The great mistake the media makes with Donald Trump is to pretend he has no ideology — that he's just a celebrity, a carnival barker, a reality star.
As my colleague Matt Yglesias has written, Trump does have an ideology. He does have an agenda. The core of Trumpism is "a revived and unapologetic American nationalism, which will stand for American interests abroad while defending the traditional conception of the American nation at home."
Like most nationalists, the emotional center of Trump's ideology is an Us vs. Them argument. "These are not the people who made our country great," Trump told the crowd in St. Louis. "We're going to make it great again, but these are not the people. These are the people that are destroying our country."
The Us must somehow defeat the Them — and the stakes are high, the future of the greatest country the world has ever known depends on the outcome. This is why nationalistic, Us vs.Them appeals lend themselves so easily and naturally to violence.
This is what Trump supporters hear at his rallies. They are told that America is no longer great. They are told who to blame. They are told that the reason these losers are dragging America down is we have become too politically correct, too scared, too weak, to stop them. They are told Trump will pay their legal fees if they want to do what's necessary. "There used to be consequences," Trump sighs. The crowd knows what he's asking. Make Consequences Real Again.
This is ugly, but it is coherent. What Trump is offering is an explanation and a solution; an argument and an ideology. It is dangerous, and it is violent, but it is not confusing, and it is not unclear.
And this is why Trump is something different and more dangerous in American life. He is a man with an evident appetite for suppressing dissent with violence, a man who believes America's problem is that it's too gentle to its dissidents. Trump is making an argument for a politics backed by force, for a security service unleashed from "political correctness," for a country where protesting has consequences. The results are playing out before us, night after night, on our televisions.
If Trump wins and this country goes down a dark path, we will never be able to say we didn't see it coming. We will never be able to say we weren't warned.
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