THE BLOG
08/31/2015 09:51 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Tea Party and Trump Supporters Can't Accept People Like Jorge Ramos and Barack Obama as Americans

Scott Olson via Getty Images

Let's start with the obvious. Given that the candidate himself has characterized Mexican immigrants as criminals and rapists, we can't be surprised that one of his partisans told Jorge Ramos, the most influential Latino journalist there is, to "get out of my country." Ramos responded: "This is my country. I'm a U.S. citizen too."

Clearly thrown by the idea that this man with a Spanish accent might actually be an American, the Trump supporter spluttered: "Well, whatever. No. Univision. No. It's not about you." Ramos, able to form actual sentences in English, calmly replied, "It's not about you. It's about the United States." It's not clear whether Trump's rhetoric exacerbates this kind of bigotry, or simply attracts those who already possess it. Either way, he and his supporters are a perfect match.

At a press conference only a few minutes earlier, Trump himself had dismissed Ramos--and, by extension, his large Latino audience--with the insult: "Go back to Univision." This was after the journalist asked a question about the candidate's immigration plan without waiting to be called on. Trump's insult sounded to many Latinos a lot like: "Go back to Mexico." Ramos discussed the interaction here.

Beyond this incident, in just the past week or so we saw two brothers--one of whom stated that he was inspired by Mr. Trump--ambush a man they targeted as Latino, leaving him with a broken nose, "battered" arms and chest, and, just for kicks, a face full of urine. Trump, in response, offered that "it would be a shame....I will say that people who are following me are very passionate. They love this country and they want this country to be great again. They are passionate." Indeed.

An array of hate was on display in the crowd at a recent Trump rally in Alabama, where neo-Confederate activists passed out flyers, a reporter heard a number of "off-color remarks about minorities," and one especially enthusiastic gentleman couldn't stop chanting "white power." Speaking of white power, you remember former KKK grand wizard David Duke, right? He endorsed Trump, declaring that the Donald "understands the real sentiment of America." By the way, Duke isn't the only white supremacist, white nationalist, or Neo-Nazi jumping on Trump's bandwagon. What does Trump say about all these cheeky rapscallions who think he's the Great White Hope? When asked about Duke's endorsement, Trump claimed he hadn't heard of him. He then added, "people like me across the board. Everybody likes me." Well, not quite everybody.

The hate we've been discussing here largely stems from white racial anxiety about our country's demographic future, an anxiety that, as I've written elsewhere, we ignore at our own peril. In terms of electoral politics, these sentiments strongly resemble those that motivate the tea party.

In their extensively researched book, The Tea Party and the Remaking of Republican Conservatism, Vanessa Williamson and Theda Skocpol found that tea party members expressed a significant degree of racial animus, and that their positions on various policies followed. Tea party rhetoric defines Latinos and African-Americans as being outside the national community. Supporters expressed profound resentment over what they saw as government redistributing the wealth of "hard-working" (read: white) Americans to "undeserving" (read: black and brown people) takers. In another article, Skocpol summarized:

[Tea Party members] are overwhelmingly older, white, conservative-minded men and women who fear that "their country" is about to be lost to mass immigration and new extensions of taxpayer-funded social programs (like the Affordable Care Act) for low- and moderate-income working-aged people, many of whom are black or brown. Fiscal conservatism is often said to be the top grassroots Tea Party priority, but Williamson and I did not find this to be true.

Similarly, a study published by Florida State University sociologists in the journal Social Science Research found race-based anger to be a "distinct factor" pushing people to embrace the tea party, a factor that operated "largely independent" from actual ideology. Here's more from this study:

The Tea Party movement is an outlet for mobilizing and expressing racialized grievances which have been symbolically magnified by the election of the nation's first black president....The findings suggest that, among conservatives, racial resentment may be a more important determinate of membership in the Tea Party movement than hard-right political values....Conservatives who were more racially resentful were substantially more likely to claim Tea Party movement membership.

Certainly it is possible to say that one wants to "take our country back" without being motivated by racism. As conservative pundit Byron York rightly pointed out, Democrats from Al Gore to John Kerry to Howard Dean all used a version of that phrase during the George W. Bush administration. However, the tea partiers who talk incessantly about taking their country back aren't just talking about ideology, as the research cited above makes clear. It's not just the use of those words--it is what's behind them, the hate we saw expressed in countless other ways by members of the tea party.

The above is a compilation of signs from tea party rallies put together by the staff of The Colbert Report. Host Stephen Colbert noted that it took them "almost 15 seconds to put that together." What they show is much more than a rejection of Barack Obama's policies. They show both a profound degree of racism, as well as a rejection of Obama as an American. That's why the tea party embraced birtherism for so long and so loudly. And which prominent individual has clung longest and most loudly to birtherism, right up to the present in fact? Donald Trump.

We didn't constantly see signs expressing bigotry at Gore, Kerry, or Dean rallies. And that's the difference. When the tea party talks about taking their country back, it's about more than politics alone. Likewise, when Donald Trump talks about Mexican immigrants being rapists and criminals in order to gin up anger over undocumented immigrants, it's about more than just concern regarding the rule of law. That anger--fueled by racial anxiety--is what we saw in the video where a "passionate," "inspired" Trump supporter clearly saw Jorge Ramos as not American.

This isn't just one guy, one video, and one insult. You can see the hate on that Trump supporter's face, and you can hear it in his voice. That hate fuels the tea party, and it fuels support for Donald Trump. It is, in fact, the very same hate. That hate may not motivate every single participant in those two movements, but their successes would be impossible without it.