When Donald Trump first began running for President, I was sure he had an ulterior motive: I assumed his campaign was a year-long publicity stunt for the next season of “The Apprentice.” After all, how could anyone take a Trump campaign seriously, even Trump himself? But as the election cycle heats up and the world becomes more and more like a real-life Onion article, we are forced to confront a spectacularly horrifying vision of the future: Donald Trump as president, living in the White House — or shall we call it Trump House? — and flying around the world in Trump Force One. Yikes.
Despite early predictions that “Trump fever” would fade after a few months, it looks like he is here to stay. So how has he managed to wrench so many votes from his contenders? As Herald Opinions Editor Lainie Rowland ’17 discussed in her column earlier this month, it isn’t just his brashness that appeals to the American public. Yes, people are voting for Trump because he is bombastic and aggressive — so different from the career politicians who are responsible for the breakdown in Congress. But people are also voting for him because they, at least in part, identify with his ideology. Or lack thereof.
Trump isn’t known for his clear-cut policy stances or steadfast beliefs. In fact, he has taken so many U-turns in his public career that Stephen Colbert was able to produce a hilarious sketch of Trump debating himself. He isn’t a true conservative by any stretch of the imagination, nor does he have a coherent vision for the country. A Trump presidency would be something akin to a black hole. Who knows what it will spew out?
So it is now natural to be preoccupied with the prospect of Trump actually winning. We have told ourselves he can’t be more than a three-minute (going on one-year) wonder and that the furor would die down eventually. But while we have laughed off the chances of a Trump triumph, we have overlooked the damage his campaign has already caused.
By pandering to some of the public’s most offensive and irrational fears, the Trump campaign provides a platform for the insensitive and intolerant. After all, we are talking about the man who single-handedly popularized the phrase “build a wall.” Trump has used hate speech as a political tool, and its effects are reverberating across the country. Since his remarks against Mexicans and Muslims, there has been a deluge of racist incidents in colleges, airports and communities all over the United States . Minorities are beginning to feel increasingly unsafe and targeted — with good reason.
Rhode Island is not an exception to the rule. Last week, several politicians including former U.S. Rep. Pete Hoekstra, R-MI, hosted an ill-informed press conference at the Statehouse against the relocation of Syrian refugees to the state. Their xenophobic rhetoric and unnecessary fear-mongering bear a striking similarity to many of Trump’s campaign speeches — with the minor caveat that they didn’t intersperse their diatribes with phrases like “I’ll make a deal” or “I have $10 billion.” Regardless, both shared many of the same principles and taglines. Trump’s campaign platform has only legitimized these radical, anti-immigrant elements and given them a voice at a national level.
The aftershocks of Trump’s campaign strategy will be felt for years. It takes a lot more than simple defeat to erase 18 months of racial and religious provocation. Just take a look across the Atlantic to Europe. Marine Le Pen may not have won last year’s elections in France, but her anti-immigrant ideas have gained long-term visibility. United Kingdom Independence Party might not be seen as a real political threat, but its nationwide campaign has had a lasting impact on racial tolerance in the United Kingdom. In the same way, Trump isn’t just a threat to national harmony if he somehow manages to win. He’s already done enough damage.
Today is Super Tuesday. Tonight we will have a better sense of how the rest of the year will play out. But whatever the outcome tomorrow, or even in November, it is too late to reverse the impact of the Trump campaign. The entire country is already reeling from the “Trump effect.”
Mili Mitra ’18 can be reached at email@example.com.