Today, the radical connectivity of the internet empowers every American to find people who share their views, to mobilize them, and to incite their online community members with false and provocative language.
Any citizen can be a demagogue. And, arguably, Americans are more easily manipulated by a demagogue—directly, without the filter of journalists and other institutional elites.
Which brings me to the leader of Castellanos’s party. Donald J. Trump seems determined not to calm racial strife but to exploit it — and thoughtful Republicans should worry about where it might end.
“If he tries to make the racial conflict between blacks and whites worse, it will hurt his candidacy and hurt his country,” said the GOP consultant John Feehery.
Feehery argues that Trump has not gone too far on the race issue, but it’s a hard case to make. Trump questioned Barack Obama’s citizenship, accused Mexico of sending rapists across U.S. borders, and called for a “total and complete” ban on Muslim immigration. More recently, in response to the spate of violence involving police and African Americans, Trump seems less concerned with solving the problem than benefiting from it.
“President Obama just had a news conference,” Trump tweeted Sunday after the slaying of three police in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, “but he doesn’t have a clue.”
Obama had just condemned the killings as cowardly and reprehensible. “There is no justification for violence against law enforcement. None. These attacks are the work of cowards who speak for no one. They right no wrongs. They advance no causes.”
That should have been enough to short-circuit suggestions that Obama blames police for violence brought upon them or that his sympathies lie with radical anti-white groups. It didn’t; the internet is filled with these and other baseless accusations. Trump himself suggested that the president had contributed to the bloodshed.
“How many law enforcement and people have to die because of a lack of leadership in our country?” Trump said in a statement. “We demand law and order.”
He tweeted: “Our country is a divided crime scene and will only get worse!”
Polarization and racial division in America is undeniable—74 percent of voters say race relations are bad, according to a new NBC/WSJ poll—but the nation is not a “crime scene.”
Predicting and almost cheering for “worse,” Trump seems to know he benefits if a scared nation rejects the party in power. “I think race relations now are as bad as they have ever been,” Trump told Fox News, ignoring slavery, Jim Crow, and the turbulent ’60s.
“Make America Safe Again” was the theme of the first day of Trump’s nominating convention, with mentions of the war on terrorism, the Benghazi raid, and illegal immigration. But the focus of the night was a law-and-order message literally borrowed from Richard Nixon’s successful but racially charged 1968 campaign.