Who is Donald Trump?
Pundits have been trying to answer this question since the loud-mouthed billionaire burst into the GOP primary. In no time, Trump took up the anti-immigration banner, promising to rid us of those murdering, raping Mexicans who were pouring over our border and wrecking our country. Trump declared that he will build a tall, impenetrable, beautiful wall to seal our border. He’s boasted that he would force Mexico to pay for that wall.
Trump has promised to dish out more than $10 trillion in tax cuts, rebuild the military, and rewrite all of our trade deals. He’s going to wring a lot more money from our allies who not been paying enough for our protection. That’s in the first 100 days.
After that, the great and powerful Trump will utterly defeat ISIS, ban Muslims from entering our country, and patrol Muslim neighborhoods to keep tabs on potential terrorists. Trump will pay off the national debt in 8 years, redo our international treaties, and pull us back from NATO. If that isn’t enough, he’ll make abortion illegal by appointing right-wing judges.
In the world of Donald Trump, these actions will “Make America Great Again.”
Trump’s fans could care less about the real impact (even on them) of Trump’s proposals. They don’t read fact checkers or economists who warn that Trump’s ideas would spark a global recession, cost millions of American jobs, and embolden terrorists.
In campaign rallies across the country, Americans pour into Trump rallies and scream their support for The Donald. When he knocks the establishment, they roar. When he calls our leaders losers, they agree, loudly. When he says the US doesn’t win anymore, the audience goes wild. Mention President Obama, Hillary Clinton, or any Democrat and the boos are deafening. Say liberal, and feel the rage.
In the face of protestors and critics, the crowds roar, “USA, USA, USA, Trump, Trump, Trump.”
They love Trump. And that’s enough.
All of this adulation leaves the pundits flummoxed. Who is this guy and why is he so popular? Is he Hitler with a billion dollar bank account and a fleet of private jets? Or, is he the reincarnation of Benito Mussolini, the fascist dictator of Italy for over 20 years?
I think we could find answers to the Trump question much closer to home. The line from Trump runs directly to the master of anti-establishment, anti-government rhetoric, the master manipulator of racial hatred, the long-serving governor of Alabama, George Wallace.
Wallace discovered, the hard way, that race drove politics in 1958 Alabama. He lost his first state-wide primary race to a KKK-endorsed candidate. After the election, Wallace analyzed the race this way, “I was out nig_ _ _ _ d by John Patterson. I’ll never be out nig _ _ _ _ d again.”
For the next 40 years, Wallace adopted the most racist views possible.
Wallace defended his racism. When a supporter asked why he started using racist messages, Wallace replied, “You know, I tried to talk about good roads and good schools and all these things that have been part of my career, and nobody listened. And then I began talking about n_ _ _ _ _s, and they stomped the floor.”
When George Wallace became the Governor of Alabama in January 1963, my extremist John Birch Society parents found a new hero. They were determined to stand with Wallace, despite the fact that they were Yankees, Catholics, and Chicagoans. I heard about the brave, honest governor who declared, in his inaugural address, “I draw the line in the dust and toss the gauntlet before the feet of tyranny, and I say segregation today, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever.”
Wallace went national very quickly. “We intend to carry our fight for freedom across the nation. We, not the insipid bloc of voters in some sections, we determine in the next election who shall sit in the White House.”
My John Birch Society parents thought Wallace was talking about them when he said, “and you sturdy natives of the great Mid-West . . . we invite you to come and be with us . . . for you are of the Southern spirit.” They were with Wallace all the way from 1963 on.
In 1968, George Wallace bolted from the Democratic Party and became the American Independent Party’s nominee for president. Wallace made his goals perfectly clear from the outset: “We’re going to shake the eye teeth of the liberals of both national parties.” Time magazine said, “By liberal, he (Wallace) means anything left of the far, far right.”
The Wallace campaign’s slogan was “Stand Up For America.” From the start, Wallace supported “law and order.” Given the race riots and war protests that were sweeping the country, he had a ready audience of frightened Americans. Wallace explained his plan to stop the unrest stop to a Life reporter: “Bam! Bam! Bam! Shoot ’em dead on the spot! Bam! Millions of Americans agreed.
One woman summed it up the Wallace support like this, “He (Wallace) will put everyone in their place–the colored, the students, the people on welfare, anyone who has caused so much trouble.” Another Wallace fan said, “The only difference between the races is that the majority of blacks are bad, and with the whites it is only the minority.”
Wallace appealed to rural whites in the South and blue-collar union workers in the North. At one point, the AFL-CIO reported that almost 44% of their members could be Wallace voters.
Wallace’s foreign policy was radically different from that of the other two candidates in the race: Richard Nixon (R) and Hubert Humphrey (D). The governor despised foreign aid, calling it money “poured down a rat hole.” He demanded that our European and Asian allies pay more for their defense. When he was asked about the idea of withdrawing from the growing quagmire in Southeast Asia, he took a whole different tack from that of most other politicians. “I think we’ve got to pour it on,” Wallace said.
To prove the point, Wallace selected as his running mate retired General Curtis LeMay, a hawk’s hawk who believed that the most efficient way to win the war would be to use nuclear weapons. “Bomb ’em back to the Stone Age,” was LeMay’s victory strategy.
The Wallace frenzy spread across the country. Time followed Wallace to Pittsburgh, where he roused a standing-room only crowd of two thousand at a “Stand Up for America” rally. In the audience, the reporter spotted “well-dressed men sporting John Birch Society pins.” At one point, an enthusiast shouted, “Wallace is a new Messiah!”
My John Birch Society parents loved George Wallace. They loved General LeMay. “The general understands. If it takes a nuke, it takes a nuke,” my father told me. I was surprised and terrified by this switch. The leadership of the John Birch Society, including my father, had opposed the War in Vietnam from the beginning. This new pro-war position seemed to be a total reversal.
In truth, this shift was more of the convoluted right-wing reasoning that made the John Birch Society nuts. That same kind of convoluted right-wing reasoning has now infected the Republican Party.
For my father and the rest of the Birch bosses, a Humphrey or Nixon administration would continue the pro-Communist policies of the Johnson administration. That meant that their War in Vietnam would be a pro-Communist war.
In contrast, a Wallace administration would be absolutely anti-Communist, thus making their War in Vietnam absolutely anti-Communist.
Robert Welch described what would happen if Wallace were to be elected: “The drive to thwart everything [Wallace] tries to do to expose the Communists and to halt their advance will be ‘out of this world.’ It will produce incredibly foul and determined efforts to smear him into the outstanding exhibit of a frustrated, futile, and angry man.”
Conversely according to Welch, a Nixon election would have this effect: “The only thing between us and the final catastrophe of subjugation, which the Communist influences that surround [Nixon] will seek to achieve, is also the increasingly vocal and determined opposition of an increasingly informed and aroused public opinion.” As Welch’s readers knew, those “informed and aroused” folks had to come from the JBS. No one else “has the slightest chance of doing the job,” he added.
Welch and the John Birch Society pretended to be neutral in the 1968 election. They always claimed they were an educational organization and it would be contrary to their values to endorse any candidates. But, I suspected that Welch and the Birchers were putting anything and everything they had to get Wallace into the White House. And I was right.
Years later, it came to light that Robert Welch used Selma’s sheriff, Jim Clark, to pass the names of Birchers who would help Wallace. John Birchers dominated the movement in dozens of states.
As Election Day approached, my parents pushed harder for Wallace. They canvassed their friends and they called me nearly every day with the same message: “This is your first vote for president. Make it count.” I did. On November 5, 1968, I cast my first vote as an adult American. After weighing the two candidates I considered sane—Richard Nixon and Hubert Humphrey—I voted for Nixon. I don’t remember why.
The election of 1968 was a squeaker. Wallace captured over 9 million votes and carried 5 states: Louisiana, Arkansas, Mississippi, Georgia, and his home state of Alabama. In the Electoral College, Wallace received 46 votes. He was the last 3rd party candidate to earn electoral votes.
Wallace was shot in 1972, ending his presidential campaign that year. He did run again in 1976, but was not the same populist, anti-government, pro-segregation blowhard that lit up the country four years earlier.
During the Wallace campaign, I kept telling myself that “This cannot be happening in my country.” Today, I often tell myself, “This cannot be happening in my country, again.”
It seems obvious to me that Donald Trump is working from the Wallace playbook. He’s perfected the little governor’s paranoia, hate, and fear and turned it into a 21st century, media-driven, right-wing juggernaut.