Donald Trump’s calculated smear of U.S. District Court Judge Gonzalo Curiel, based on his parents’ immigration to the United States from Mexico, seems to have drawn some condemnation from the Republican rank-and-file.
Newt Gingrich called Trump’s comments “one of the worst mistakes Trump has made. Inexcusable.” Sen. Mitch McConnell said he “couldn’t disagree more” with Trump’s tactics. And Sen. Bob Corker said Trump was “going to have to change.”
Voices that happily assented to Trump’s pledge to round up and eject 11 million people — and ban 1.6 billion more — from the U.S. were shocked — shocked — that he went so far as to delegitimize a judge based on his parents’ nationality.
These same politicians, of course, didn’t flinch when Trump pulled the exact same move on the President of the United States, calling into question his nationality and allegiances because of the nationality of his immigrant father.
Then, we called it the “Birther” movement. Now, Trump distracts from his own political problems by appealing not to the dog whistle prejudices lurking under the surface of polite society, but rather to the raw racial fault lines that have punctuated American history since its start.
And it’s not over. Bloomberg Politics reported Monday that Trump urged high-level campaign surrogates on a conference call to continue attacking Curiel’s legitimacy as a judge. According to Bloomberg:
When former Arizona Governor Jan Brewer interrupted the discussion to inform Trump that his own campaign had asked surrogates to stop talking about the lawsuit in an e-mail on Sunday, Trump repeatedly demanded to know who sent the memo, and immediately overruled his staff.
“Take that order and throw it the hell out,” Trump said.
And later in the call:
“The people asking the questions—those are the racists,” Trump said. “I would go at ’em.”
Why does Trump persist with this racist crusade? Because he isn’t going after the mainstream Republican base, he’s going after the racists.
Need proof? You could look at the dizzying number of white supremacist endorsements Trump has received since the beginning of this campaign, or the press credentials granted to James Edwards, a prominent broadcaster in the white nationalist community, or the interview that Donald Trump Jr. gave to Edwards, or Melania Trump’s insistence that a Jewish reporter had invited scores of antisemitic attacks on herself by publishing an unflattering profile.
Or you could look at the white nationalist delegate — perhaps the most well-known white nationalist in the country — who was chosen by the campaign to represent Trump at the Republican National Convention as a delegate from California; until the media noticed, caused a fuss, and forced the Trump campaign to blame the “mistake” on a “database error” — before that, too, was proved to be a lie.
Or you could take a gander at how the white supremacist internet responded to Trump’s attacks on Judge Gonzalo Curiel.
The far-right, pro-white community is a large one on the World Wide Web, and they have committed themselves to undermining Curiel based on his race alone. This is why, despite the weak denunciations from the Republican mainstream, Trump’s blatant race-baiting makes sense: These are his people.
Alex Jones, the conspiracist behind InfoWars, called Judge Curiel a “Hispanic Grand Dragon” to his 1.4 million YouTube subscribers, comparing La Raza Lawyers of California, a lawyers group in which Curiel is a member, to the KKK.
Many in the Trump camp have asserted that Curiel is a member of the unrelated National Council of La Raza, a political advocacy group as opposed to the unrelated professional group for lawyers in judges. Of course, even that would not have disqualified Curiel from presiding over the two class action lawsuits Trump currently faces in California.
And no, Trump hasn’t pursued any of the legal pathways available to him if he truly wanted Curiel to recuse himself. This is all a show.
Andrew Anglin, who has endorsed Trump, called Curiel a “terrorist spic judge” on his site The Daily Stormer, the news outlet affiliated with StormFront, the largest hub of white supremacist activity on the web.
The same site giddily reported “Trump Causing Wave of Nazism Among Teenagers” on Monday.
Writing for the Council of Conservative Citizens — the group the Southern Poverty Law Center called “Dylann Roof’s Gateway Into The World Of White Nationalism,” and whose leader robocalled for Donald Trump in Iowa — Hunter Wallace (Brad Griffin‘s pseudonym) claims the response to Trump’s attacks on Curiel shows that “The Left wants you to know that Trump is the last stand of White America. They want you to know that Whites are dying out and that racial demographics determines political power in the United States.”
One post on the White Nations web forum included a clip of Trump claiming that a Muslim judge might be biased against him as well, with the title “Trump is Obviously Racially Aware.”
Perhaps more alarming than the racist attacks on Curiel from Trump and supportive white supremacist websites is the effect these attacks have on broader conversations about race and national allegiance. Just as the vast majority of Republican elected officials and public figures failed to protest Trump’s birtherism — indeed, most benefitted from the delegitimization; and most were using rhetoric to a similar effect anyway — Republicans today will fail to disavow Trump’s candidacy, instead offering half-hearted distancing maneuvers and squirming out of the public eye, to whatever extent possible.
I hope I’m wrong. I hope that, as Trump continues to show his wholly unsurprising true colors, Republican leaders realize that it is their duty to stand up to the normalization of bigotry. Failure to do so legitimizes the kind of hatred that has bubbled for decades in the darkest corners of the web, unattended. Now, that racial animus has been given the largest stage in the world, it’s most public moment since the Civil Rights Act.