Donald Trump, in the middle of being excoriated from all sides for his comments about John McCain, has just upped the ante:
This story is no longer about John McCain, it’s about our horribly treated vets. Illegals are treated better than our wonderful veterans.Advertisement
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 20, 2015
1,595 retweets and counting as of this posting. It’s an impressively deft bit of spin—made all the more effective by the fact that Mr. Trump clearly knows what he’s doing here, simultaneously doubling down both on his smear of Sen. McCain and his previous incendiary comments calling undocumented immigrants from Mexico rapists.
Mr. Trump appears to have found a loophole in our contemporary quick-reaction politics; he’s discovered a way to ride the outrage machine instead of having it run him over. For those who support him, what they value is precisely his rejection of carefully scripted offend-no-one (or at least offend no one whose vote is in play) political remarks.
So the fact that Mr. Trump is saying things that many if not most of us agree are ridiculous—that Sen. McCain is not a war hero, that Mexican immigrants are predominantly rapists—merely reinforces, for some, the fact that he isn’t concerned with what’s considered respectable in the political sphere. The near-total consensus of rejection of his comments on McCain from every part of the political sphere looks less like a problem, for those who think politicians are always blowing smoke, and more like a badge of courage.
There is, of course, close to zero chance of a Trump presidency, or even a Trump nomination; his unfavorable ratings are north of 60 percent. But what his candidacy points to, vividly enough that we should have to pay attention to it, is a substantial portion of the electorate that has so little trust in politicians to say what they mean that they’re celebrating someone who says things so extreme that he shouldn’t mean them, even if he does.
His candidacy also points to the fact that there’s a reservoir of fear about illegal immigration deep enough that Mr. Trump hopes it can drown even the scandal of his remarks about Sen. McCain. The immediate chorus of denunciation for those remarks was hopeful, if you have any hope left for believing politicians. Over the longer run—which will apparently, at least for a while, include a Trump candidacy—we are going to need politicians to speak believably and truthfully about immigration as well.
Sam Sawyer, S.J., is an associate editor at America.