Donald Trump's Nativist Campaign is Rallying Racist Supporters

The candidate's aggressive opposition to immigration is a big part of his appeal.


credit: Gage Skidmore / Foter / CC BY-SA

To the extent that Donald Trump's presidential campaign is about any actual issue, it is about opposition to immigration. Trump has, among other things, proposed deporting 11 million unauthorized immigrants currently in the United States, expressed support for reducing legal immigration levels, jeered at immigrant "anchor babies," and called for an end to birthright citizenship, even though it is constitutionally required.

Trump's slogan, the catchall phrase that binds his scattershot campaign together, is "Make This Country Great Again." In combination with his immigration platform, the clear implication of the slogan is that America has, over the years, become a not great place, and immigrants are at least one reason—perhaps the primary reason—why.

Nativism is at the core of Donald Trump's campaign; it is one of the keys to his appeal. And amongst his supporters and admirers, that aggressive nativism often shades into outright racism.

You can find these expressions of racism in quotes from Trump's supporters gathered by reporters following the candidate on the trail.

Here, for example, is what one 53-year-old Trump supporter from Alabama recently told The New York Times he hoped the candidate would say at a rally:

"Hopefully, he's going to sit there and say, 'When I become elected president, what we're going to do is we're going to make the border a vacation spot, it's going to cost you $25 for a permit, and then you get $50 for every confirmed kill,' " said Jim Sherota, 53, who works for a landscaping company. "That'd be one nice thing." 

This is, perhaps, not a statement that is meant to be taken entirely literally in its implied threat of violence. But given its proximity to a Trump rally, and the aggressive anti-immigrant sentiment in Trump's campaign, it seems fair to assume that it is meant to be taken seriously as a statement of undisguised hostility toward immigrants in the U.S.

In a separate indident, however, Trump's anti-immigration rhetoric was channeled into violence: In Boston last week, two brothers were arrested last week for urinating on and beating a homeless Mexican immigrant. According to the police report, one brother said that not only that they had targeted their victim because he was an illegal immigrant, but that "Donald Trump was right, all these illegals need to be deported."

Another reporter who covered Trump's Alabama rally, the Post's Dave Weigel (formerly of Reason) also shared this quote gathered from an interview with a white farmer in Alabama:

"You probably think we're prejudiced, but my whole life we had niggers work for us in the field. And they were niggers. My daddy called them niggers. I'm not ignorant. That's just the way I was raised. There's black people and there's niggers. You live around here, you know the difference."

Yes, one would probably think that the speaker of this quote is prejudiced.

Meanwhile, a video from Trump's Alabama rally appears—it is somewhat difficult to hear—to capture one of the attendees screaming "White power!"

Also at that Alabama rally, Weigel and another Washington Post reporter spoke to a 60-year-old woman visiting from California. Here's how she described her interest in Trump's candidacy:

"There is no more California," Burns said. "It's now international, lawless territory. Everything is up for grabs. Illegal aliens are murdering people there. People are being raped. Trump isn't lying about anything — the rest of the country just hasn't found out yet." 

[Update: Weigel notes on Twitter that Burns is black.]

This might not be a strictly, literally racist sentiment, but it is predicated on the same unfounded terror at the spread of immigrant crime found in Trump's own generalized fearmongering about the issue, and in specific ehoes the candidate's loud insistence that illegal immigrants from Mexico are criminals and rapists. In doing so, it reflects the essence of Trump's nativist sales pitch: America is not great, and the reason it is not great is because illegal immigrants are ruining it.

You can see this sentiment expressed more directly in a video showing an interaction between Univision reporter Jorge Ramos, who was booted from a Trump campaign event after forcefully pressing him on immigration. From the podium, Trump dismissed Ramos, saying, "Sit down, you weren't called. Go back to Univision."

Outside, a Trump supporter confronted Ramos even more bluntly. "It's not about you," he says to Ramos. "Get out of my country. Get out." He's also following Trump's lead, using language that, like Trump's "Go back to Univision" remark, is focused on ejecting Ramos. Watch:

It is true, of course, that all of these statements, several of which were previously gathered by Raw Story, come from individuals of no particular power or influence. It is hard to say precisely how representative they are of anything or anyone beyond themselves. They are anecdotes, not data.

But there are enough anecdotes to spot a possible trend. And what these anecdotes illustrate is Trump's obvious appeal to individuals with racist sympathies. That same appeal is on display in the multiple statements in favor of Trump by white nationalist leaders.

Former Ku Klux Klan grand wizard David Duke, for example, recently followed a radio-show rant about, as CNN describes it, "Jewish domination of the media," with kind words for Trump, saying that, amongst the GOP field, the businessman is "the best of the lot." In specific, Duke praised Trump's immigration proposals.

Duke isn't the only one. As Buzzfeed reports, multiple white nationalist leaders and writers have expressed support or admiration for Trump and his policies, with many focusing on his approach to immigration.

Trump said yesterday (as he has also said in the past) that he doesn't want Duke's endorsement, and it is obviously true that just because a political figure has attracted support from racists does not make that figure a racist himself.

Yet what is also clear is that Trump is running a campaign that, largely as a result of its hostility to immigrants, is attractive to individuals who openly harbor feelings of racial animosity. His platform and his policies, to the extent that they can be determined, have had the effect of rallying racists around his candidacy, and serve as an appeal to the racist mind.