Sometimes it’s difficult to conjure a clear memory of US political life before Donald Trump. But one of its most salient oddities was that the establishment elite considered it crass (if not outright slanderous) to suggest, in ideologically mixed company, that only one of the two major parties drew upon the support of bigots for political power.
In quarters where racism wasn’t denied or diminished, it was regarded as a diffuse problem, delinked in most ways from the biggest political flash points of the day. Homophobia, while more identifiably political, was frequently characterized as misunderstood religiosity, or as an eroding anachronism of well-meaning but old-fashioned geriatrics. Vitriol toward Mexican immigrants was interpreted as a response to labor competition from unskilled, undocumented workers — an outgrowth of zero-sum economics rather than of xenophobia.
This was true until about a year ago. That’s when Trump, who makes a habit of repurposing neo-Nazi propaganda for messaging on social media, began his march to the Republican Party’s presidential nomination, and Occam’s razor finally sliced through the more strained explanations.