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Sunday, December 17, 2017

To fully explain why Maine Gov. Paul LePage felt justified in claiming that “the enemy right now — the overwhelming majority of people coming in — are people of color or people of Hispanic origin,” and implying that the enemy as such should be shot, it’s necessary first to visit Twitter.

On August 27, the day after LePage made those comments, Twitter user @Roark__ sent the following to his 52,000 followers:

The tweet was picked up on the Reddit community for Donald Trump, r/the_donald, where it currently has a net 1,319 “upvotes,” though likely tens of thousands more Reddit users saw it without voting.

The tweet is a real piece of work. First, because it implies that those who do not pay taxes should not be able to vote, an increasingly common sentiment reminiscent of Mitt Romney’s “47 percent” gaffe that runs against centuries of American tradition and law. And second, more importantly, because it shows a map of white voters’ preferences in 2012, not “taxpayer” preferences. 

That’s an insidious lie, but it manages to illustrate the racial thinking behind the “alt-right,” the newly-famous nativist support base Donald Trump has coddled for 15 months: Their brand of “racial realism,” as they call it, is an attack against “identity politics,” or what they view as the essentializing drive to forefront race at the expense of other factors — taxpayer status, for example.

The lie behind the tweet is that non-whites don’t pay taxes, that they don’t deserve to vote, and that, if they couldn’t vote, national elections would be an easy sweep for Republicans. That last sentence is true: If non-whites couldn’t vote, Republicans would control the vast majority of American politics. And it helps explain why Gov. LePage acts like a bigot: In Maine, the whitest state in the nation, he doesn’t seem to have had much of a  problem spouting off about race for months, now. 

Elected in 2010 and again in 2014, LePage spoke like candidate Donald Trump before Donald Trump’s candidacy — though the comparisons in Maine were more to late Toronto Mayor Rob Ford, at the time. 

This year, LePage has driven himself directly into a giant controversy by his use of coded (and explicit) racial slurs, which currently threatens his very administration: In January, he said that when drug dealers — “guys with the name D-Money, Smoothie, Shifty — these types of guys” — come to Maine from New York and Connecticut to sell heroin, “half the time they impregnate a young white girl before they leave”. In February, he justified his opposition to opening Maine’s doors to refugees by claiming they brought diseases like ““ziki-fly.”

In August, he claimed to a town hall that the vast majority of drug dealers in Maine were black and Hispan. The state’s ACLU chapter has requested proof of that statement, which, given known crime statistics, is an unlikely one. In response to criticism at the time, LePage left a very angry voicemail for a state rep. And then, in a news conference in response to that story, he held the presser in which called non-whites the “enemy” and implied they should be shot and killed.

And what came after each event, each more cringe-worthy than the last? A Trumpian non-apology from LePage. Here’s just one, from January: 

“I made a one-word slip-up. I might have made many slip-ups. I was going impromptu, and my brain didn’t catch up to my mouth. Instead of saying ‘Maine women,’ I said ‘white women.’ I’m not going to apologize to the Maine women for that, because if you go to Maine, you’ll see that we’re essentially 95 percent white.”

All of this to say: Donald Trump is not an aberration. He’s an articulation of the racial politics that have played out across the country for centuries.

Photo: Maine Governor Paul LePage speaks at the 23rd Annual Energy Trade and Technology Conference in Boston, Massachusetts November 13, 2015.    REUTERS/Gretchen Ertl/File Photo

 

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