The GOP wrecking ball may one day be seen a purifying force.
Donald Trump: race-baiting all the way to the top. Photo by Chris Keane, Reuters Media Express.
Hindu mythology celebrates the fearsome god Shiva, the purifying destroyer. An embodiment of all wisdom and knowledge, Lord Shiva lays waste to the world in an act of sacred renewal.
Donald Trump is not Shiva (spoiler alert). But the destruction he is wrecking on the U.S. political establishment may one day be seen as a purifying moment in American politics.
For years the Republican party and their billionaire backers have seen tactical utility in fomenting public ignorance, unleashing an army of lobbyists and directing elected officials to jam the gears of government.
Republican voters have been so methodically misinformed that they have become a kind of zombie army animated only by wedge issues. This dangerous strategy, funded largely by dark money, assumed that no one beyond party control would gain access to the Republican Star Chamber.
Onto the stage strides Donald Trump, king of the zombies. With his own billions to draw on, he can legitimately ridicule his opponents for being stooges of Republican bagmen.
He plays the long list of wedge issues like a pipe organ, rousing marginalized masses with an authentic cynicism unmatched by his compromised challengers. The Republican establishment can only watch in horror as a machine of their own making is commandeered by an opportunistic interloper beyond their control.
The result is a full-blown Republican civil war, with the steaming entrails of the GOP dragged into full view. Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell pledged to drop Trump "like a hot rock" if he secures the nomination. Conservative groups linked to the Koch brothers now run attack ads against the leading Republican candidate. Some conservatives now muse about starting a third party to oppose Trump.
It is not Trump's policies the Republican elite find so offensive; he barely has any well-articulated positions.
Race-baiting all the way to the top
GOP strategists mainly lament that he's a freelance demagogue so far off message he is unelectable. Dog-whistle politics -- talking about the threat of "urban crime" when you want to attract racist voters, for example -- usually require careful nuance. The target group has to get the message, but it also has to be subtle enough that others -- like black people, in this case -- aren't alienated.
Shifting U.S. demographics, especially growing black and latino populations, are an existential threat to the Republicans. If they are seen as party of angry white bigots, they're doomed.
None of which matters to Trump. His ugly race-baiting puts him at the top of the news cycle every night even as it corrodes the credibility of the party of Abraham Lincoln.
Stunningly irresponsible, given the explosive state of racial issues in America. But who created those conditions? Decades of fearful messaging from right-wing groups have come home to roost. Trump may have thrown the match, but the Republican party chopped the kindling.
The violent displays of racial hatred at Trumps rallies are ugly, but also a potentially cathartic moment. America's poor white underclass is angry. People know they have been left behind and are lashing out. Pretending that rage doesn't exist is not going to make it go away.
Trump is fueling that anger, and his rallies are putting it on display. Almost every day brings new, ugly images on the news.
Hopefully, Americans will decide they do not like what they see and demand change. It's happened before. The images of violence and hatred from civil rights marches in places like Selma during the 1960s brought racism into Americans' living rooms, and they were horrified. The scenes of hate from Trump events should horrify mainstream Americans in the same way.
Spectacle for the ages
Over in the Democratic party, things are more polite but almost as troubled. The presumptive nominee Hillary Clinton, backed by virtually the entire establishment, faces the unseemly prospect of a challenger with impeccable principles. Bernie Sanders, against all odds, has built a growing grassroots movement in spite of a Greek chorus of opposition from the Democratic old guard. Like Trump, he doesn't need nor receive establishment funding. And like the Republicans, Democratic party elites were in full panic in recent weeks.
What would happen if both these outsiders overcame their own parties to become the nominees? The political cage match between Trump and Sanders would be a spectacle for the ages. It would also be a rout. Head to head polling shows Sanders would trounce Trump by up to 18 points.
This election is far from over and more upsets and surprises are surely in the offing.
But regardless of the outcome, a brushfire is burning through the deadfall of American politics, its cleansing flames sparked by someone widely regarded as a racist, braggart and phony.
God forbid that Donald Trump would ever become president. But perhaps the world might one day look back with gratitude on when that awful man ran for the highest office.