“Everywhere I go, people tell me how concerned they are by the divisive rhetoric coming from my opponent in this election. It’s like nothing we’ve heard before from a nominee for president of the United States.
“From the start, Donald Trump has built his campaign on prejudice and paranoia.”
With that beginning, Hillary Clinton went on Thursday to list with devastating precision Trump’s history of discrimination and his conscious, strategic provocation of racism and bigotry, from his claim that a judge of Mexican ancestry was not qualified to handle his lawsuit through proven cases of discrimination by his businesses, from his description of Mexican immigrants as rapists and criminals to his attempt to deny our first African-American president his claim to be American at all.
The ongoing attacks on Muslims. The false claim that thousands of Muslim-Americans cheered the attacks of Sept. 11. His refusal to disavow David Duke, claiming not to know who he was.
That is not ignorance being displayed by Trump, at least not the type of ignorance defined as a lack of knowledge. Despite his claims, Trump knew exactly who David Duke is. That’s what makes it so troubling. In a 2000 interview, Trump had no trouble whatsoever in describing Duke as “a bigot, a racist, a problem. This is not exactly the people you want in your party.” In 2016, he couldn’t bring himself to say those words again.
In her speech, Clinton also walked her listeners through Trump’s self-immersion in the world of political paranoia and conspiracy, from his birther fixation to claims that the father of Ted Cruz had helped kill President Kennedy. She reminded them of Trump’s courting of the king of conspiracy, radio host Alex Jones, who among other things has claimed that the tragic shooting of 20 elementary school students and six staff members at Sandy Hook Elementary School was a fake, and the victims were child actors.
“The last thing we need in the Situation Room is a loose cannon who can’t tell the difference between fact and fiction, and who buys so easily into racially-tinged rumors,” Clinton said. “Someone detached from reality should never be in charge of making decisions that are as real as they come.”
To top it all off, as Clinton pointed out, Trump has now named the alt-right leader and former executive chairman of Breitbart as CEO of his campaign. As documented earlier this week, Bannon has an extensive public record of racist demagoguery and conspiratorial rantings. No previous presidential candidate dating back to George Wallace would have had anything to do with the likes of Bannon. Trump has named him to run his campaign.
Prior to Clinton’s takedown, Trump himself had begun making awkward, halting attempts to try to clean up the image that he himself had created, with a supposed outreach to black voters that came across as more of a stiff-arm, and with a “softening” on immigration. That effort, and Clinton’s subsequent rebuttal, can probably be attributed to internal campaign polling that had turned up numbers similar to those found in a newly released Quinnipiac poll:
Even before Clinton’s speech, an overwhelming number of likely voters had concluded for themselves that Trump has been appealing to the dark side of the American people. Look at the 25-point margin among crucial independent voters. Look at the almost 50-point margin among young people. Even 29 percent of Republicans were willing to admit Trump’s bigotry to a pollster, and if they admit it to a pollster they have admitted it to themselves.
That’s the problem that Trump is attempting to evade, and that Clinton is attempting to hang around his neck. In a desperate bid to escape the pit that he himself has dug, Trump has even taken to calling Clinton a bigot in return, as if that would somehow neutralize the issue. The most eloquent, convincing evidence of the ridiculous nature of that claim comes not from a Trump critic, but from the reaction of an audience member Thursday when Trump trotted out his attempted counterattack:
In its honesty and candor, that response captures not just that singular moment, but Trump’s entire political campaign.