How Trump Made Bigotry Fashionable

05/10/2016 04:11 pm ET | Updated May 12, 2016
Chris Tilley / Reuters

Words matter, said poet Maya Angelou.

"They get on the walls. They get in your wallpaper. They get in your rugs, in your upholstery, and your clothes, and finally in to you."

Donald J. Trump, the presumptive Republican candidate for president, wants to build a wall at Mexico's expense, which will probably never happen. And then he highlighted Hispanic felons, another example of unabashed racism.

And the Muslims? They need to be kept out of the country, penalized and scorned. And let's not forget his attempt to prove President Obama was born in Kenya and is probably a Muslim, an outright lie with a good dose of racism.

To this day, some 59 percent of Trump's followers believe the birther story and also think Obama is a Muslim, according to Roll Call. Now he continues the falsehood by claiming Hillary Clinton first raised the issue.

What Trump has done is to bring prejudice into the mainstream and concoct conspiracy theories to justify it. Whereas there is enough bigotry in America anyway, his statements have made it legitimate to voice racism publicly.

So when crowds cheer at the rhetoric and cheer when an African-American is beat up, the prejudice is voiced without embarrassment.

Typical of foreign reaction to our presidential campaign. Prince Zeid Raad al-Hussein of Jordan, the much admired United Nations Human Rights Commissioner, said recently: "Bigotry is not proof of strong leadership."

Without mentioning Trump by name, he said plans to ban Muslims from travelling to the United States were "stupid and wrong."

Zeid spoke at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, the site of this year's Republican nominating convention. He studied in the United States and his family lives here.

Pope Francis joined the chorus of criticism that include the British and French prime ministers, the Turkish president and a Saudi prince, among others. The new Muslim mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, quipped that he would visit the United States while Obama was still in office.

There is a bigger, more disturbing truth here: that there is a constituency for this kind of politics in America. It is powerful, and it will continue to shape the country long after this particular news cycle and even this particular presidential election are over, wrote Amanda Taub on Vox.

But this does not mean that everyone is a racist. Many Trump followers are looking for jobs and perhaps a strong authoritarian leader. They have a, fear of change and a fear of jihadist threats since September 11, 2001 and the bombings in France and Belgium. The easy answer is to find scapegoats and Trump has given them a list to justify nativism.

More disturbing than propagating propaganda (phony figures, for example, showing most whites are killed by blacks) is his denial that words have consequences. He insists he is not responsible for chaos and physical violence at his rallies.

As author Jodi Picoult wrote in Salem Falls:
"Words are like eggs dropped from great heights; you can no more call them back than ignore the mess they leave when they fall."