of military/foreign policy do you think Trump would follow as president?

Trump’s approach is violent isolationism, which is likely to cause numerous wars. It’s well known among Trump’s critics that he’s lying when he says that he opposed the war in Iraq before it began, and pretends that he was a leader of the anti-war movement. What’s less publicized is the fact that Trump had consistently supported, from 1991 to 2003, invading Iraq and overthrowing Saddam Hussein—the very thing that he now says was a horrible idea and a key reason why Hillary Clinton shouldn’t be elected president. That means Trump is not only far to the right of Clinton, but he’s also far to the right of Dick Cheney. Trump wasn’t reluctant to start a war in Iraq; he was only disappointed that we hadn’t invaded Iraq long ago. The Never Trump movement understands that Trump generally follows the conservative line on judicial appointments and domestic policies, and that Congress can check his deviations. It’s foreign policy where Trump provokes fear from the right, not because he’s a pacifist, but because he’s an unpredictable lunatic, and the presidency today has vast unchecked powers beyond the borders of the United States.

What do you think a President Trump would have done if he'd been in office on 9/11?

Because Trump’s foreign policy is to the right of Dick Cheney and George W. Bush, he would have done everything they did, and maybe more. Would Trump have responded to 9/11 with nuclear weapons? It’s possible. He absolutely refuses to rule out using nuclear weapons to kill vast numbers of innocent people if it suits his military desires or goals of revenge.

How do you think his penchant for talking up conspiracy theories would play out in a Trump presidency?

Some of the worst moments in the history of American presidents were caused by paranoia: the Watergate break-in and the cover up was an outgrowth of Nixon’s paranoia, and how his mentality spread throughout the White House. Trump has already created his own version of Nixon’s Enemies List by banishing numerous news outlets from his events. Trump’s paranoia is far worse than Nixon’s, and Trump goes far beyond paranoia to a general belief in conspiracy theories even when they don’t involve him. Trump became the leader of the birthers not merely because he wanted to appeal to the racist far right, but also because he genuinely embraces conspiracy theories. Conspiratorial thinking is dangerous for many reasons. It shows irrational reasoning and someone largely incapable of weighing evidence and determining actual causes for problems. Science, to a conspiracy nut, is just another conspiracy, which is why Trump always calls climate change a “hoax.” Conspiracy theorists also tend to see enemies everywhere. Since Trump has vowed to destroy America’s enemies, and he regards any critics as his personal enemy, there is a danger that Trump will be a traditional authoritarian leader, conflating criticism with treason. Many people imagine that the American system of checks and balances prevents a terrible abuse of presidential power. But the truth is that we’ve never tested it by electing a conspiracy nut as president.

What would be the impact on matters relating to race—both in terms of the fight against structural racism and relations between racial, ethnic, religious, etc. groups—of a Trump presidency?

A Trump victory would be the triumph of racism in many different forms. Trump is the favored candidate of white supremacists, perhaps the most enthusiastic presidential choice of racists since George Wallace almost a half century ago. Trump unifies all of the racist subgroups within the conservative movement: the anti-Muslim national security extremists, the racial resentment white folks, the law-and-order/imprison black people wing, and the anti-immigrant cultural supremacy crowd. A Trump victory would also firmly establish the racist wing of the Republican Party as its dominant voice. Racism is still doing pretty good for white people, but its past greatness is part of Trump’s nostalgia. Trump would make racism great again in America.

What impact would President Trump have on our national discourse in general, and specifically on matters that fall under the category of political correctness?

Trump represents the triumph of right-wing talk radio over rational discourse within the Republican Party. Trump thinks and talks in incoherent soundbites. He has no real ideology, which is why so many conservatives hate him. He will say and do anything to get elected. Consider the example of the federal minimum wage: Trump has declared that the minimum wage must be kept frozen because wages are too high, then he said it should be abolished in the name of states’ rights, then he said it should be increased to $10 an hour and beyond. No presidential candidate has ever taken more radically different stands on the minimum wage during a single campaign.

The only core ideology that Trump offers in this campaign is his opposition to political correctness. And the only thing that Trump’s supporters and critics agree upon is that he is the candidate of political incorrectness. Political incorrectness is essential to Trump’s candidacy because it has become the mechanism for excusing a wide range of bigotry. Every offensive remark Trump makes is defended by his political incorrectness. For Trump, “it’s a joke” or “it was sarcasm” has become the perennial excuse for any offensive or stupid thing he says. Political correctness is also a way to smear critics as being censors seeking to suppress free speech. So it’s an attempt to control the debate and put limits on criticism. Anyone who talks about Trump’s racism will be met with the objection that it’s “politically correct” to call people racist, as Clint Eastwood claimed, and so no one should ever do it. Trump shows us how being politically incorrect is just an attempt to impose what Trump thinks are the correct ideas. So, Trump announces that he will impose “extreme vetting” to ban immigrants who have “un-American” ideas. In fact, Trump is the ultimate in imposing his kind of political correctness, because he thinks the government should ask immigrants questions about whether they believe in Trump’s vision of American values and then ban people who give the wrong answers. Trump’s campaign exposes the emptiness of the conservative war on political correctness, and how it is a slogan for perpetuating bigotry and repression while masking white privilege as victimhood.

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