There’s always been a symbiosis between Donald Trump and right-wing rhetoric. His 2016 campaign for the Republican presidential nomination was successful — surprisingly successful — because of his willingness to embrace arguments and assertions that were considered beyond the pale for his more traditional opponents. By picking out and then defending (to whatever extent was necessary for his audience) claims about immigrants and terrorism, among other things, he tapped into a strain of argumentation that was often kept out of sight. He helped bring the rhetoric into the mainstream.
On Sunday, CBS News presented the results of a new poll conducted by the polling firm YouGov — results that offered a stark example of this pattern, of how even extreme right-wing arguments are now barely outside the norm.
Respondents were asked by YouGov whether they agreed with Trump that immigrants entering the United States illegally had the effect of “poisoning the blood” of the country. This is not just right-wing rhetoric, mind you, but a reflection of some of the most extreme racial politics in modern history. It is an explicit depiction of immigrants as dangerous, but specifically in the context of posing a threat to national identity. It is the language of fascism.
Nearly half of Americans agreed with it.
That was largely because more than three-quarters of Republicans agreed with Trump’s framing. Fewer than half of Democrats and independents agreed.
Interestingly, when the comments weren’t attributed to Trump, support was lower. Republicans were 10 points more likely to indicate agreement with Trump when they were told it was Trump with whom they were agreeing. Democrats were slightly less likely to agree.
Overall, the difference between being told that the comments came from Trump or not being told that was not statistically significant.
There are a lot of rationalizations that are made for accepting Trump’s language, but there’s no serious question that race is central to the idea. That’s reflected elsewhere in the CBS-YouGov poll, as when people were asked to evaluate efforts to promote racial diversity and equality. Most Americans said that such efforts were about right or not going far enough.
Two-thirds of Republicans said they were going too far.
Trump’s support was initially rooted heavily in a sense among White Republicans that they were under attack. Throughout his presidency and in the years after, the role of White grievance — concern about White Americans suffering diminishing status — has become an unabashed element of Republican politics.
The CBS poll also asked Republican primary voters whether a slew of policy views would trigger more support for a particular candidate. The three that saw the highest percentages of voters indicating that they would increase a candidate’s appeal? Cutting taxes, banning surgeries to change a minor’s gender … and challenging “woke” ideas. Nearly 9 in 10 primary voters said that support of those issues would increase their support for a candidate.
There is no universally accepted understanding of “woke” ideas, a term that’s been reframed away from its original meaning. By now, it generally just serves as a (pejorative) umbrella term for those aforementioned efforts to recognize the country’s diversity and racial history.
YouGov also asked people whether President Biden’s second-term policies would give preference to White Americans, racial minorities or neither. Most respondents said “neither.” Most Republicans said racial minorities.
Asked the same question about Trump, nearly half the respondents said he would give preference to White Americans.
There was another question in the poll that has received less attention but shows how fertile the political environment is for the most extreme possible outcome from a Trump presidency. Respondents were asked what they were more concerned about over the next few years, whether there will be a strong economy or whether the United States will have a functioning democracy.
Overall, the results were split down the middle. Two-thirds of Democrats expressed more concern about democracy. Two-thirds of Republicans expressed more concern about the economy.
Trump and allies like adviser Stephen Miller often framed the increase in immigration as a threat to the economy, despite the increase in immigrants at the U.S.-Mexico border overlapping with a period of increased employment. But the result above shows an obvious path to an erosion of democracy: use issues like immigration to argue that the economy is under threat and then sidestep democratic elections or systems to ostensibly backstop the economy.
Again, that’s a long-tail outcome. The more immediate risk, obviously, is to immigrants seeking new lives in the United States. As such, it’s worth remembering that nearly everyone in the country is a descendant of someone who moved here from somewhere else. It’s worth remembering, too, that there were similar concerns about the American identity being tainted by immigrants when the new arrivals were similarly viewed with a racially loaded skepticism.
Those immigrants helped make America what it is today.