Donald Trump is a real estate mogul for whom the word "egomaniac" is an understatement. But when America's narcissist in chief says he also wants to become commander in chief, the country pays attention. And that's what Trump wanted to have happen. Here is what Trump said in his announcement that he is running to add the presidency to his list of successes:
"When Mexico sends its people, they're not sending their best. ...They're bringing drugs. They're bringing crime. They're rapists. And some, I assume, are good people."
When challenged on the inaccuracy, outrageousness and viciousness of his remarks, "The Donald" characteristically doubled down and claimed to be the nation's only truth-teller, then attacked everyone who dared to challenge him.
Nice of Trump to assume, I thought, that some of the 11 million undocumented immigrants who live such vulnerable lives in this country might be good people. But obviously Trump doesn't know any of them.
Jesus talks about immigrants when he refers to welcoming "the stranger," and says that how we treat them is how we treat him (Matthew 25:31-46). But everything about Donald Trump's life indicates that Jesus is a stranger to him, too. (Parenthetically, could somebody ask why Liberty University, a Christian school, asked this lover of money, luxury, and power -- and hardly an exemplar of sexual morality -- to deliver a convocation address in 2012? I still can't understand that.)
In a long and remarkable interview with Trump on Wednesday, NBC's Katy Tur pointed out some real truths -- including that undocumented immigrants in America actually have much lower crime rates that our natural born American citizens. Trump just insulted her, telling the journalist that she was "naïve" and didn't know what she was talking about.
It was hard to keep count of the number of individual people Trump attacked during this insane interview, including the other Republican presidential candidates, conservative columnists who were embarrassed or dared to raise questions about the facts of all his "truth-telling," or the businesses that are severing ties with Trump one after another for his idiotic, vicious and divisive comments. Trump called all of his opponents "stupid" and kept saying that nobody else can compare to his astounding "success."
Trump's ethics are very clear here -- or rather, his non-ethics. Trump's pride in his own success literally "trumps" everything else -- shutting out reason, respect, experience, maturity, truth, civility and certainly any sense of human compassion or empathy.
While it is unlikely that Donald's favorite word ("TRUMP") will ultimately be painted on the side of Air Force One, there are some important political questions to raise about the "success" Trump is having in the Republican and primary state polls -- second only to Jeb Bush at the latest reading.
Why did it take weeks for the other Republican presidential candidates to distance themselves from -- much less denounce -- Trump's ugly words about Mexicans? Late and tepid at first, Republican pushback is slowly growing stronger from some, while others like Ted Cruz are "saluting" Trump for focusing on "illegal immigration" and smiling over his "colorful language."
Republican courage and conviction in response to Trump's clearly racial comments has been sadly lacking, as has the party's alleged concern to become a bigger tent that can reach out to racial minorities and American Hispanics in particular. Why?
Because Donald Trump is a salesman. And that's really all he is. And the only product Trump really sells is the only thing he really believes in -- himself. He's made another calculation, another deal, that he can have success with a certain political segment of America. I think Trump has decided to reach down, and I do mean down, to the hard core of the Republican base, which is white, angry, and very right-wing -- a constituency that is especially active and indeed overrepresented in the primary phase of every presidential campaign.
Trump reached out to that same group in the last presidential election campaign when he decided to lead the "birther" movement challenging whether Barack Obama was an American or was really an "other" and not one of "us." That racial appeal against a black president was the very worst of American sentiments -- and is consistent with Trump's latest attack on immigrants from Mexico and other "foreign" people not like "us."
Trump certainly acts and sounds like a racial bigot. But whether he really is or not, there is a much deeper issue here -- Donald Trump is a salesman who sees that racial bigotry still works with a core base of the Republican Party.
Ever since the Democrats lost the south to the Republicans because of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the Republican Party, which dominates the entire south, has faced a very deep ethical crisis and has some difficult choices to make. That hardcore white southern base of the Republican Party wants to be a white party, and the leadership of the Republican Party still panders to it. What's also clear is that Republican presidential candidates are afraid of that hardcore right-wing white base of their party--especially in the primary season.
That is exactly what happened to immigration reform, which passed in a bi-partisan way in the Senate in 2013 but was vetoed in the House of Representatives by the many Republican districts that have now been "white-washed" -- meaning designed to have no significant minority voters.
When members of the House Republican leadership met with several evangelical and Catholic leaders in 2014, they promised to our faces that they would bring serious immigration reform to the House floor for a vote. They failed to live up to that promise, deciding instead to cave to their white-washed right wing base. Some Republican members admitted to us that many of their constituents were expressing clear racial biases.
I believe Donald Trump is deliberately and directly appealing to that white racist core of the Republican Party, and that's why he is currently number two in the Republican polls. He is selling racism and he is winning.
I know and trust Republicans and conservative friends who reject such racism -- want to purge it from their party -- and long for a wider, more diverse Republican Party for the future. Indeed, the Republican votes, and even impassioned speeches, to take down the Confederate flag in South Carolina show a tale of two Republican parties -- and that is a hopeful contrast to the racist elements of the party to which Trump is selling himself.
It is time for them to stand up to Donald Trump and what he is selling.
They not only have my challenge -- they have my prayers.
Jim Wallis is president of Sojourners. His book, The (Un)Common Good: How the Gospel Brings Hope to a World Divided, the updated and revised paperback version of On God's Side, is available now.