Playing to the ‘base’

The detention camps amassed along the Texas and California border bear witness to the folly of trying to satisfy a “base” of voters. Children being separated away from their parents conjures up memories of some of the worst moments in the 20th Century. The evocation of a non-law and scripture being used conveniently to justify such an abomination brings to mind slaveholders’ use of the Bible to defend slavery. This is a defining moral issue.

Donald Trump’s use of incendiary language on Mexican migrants when he announced his candidacy in 2015 set the tone. Banning Muslims from the United States put more fuel on the fire. But he hit a nerve with Republican voters who supported him without breaking ranks. Trump certainly knew his message and the underlining support it received from the now-famous “base.” To those supporters, an order is an order, a frightening concept in an ostensibly liberty loving land.

Trump even managed, through his Attorney General Jeff Sessions, to outdo his performance after Charlottesville. Racists have feelings too, he suggested after a right winger killed a demonstrator. And, no doubt, an army of faithful Trumpites nodded on instruction. Only when he mentioned tariffs did you hear complaints from Republicans.

But it also leaves questions of just how bright the so-called traditional conservatives really are. You send children to showers in order to seize them, you sent them to “family camps” or “relocation centers.” That this draws comparisons to the Third Reich would seem obvious or do these clowns read any books? Maybe Twitter, Facebook or whatever attention-grabbing device leaves no room to reflect. Laura Bush seems to be the rarest of Republicans in that she is heartbroken and compares the actions to Japanese internment camps during World War II.

Making it worse, Trump continues to lie, blaming Democrats for passing a non-law. In a world of invisible friends, invisible laws and altered reality, Trump and his beloved base seemed quite smug and satisfied.

But it is not just a Trump problem. Republicans like Mitch McConnell are more than ready to follow suit because they agree. Before Barack Obama got started, the Birther smear began. Even in 2008, John McCain was forced to admonish a supporter when she accused Obama of being a Muslim and a Kenyan. At least he had the courage to correct her; few Republicans would do that at present. Even Susan Collins, who has taken mumbling to a high art, cannot be said to have truly defended the right. In the end, the GOP will try to disassociate themselves from Trump but they are he and he is them.

Negativity, nativism and sometimes outright racism have blighted the GOP for decades. When you feed animals on swill, the meat gets tough. And the “base” has swallowed it and gloried in it. Trump is their invention and now it has no boundaries.

Perhaps Trump is capable of redemption. He has shown flexibility on foreign policy but he needs to separate himself. Not since Birmingham in 1963 has such an issue emerged that could catch the public imagination.