I am of Trump’s generation, and I grew up with the sentiments that he expressed about Haiti and African countries. When I was a kid, one of the hit songs in 1948 was the Andrew Sisters’ “Civilization.” You can click here to listen to it. Here’s a stanza:
So bongo, bongo, bongo, I don’t wanna leave the Congo, oh no no no no no
Bingo, bangle, bungle, I’m so happy in the jungle, I refuse to go
Don’t want no jailhouse, shotgun, fish-hooks, golf clubs, I got my spears
So, no matter how they coax him, I’ll stay right here.
So to many people of, say, sixty years or over, what Trump said resonated. It was all very familiar. So what? you might ask.
My point is this: that Trump has vocalized sentiments – and let’s just call them prejudices – that are in many Americans, but that in the wake of the civil rights and anti-war movements were suppressed in public, political discourse. Even George Wallace in his 1968 campaign never talked about “nigrahs.” Jesse Helms ran subtly racist ads (the famous “Hands” ad), but he never made an explicit racist appeal. Neither of those politicians would have publicly described Africa as a “shithole.”
And the American voter has grown, too. Think of those Trump voters who backed Obama in 2008 or 2012. Or the South Carolina Republicans who put Tim Scott in the Senate. That would not have happened in 1956. Tim Scott’s parents probably wouldn’t have been allowed to vote. America and Americans have changed.
What is so scary about Trump’s comment is that it genuinely represents a return of the repressed. It’s something people of Trump’s generation might still say around the bar at the country club, but would never say in public and that many, if not most, Americans know better than to act upon when they vote.
I always said this to people who wanted to reduce Trump’s voters to racists. My reply: I’m a racist, too – I get bad grades on those implicit racism tests that the political scientists give — and I would never have voted for Trump. Americans are complicated, and our political choices can’t be reduced to a single sentiment. But Trump is determined to prove otherwise. A Trump aide boasted to CNN that his comments would appeal to “his base.” That’s the perfect pun. His comments do appeal what is most base in us and our politics. He is the most dangerous politician to achieve high office during my lifetime.