Earlier this week, an African-American protester was sucker-punched by a 78-year-old man in a cowboy hat at a Trump rally in North Carolina. The video went viral, and reporters later tracked down John McGraw, the red-faced Trumpthusiast who'd thrown the punch. McGraw explained why he'd belted Rakeem Jones:
"Number one, we don't know if he's ISIS," McGraw said.
One has to commend the Inside Edition reporter doing the interview for not bursting out laughing, or dropping to the ground in shock, at this moment. McGraw went on:
"The next time we see him, we might have to kill him," he said. "We don't know who he is. He might be with a terrorist organization."
That same night, Trump told Anderson Cooper he wasn't backing down from his plan to bar all Muslims from entering the country. "I think Islam hates us," he said, adding, "It's very hard to separate because you don't know who is who. We have to be very vigilant."
These episodes are like a child's game of "telephone," only played with bone-ignorant adults. The game starts when Trump personifies "Islam" under one label, apparently not realizing that this represents an awesomely diverse collection of people who collectively represent about a quarter of the world's population.
How will his plan work? Will he slap an outright ban on everyone who isn't a nun from Liechtenstein? How is American commerce going to work when we cut off incoming travel from the 49 countries that have Muslim majorities? Will the new Trump projection of the globe no longer include the continent of Africa? Will the ban extend to Sunnis and Shiites, or does Trump not know the difference? (Since he was iffy on "Kurds" versus "Quds," I'm guessing the latter.)
Trump's Islam-ban idea fits in perfectly with his strategy for dealing with most problems, which is to physically eliminate anything that makes him even slightly uncomfortable, even at great cost, and even when it would be a million times easier to do ten minutes of reading in search of more targeted solutions.
Remember, Trump says he only wants to close the borders to all Muslims "until we can figure out what's going on." This means he actually believes it will take less time, logistically, to wall off the United States to 1.6 billion people inhabiting every time zone on Earth than it would be to craft a strategy for dealing with a relatively tiny band of religious dingbats roaming Mesopotamia in search of an apocalyptic showdown with the army of Rome.
In reality, "until we can figure out what's going on" means "never," because if Trump had any inclination to "figure it out," he'd do it before he created the mother of all logistical and diplomatic nightmares, not after.
Trump's ignorance is monstrous, but it's nothing compared to that of his supporters, who apparently take "we don't know who is who" to mean that ISIS could be just about anyone not wearing a NASCAR uniform. This is like the Red Scare all over again, only dumber and more racist. We're like a week away from seeing Trumpshirts in Texas or Alabama gang-tackle a college student for eating tabouleh.
Amidst all of this, the Trump endorsements have been coming fast and furious, with pyramid-lover and knife-combat enthusiast Ben Carson being the latest.
Until recently, most of the celebrity Trump-supporters have been exactly the sort of swollen-headed, oxygen-deprived has-beens one would expect to find backing a reality TV spectacle like Trump's campaign. Gary Busey, Hulk Hogan, Mike Ditka, John Daly, Stephen Baldwin, John Rocker and Bobby Knight are all aboard the Trump train. Celebrity white dudes with anger management issues, unite!
Famed ex-centerfielder and not-smart-person Johnny Damon is another recent Trump devotee, citing among other things Trump's "first class" golf courses as a reason for his support. Wrestler Jerry "The King" Lawler, most famous for his faux-showdowns with the late Andy Kaufman, says supporting Trump is "great." This is funny because there is a growing theory on the Internet that Trump is actually Kaufman's foul-mouthed alter ego Tony Clifton, exhumed for one last bold, brilliant prank. And beyond that there has been a list of assorted freaks and weirdos from the political margins, from Ann Coulter to Pat Buchanan to Michael Savage to Phyllis Schlafly to Sarah Palin (whose endorsement speech seemed at times like a public service ad about the dangers of household inhalants) who have cast their lot with the Trumpster.
But the more troubling pattern came when the so-called "establishment" endorsements started to flow in. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who appeared to be blinking a cry for help in Morse code during Trump's Super Tuesday victory speech, was the first and most craven of the Trump-converts from the GOP mainstream. Christie brought with him one of his own former supporters, Maine's Paul LePage, making it two sitting governors now in Trump's tent.
Then there was Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions, a major Iraq War supporter who apparently doesn't mind sharing a stage with that war's most ardent GOP critic. Even Trump joked at the Sessions announcement, "I hate to say it, but I'm becoming mainstream."
NASCAR CEO Brian France, who is not the most loathsome sports official alive only because God keeps forgetting to hit Roger Goodell with lightning, was another relatively important "mainstream" endorsement. Criticized for his announcement, France claimed he didn't know what Trump stood for. "I don't even know all [his] policies, truthfully," he said.
The significance of all of these endorsements can't be understated. The way you build a truly vicious nationalist movement is to wed a relatively small core of belligerent idiots to a much larger group of opportunists and spineless fellow travelers whose primary function is to turn a blind eye to things. We may not have that many outright Nazis in America, but we have plenty of cowards and bootlickers, and once those fleshy dominoes start tumbling into the Trump camp, the game is up.
People like Chris Christie and Paul LePage and Jeff Sessions surely know what Donald Trump is all about. Under normal circumstances, they wouldn't be debasing themselves by endorsing him. After all, they didn't, at least not until he became the practically inevitable nominee.
These are just half-smart politicians who think they see the writing on the wall and are making a move sooner rather than later, so they can nail down better jobs later on, or maybe just a line of communication. Christie, who if you haven't heard yet was once a federal prosecutor, is probably gunning for the attorney general job. And LePage practically came out and said he was looking for a post after his endorsement, explaining that he believed Trump would make a great president "if he puts together a good team." Hint hint!
As for Carson, it took about two seconds after he endorsed Trump for this formerly proud-seeming man to start humiliating himself. He explained the seeming incongruity of jumping in with a race-baiting blowhard by saying that he was supporting a Donald Trump not visible to the rest of the world.
"There are two Donald Trumps. There's the Donald Trump that you see on television and who gets out in front of big audiences, and there's the Donald Trump behind the scenes," he said. "They're two different people. One's very much an entertainer, the other is a thinking individual." Carson added, devastatingly to himself and what is left of his reputation, that this other, unseen Trump was "cerebral."
Once you go down the road of calling Donald Trump cerebral, you'll probably put up with just about anything.
These people will rationalize their support by telling themselves that they can do more to keep this Trump thing from going off the rails by influencing it from within, but in reality it doesn't work like that. Godwin's law notwithstanding, once you kiss the ring, you're a non-factor, a good German. And you won't say anything the next time some whooping fanatic belts an "ISIS suspect" at a rally.
All along, Beltway pundits have insisted that Trump could never win because there just aren't enough people in America who are that stupid. What those people missed is that there are always plenty of otherwise sane people who tend to fold and hop in line at the first show of strength.
Christie was the first of the major politicians, and there will be more. The next step will probably be a series of defections in the media and among the corporate donor class. They won't be fanatics. But like Christie on stage on Super Tuesday, they'll keep their mouths shut. And that will be enough.