First of all, I should note that I am not a Trump supporter, and would not support him in a two man race against any other Republican candidate except for Pataki. But I am also greatly bothered by attempts to delegitimatize him. Trump’s brash comments about illegal immigrants seem rather inconsistent with his past comments on the subject, but I think his appeal actually goes to something much deeper than immigration: They are a blow against political incorrectness. He is purposefully saying insensitive and possibly hyperbolic (though not actually racist) things against a group that has been shielded by an enforced hypersensitivity to all matters racial, and I believe that it is his breaking of that taboo which is the key to his popularity.
For decades now, American culture has had a rather strict intolerance for any whiff of racism. Most of us have learned to be very cautious in discussing any topic touching on race lest we be accused of intolerance and shunned. Of course, the prohibition only extends to comments that arguably denigrate or offend minorities – it’s fine to denigrate white people, Christians, Catholics, police, etc. This stricture has made it very difficult to have a real national conversation about a host of issues that touch on race such as poverty, crime, and immigration. Conservatives in particular have had to be very careful in talking about those issues lest they be accused of bigotry. And the Left has sought to maximize the reach of this prohibition both by stretching the definition of “racism” to include most criticism of President Obama and his policies, and also in expanding the list of untouchables beyond race to other supposedly “race-like” categories such as women, Muslims, and homosexuals. The last few years have seen a great many controversies severely distorted by this one-sided hypersensitivity – the federal government’s refusal to enforce immigration laws or acknowledge the role of Islam in terrorism, efforts the ostracize Chick-fil-a, Duck Dynasty and others who oppose “gay marriage,” the overreaction to abortion comments by candidates Akin and Mourdock, the appeasement of “black lives matter” rioting, the campaign against RFRA laws and persecution of Christian wedding vendors, etc. The “no racism allowed” meme that was perhaps a necessary palliative to Jim Crow 40 or so years ago has become a dangerous prohibition against any affront to leftist causes that is greatly eroding our freedoms and corrupting our politics.
I do not believe that Donald Trump would do much against these outrages if he were to somehow get elected President. There is no more reason to expect his comments this month to predict what he’d do in the future than there was to expect his criticism of Mitt Romney’s rhetoric in 2012 would predict what he is saying now. And I have no idea what Trump is even saying his current views are on many of these other issues. I also think that avoiding offensive talk about race is a good practice for a politician because they are supposed to be representing everyone and should go out of their way to show respect to everyone. But Donald Trump is using his platform as a candidate to break a taboo against offensiveness that has long outlived its usefulness and itself become offensive. So don’t vote for him, but don’t demand he quit the race either.