If Donald Trump loses the presidential election on Tuesday, we will be flooded with celebratory and consoling commentary: The system worked! America is better than this demagogue! The changing demographics of the country will forever keep ethno-nationalists out of the White House!
The relief over Trump’s defeat will be hard-earned. The campaign was long and ugly, bringing out the nation’s nastiest instincts. There will be an understandable desire to write off the last year and a half as a nightmare that is now over—a desire not just among Hillary Clinton supporters and Never-Trumpers, but Republicans who went along with the nominee despite being embarrassed by him. These Trump enablers, from House Speaker Paul Ryan and RNC Chair Reince Priebus on down, will also be eager to turn the page.
As welcome as Trump’s loss will be, such celebration and consolation would be premature. The majority of voters will have done their duty to protect our democracy—and perhaps the world—from a grave threat, but we cannot move on so easily. Not until America grapples with the hatred that made Trump so successful.
Trump has revealed and confirmed deeply disturbing facts about America which should preclude any triumphalism. Trump launched his campaign with an overt appeal to nationalism and prejudice, which is worth quoting in full once more:
When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re not sending you. They’re not sending you. They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists.
There was widespread shock over Trump’s comments, but he did not apologize. Instead, he proceeded to push bigotry more overt than anything America has seen on the national stage since George Wallace’s campaigns of the 1960s and early 1970s. He called for banning Muslims from entering the United States, and gave “law and order” speeches that portrayed African Americans as “living in hell.” To top it all off, his closing ad of the campaign stated that “a global power structure” has “bled our country dry,” while flashing images of three Jewish Americans: business magnate George Soros, Fed Chair Janet Yellen, and Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein. Beyond Trump’s racism and anti-Semitism, he’s a misogynist whose campaign has been built around stereotypes of female frailty, with repeated statements that Hillary Clinton lacks the “stamina” to be president. He also faces many accusations of sexual assault, granted further credence by the Access Hollywood tape in which he boasts about grabbing women “by the pussy.”
Trump won more than 14 million votes in the Republican primaries, and he’s on track to win at least 50 million votes in the general election. Senator Bernie Sanders recently tweeted:
This is unnecessarily generous and naive. We can’t know the motives of all Trump voters, and certainly many of them are voting for reasons other than his racism and sexism (such as party loyalty or a distrust of Clinton). Still, given the centrality of racism and sexism to Trump’s campaign, it’s surely the motive for many of his voters. Even those who have other principal motives for choosing Trump are in effect saying that they are willing to condone racism and sexism.
That tens of millions of Americans are voting for a racist and sexist candidate is not just dire news for the Republican Party, but for America at large. Those voters will not suddenly disappear tomorrow; they’ll be around for future elections and will shape American politics. Given Trump’s popularity with a plurality of the GOP base, there is every reason to think that future candidates will mimic his racist and sexist theatrics in order to gain support.
There is a real tension between what benefits Democrats politically in the short term and what benefits America in the long run. A Trumpified Republican Party can lose national elections, but still poison politics and control Congress and statehouses. It would also spread racism and sexism, hurting women and people of color—in other words, the Democratic base. That’s why it makes sense for Democrats to support Republicans who are genuinely committed to purging their party of Trump-inspired hate. A detoxified GOP truly would be a cause for celebration.