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Trump and the year of wishful thinking

Trump and the year of wishful thinking

As Donald Trump's tirade against Federal Judge Gonzalo Curiel has once more underlined, this presidential candidate has no limits when it comes to snap — and instantly amplified — racist judgements.

Most public figures are careful about what they say, especially when their words could be used to justify prejudice in a world where the links between bigotry and violence are frighteningly clear. 

Not Trump. His shoot-from-the-hip style of braggadocio has helped win him supporters who view it as a refusal to be politically correct and who are tired of being told to shush. Trump's statements are often so extreme, however, that even his supporters balk. But instead of deserting him, they do nifty exercises in mental justification, assuming or (probably more accurately) hoping that he doesn't really mean what he says, or that he says so many outrageous things, he can't really mean them all. [fold]

Take this comment from Republican Senator Richard Burr, when asked by a Politico reporter if the Curiel comments would make him reconsider his endorsement of Trump. Burr said that he 'didn't think there was a place' for the comments but he was still for Trump:

If they were inconsistent with things we’ve seen up to this point in the election I would tell you it might {prompt reconsideration]. But I think we’re all sort of used to remarks being made that we don’t expect.

So, Trump's view that Judge Curiel had a conflict of interest presiding over a case against Trump University because he is of Mexican heritage* is not okay, but because there had been plenty of other remarks that were equally unexpected, In Senator Burr's mind the 'wrongness' of a racist view had lost its sting.

This sort of doublethink would be outrageous at any other time but in relation to Trump it's so common it is mainstream. Even his advisers suggest you shouldn't believe everything he says. In a recent interview, Trump senior advisor Barry Bennett told Dan Senor, a senior foreign policy adviser to Mitt Romney during the 2012 election campaign, that only Republicans who were looking for a reason not to support Trump were focused on the candidate's words. You can read the full transcript of the interview discussing Trump's proposal to ban Muslims from the US, but this is the key exchange:

Bennett: Dan, you’ve been around Washington long enough that it takes Congress to go along. All he can do is to try to persuade Congress to go along with it. You know that as well as I do.

Senor: I know, but typically words matter. When political leaders –

Bennett: Oh, please. This 'words matter' stuff. I mean, this is ridiculous. I mean, you are looking desperately for a reason not to vote for him. I don’t care, don’t vote for him.

Senor: My favorite line honestly of this campaign may have been just been articulated by you. This 'words matter stuff is ridiculous.' 'Don’t take him at his word. Don’t take him at his word.'

We've come across this strange attitude before, in an article I cited in this Interpreter post 'What Trump Really Thinks About Women':

This Cosmo article titled '3 Women Explain Why they like Trump' suggests Trump's supporters filter quite a lot of what he says and simply discard what they don't like. The women interviewed by Cosmo explain away Trump's sexist remarks by saying he didn't really mean them. Or, he insults both men and women quite frequently so you can't say he's particularly tough on women. As for his plan to defund Planned Parenthood, well don't take him 100% on that.

That was three months ago. At the time, you could have been excused for thinking this was not a widespread phenomenon. Moreover, Trump was still a long way from being the presumptive Republican nominee. But now...well now it's hard not to feel like Alice down a rabbit hole. Suddenly we are in a distorted world where many voters who hope Trump will be the next US president are assuming he doesn't believe a large amount of what he says.

Photo by John Sommers II/Getty Images

*An earlier version of this post wrongly described Judge Curiel as Mexican born

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