Last Friday, on the night that Ruth Bader Ginsburg died, Donald Trump made a campaign appearance in Bemidji, a small city in northern Minnesota. Trump played to the base instincts of an adoring crowd at the airport, where MAGA hats outnumbered face masks by an extraordinary margin — before he slipped into a terrifying embrace of eugenics, “the racehorse theory” of human breeding, and the superiority of Minnesota genes.
Out of the gate at the evening rally, Trump stoked nativism in a state that has resettled large numbers of refugees from Somalia. “One of the most vital issues in this election is the subject of refugees,” said Trump, who has fought to block humanitarian resettlement of displaced people in the United States. “You know it perhaps better than almost anybody. Lotsa luck! Are you having a good time with your refugees?” The president then spewed bile at Ilhan Omar — herself a Somali refugee who serves Minnesota in Congress — spouting a baseless theory that she’d once married her brother (Omar calls that accusation “absurd and offensive”). Shifting topics, but not gears, Trump then addressed the racial unrest in Minneapolis that followed the homicide of George Floyd at the hands of police. Trump recounted his push to have the National Guard sent in, insisting, “You wouldn’t have Minneapolis,” if he hadn’t. He then recounted, with a sadist’s delight, how an NBC correspondent of color, Ali Veshi, got injured with a non-lethal round and was shunted aside as a phalanx of law enforcement marched through the city. “Wasn’t it a beautiful sight?” Trump asked. “It’s called law and order!”
With this racist warmup complete, Trump then veered into an open endorsement of eugenics — the discredited theory that the human race can be improved with selective breeding for superior traits. The theory has an ugly history in America. And Hitler’s embrace of eugenics in Nazi Germany gave rise to the program of “race hygiene” that culminated in the extermination of millions of Jewish people and others at death camps. “You have good genes, you know that right?” Trump said to the nearly all-white crowd. “A lot of it is about the genes, isn’t it? Don’t you believe? The racehorse theory,” Trump said. “You think we’re so different? You have good genes in Minnesota.”
Watch the troubling segment below:
As a historian who has written about the Holocaust, I'll say bluntly: This is indistinguishable from the Nazi rhetoric that led to Jews, disabled people, LGBTQ, Romani and others being exterminated. This is America 2020. This is where the GOP has taken us. https://t.co/CHMLg804mp
— Steve Silberman (@stevesilberman) September 20, 2020
The Trumps’ belief in eugenics has long been whispered about, but the president has perhaps never announced it so publicly. In a Frontline film that aired in advance of the 2016 election, a Trump biographer revealed the family’s “very deep” attraction to eugenics, beginning with Trump’s father, Fred, who introduced Donald to the “racehorse theory.”
NARRATOR: Fred had theories. He shared them with his kids. Donald especially liked one of them.
MICHAEL D’ANTONIO, Author, The Truth About Trump: This is a very deep part of the Trump story. The family subscribes to a racehorse theory of human development, that they believe that there are superior people, and that if you put together the genes of a superior woman and a superior man, you get superior offspring.
— Tim Dickinson (@7im) September 25, 2020
It doesn’t take a secret decoder ring to understand what Trump was aiming at in Bemidji. The idea that white Minnesotans, like racehorses, have superior, inheritable genes is white supremacy — embraced not as a cultural construct, but as if it were based in hard science. In another moment, Trump’s remarks would have made for a front-page scandal. But on Friday, as America reeled from the death of a feminist icon whose departure threatens to accelerate a generation-long right-wing takeover of America’s highest court, as well as from a death toll in the coronavirus pandemic that has surpassed 200,000, the president’s open embrace of eugenics hardly sparked notice.
But it is time to wake up to the threat before us: We have an aspiring authoritarian president who romanticizes martial law and dreams of locking up his political opponents. Trump does not recoil from the most dangerous ideology of the 20th century, but instead celebrates it on the campaign trail in increasingly explicit terms. These may be dark times in America. But if Trump is not stopped at the ballot box in November, our democracy is in plain danger of fading to black.
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