If you’re surprised today that Donald Trump is a racist, you haven’t been paying attention. Since he entered politics, he has proved it repeatedly. In fact, as I reported with several colleagues in The Atlantic recently, bigotry has been a part of Trump’s public persona since he’s had a public persona.
Yet Trump’s racist Twitter attacks on Democratic congresswomen over the weekend still managed to shock, even in this benumbed age, because of his willingness and eagerness to place racism at the center of his political platform in a run for reelection to the presidency. It is not simply the employment of racist ideas for political advantage—that has been a staple of campaigns in both parties for some time. It is the invitation to a racial conflict that pits citizen against citizen, under the calculation that racism itself is a winning strategy, that astonishes.
Trump uses Twitter to try on new ideas and policy ideas in real time, seeing how he likes them, and then either discarding them or centering them. The current incident began, as my colleague Yoni Appelbaum reports, with Trump tweeting that the Democratic members should “go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came. Then come back and show us how it is done.” (While Trump doesn’t make explicit whom he means, it’s likely he’s referring to the “squad” of progressive Democrats—all four of whom are American citizens, and three of whom were born in the United States.) By Sunday evening, he had decided he liked the reaction, welcoming a battle over race at the ballot box in 2020. By Monday, he was demanding that Democrats apologize to him.