Trump’s Become a Threat to America

Donald J. Fraser has spent a lifetime working in a variety of capacities in government. This includes direct experience in the management of local government organizations and specialized assistance as a consultant. Fraser holds a bachelor’s degree in political science and a master’s degree in public policy and administration and is the author of The Emergence of One American Nation.

In recent days,
President Donald Trump has sunk to a new low, labeling certain places as
“shithole countries” and questioning why we should let people immigrate from Haiti,
Africa and Central America. The comments were made to a bi-partisan group of
lawmakers who are working on immigration reform. The comments reminded me of
the worst elements of Trump, specifically the racist belief that America should
be a place for white people only.

In my book, The Emergence of One American Nation, I
argue that the United States continues to be one nation united by our love of
country, our constitutional order, and fealty to a core set of ideals that were
handed down by the founders. Most importantly, America is one nation with many
diverse people, held together by the power of ideas. But I must admit, the rise
of Donald Trump leaves me deeply troubled over whether our nation can remain as
one, or if we will fall prey to tribalism.

Trump appeals to
the worst elements in human nature. In the face of the very real concerns of
many that the American dream is disappearing, Trump chooses to lay blame on all
those who are not white and male. Division is his goal, and he places
responsibility for the complicated problems we face on Hispanics, women,
Muslims, immigrants, and foreign competitors who have duped our witless
leaders. It’s an argument that appeals to base instincts, but lacks any basis
in fact. The type of divisions that Trump sows endangers the future of our
nation. As Robert Kagan of the Brookings Institution has written, Trump is the
type of tyrant, “riding to power on the shoulders of the people,” and his
movement contains within it the seeds of fascism. That alone makes him
extremely dangerous, but he also makes a mockery of what makes us one nation.

Today, the United States is religiously,
culturally, and ethnically diverse. Yet we see ourselves as Americans. Why?
President Obama, in a speech he made to a group of newly naturalized American
citizens, told them: “We are a country bound not by ethnicity or bloodlines but
by fidelity to a set of ideas.” In response to Trump’s racist comments, Senator
Lindsay Graham, who attended the immigration meeting, wrote the following.
“I’ve always believed that American is an idea, not defined by its people but
by its ideals.”  These comments by men
from opposite ends of the political spectrum encapsulates much about what makes
America a nation. At our core, America is a nation because of a shared set of
ideas about what it means to be American—ideas developed during the founding
generation that have evolved over time. Among these ideas are liberty,
equality, justice, and democracy.

The founders saw
America as a nation for white males, but that was the nature of their society in
the late 17th century. Trump acts as if we have not grown over the past 240
years since Jefferson wrote those immortal words in the Declaration of
Independence that stand as the American creed. Those grand sentiments expressed in the preamble to the Declaration were
ideals to be pursued, but they did not reflect the condition of the colonies in
1776. Over the course of American history, those ideals have animated
Americans, lead to numerous disagreements over their meaning, and required the
struggle of many people to have the blessings of equality, liberty, and
democracy extended to all. Certainly, at the time of the revolution, such
rights were denied to a large portion of the population, including, most
glaringly, slaves, women, and native people. And the struggle has continued throughout
our history. As Martin Luther King, Jr., said in his “I have Dream Speech” in
1963, the founders had made a “promise that [all] would be guaranteed the
unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”   Do we
really hope to move backwards a world that Donald Trump wants to resuscitate?

Ultimately, I remain an optimist and believe
that Trump is swimming against the tide of history and the good sense of the
American people. Clearly, he failed to get a majority to support him in the
2016 election, and I suspect many of those who did vote for Trump did so out of
a frustration that their concerns had been ignored. Nativist movements of the
type Trump is championing seem to appear at regular intervals in American
history. Earlier waves of immigration unleashed attacks upon Catholics, the
Irish, and Italians. The Know Nothing Party of the 1850’s was born in
opposition to immigration, but soon collapsed. Anti-immigration movements were
directed against the Chinese in the late 1800’s and the Japanese in the 20th
century, who were rounded up and placed into internment camps during World War
II. More recent nativist sentiments have arisen against Mexicans and, in the
aftermath of September 11, against Muslims. These movements do not reflect what
is best about America, and we always look back with regret at what fear has

What makes Trump’s approach different from
pure nativism is that he combines it with an authoritarian personality. His
approach to politics is reminiscent of the “cult of personality” normally
associated with totalitarian regimes that were led by the likes of Hitler,
Stalin and Mao. His campaign events were spectacles that could easily become
violent, and his response to the events in Charlottesville indicate he cannot
distinguish between racists and those who fight racism. In their new book, How Democracies Die, the political
scientists Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt argue that Trump is the only man who
has been elected president who “tested positive” on the four warning signs of
an authoritarian personality. These include the rejection of democratic norms;
an unwillingness to recognize the legitimacy of political opposition; a
tolerance for violence; and a willingness to curtail the civil liberties of
those with whom they disagree. This last element has become increasingly clear,
as the President repeatedly undermines our system of checks and balances, attacking
the media, the courts and his political opponents as purveyors of “fake news.”

The American people deserve, and our
democracy requires, two strong and vibrant political parties that compete for
power. Unfortunately, one of our major parties has abdicated its role in
promoting conservative ideals. That is why conservative intellectuals like
William Kristol, Brett Stephens and Max Boot have become Never Trumpers. Should
the Democrats take back the Congress in 2018, perhaps the calculus of the
Republican Party will change, and they will finally begin to denounce the
president’s racism and authoritarianism. The sooner Trumpism is placed where it
belongs, on the trash heap of history, the sooner we can work toward making
America great again, and save the oldest democracy on the planet.