Yesterday at 11:41 AM ·
During the run up to the 1988 presidential election, VP George GW Bush’s campaign ran what could’ve been a fairly innocuous, mundane “tough on crime” attack ad against his opponent. It explained that Gov. Dukakis had initiated a weekend furlough program while he was governor and then described one particularly brutal failure of that program, the story of a prisoner who raped a young woman and stabbed her partner while on one such pass. It was definitely an attack ad, and strictly anecdotal, based on only the one event, but nothing really out of the ordinary for a political campaign.
The prisoner’s name was Willie Horton, of course, as you may know. The reason you may know it is that the ad has become synonymous with racism. Because Willie Horton was black.
Mind you, nowhere in the ad is his race mentioned as causal or connected to his crimes. They showed a picture of Bush, they showed a picture of Michael Dukakis, and then they showed a couple pictures of Willie Horton, the man the advertisement is about, and he happened to be black.
Again, no mention of race, just his picture and the story of what the man actually did. And this has become the metonym for political racism, the actual label, for racism in politics.
A couple nights ago the president delivered a presidential address to announce a state of emergency along the southern border, the first such address of his administration. It’s always fun watching the president try to read, of course, so I tuned in to watch him babble about the wall for a bit and I wasn’t disappointed. In any other conceivable circumstance, I would empathize with his terrible inability to, well, I was going to say read or speak, but really I guess I just mean function.
After the president was done halting and drymouthing his way through the portion of his presidential address devoted to big numbers and outright lies, he got to the (as far as I know) true part, the part his fans were waiting for, the money shot. The part where he got to describe immigrants murdering people. His eyes lit up, the words came a bit more surely, and he went through a few recent homicides for his fans in fairly lurid specifics. Sitting behind the Resolute desk, our commander in chief lovingly recounted his tales of hammers and beheadings and rapes, all committed by foreigners, immigrants, intruders invading from the south.
Since the speech I’ve been reading, listening, watching. I’ve seen lots of us mocking him, debunking his obviously, as always, absurd numbers, but not much about his immigrant horror stories. Nothing, really, I don’t think.
Seems worth noting that this is where we’re at now.
Thirty years ago, simply describing a crime and singling out a black man as the perpetrator in a political ad was roundly considered unacceptably and horribly racist, even by the men who did it a few years later. The simple subtext of using an African-American as an example was seen for the dogwhistle it surely was and rightly considered so egregious that the ad is infamous in political history.
And now the President of the United States, sitting behind his seal of office, can simply say “Here’s what you get if you allow Mexicans into the United States…” and then giddily recount grand guignol narratives of death and dismemberment and simply, directly, attribute them to immigration, brown people, without thought or comment. it’s just business as usual. We’re just used to it.
That’s where we’re at, and it was always the primary, obvious danger we were headed for, the minute he came down that escalator. It could’ve gone bad, it could still go bad, in many more catastrophic ways, but fortunately, so far, he’s been too inept to get much of anything truly disastrous done. But right from that first speech, it was obvious, this was absolutely going to happen. It was his gift He was going to make us worse.
Millions of people would listen to that man, take cues from him, learn how to treat others, understand how to behave, and Donald Trump would give them one simple message - your hatred is good, it’s welcome, it’s right and righteous. You have a right to hate those people, they’re less than you.
The hateful would become more hateful, the vicious, more vicious, more evil. He would appeal to the worst of us, and the worst in each of us. Nourishing it, allowing it to flourish, encouraging the worst of us to network with each other over their shared awfulness.
While the rest of us watch, shake our heads, and become inured, acclimated.
It had to happen. What else can we do? How long can you stay angry, livid, outraged? The unavoidable, psyche-assaulting, open racism - continuous, pounding at us all day, news, social media, office conversations, Uber-drivers, strangers, relatives, friends, until it’s just normal, it’s part of our daily routine. “Ok, sure, that guy’s racist. Noted.” You have to live your life, you can’t keep your righteous rage meter pinned all day, week, year.
So we get used to it. We have to. Just to get by. To continue. And it’s understandable. It’s necessary.
But every fucking time the President does that, every time he talks about immigrants, Mexicans, Muslims, “the others”, raping and murdering and beheading, remember this - someone, somewhere is paying for it. Someone real, someone alive, today, is going to receive that bill. Remember that.
Some asshole is giving a woman a shitty look on the bus, right now, because of that speech. A convenience store just refused someone qualified a job, because of that speech, and some security guard is following someone around another store. Some eight year old Just got his ass kicked by the other kids on a playground, somewhere, because of that speech and some other kid just got shoved into a cage by an ICE officer. Someone is going to be punched in the face because of that speech, kicked in the mouth, beaten into the ground. Somewhere, some cop is going to kill someone because he heard that speech, and that speech gave him permission.
No matter how many times you hear the monster we have in White House say these things, no matter how many times his assembly of orcs and lickspittles backs him up, don’t forget that. When the dumb, hateful, malignant man who runs the world opens his mouth to let the flies and hate out, people die. He changes destinies, mutilates psyches, and people die. Real people. And his words kill them.
A couple years ago, when this started, some of us used to trade the phrase “This is not normal.” back and forth as a slogan.
Remember. It still isn’t. Remember that.