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Heart of Darkness: Trump’s Attacks on Alicia Machado Demonstrate the Essence of Trump and Trumpism

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How Can Down-Ballot Republicans Continue to Embrace Trump?

As we noted yesterday, one of the most consequential moments of the first presidential debate occurred when Hillary Clinton introduced viewers to Alicia Machado – the Latina Miss Universe pageant winner whom Donald Trump mocked in a cruel, sexist, and yes, racist manner. He publicly fat-shamed her, bullied her, and called her “Miss Piggy” and “Miss Housekeeping.” As the controversy continues to dominate post-debate coverage, it’s worth remembering how the Machado Moment and this storyline cut right to the heart of Trump and Trumpism. It underscores the two distinct views of America envisioned by the candidates.

While Hillary Clinton champions a pluralistic America where diversity is seen as a source of America’s strength, the heart of Donald Trump and Trumpism is restoring a supposedly rightful order where disaffected white males are again ascendant while the “others” are put in their place: Muslims (keep them out!), immigrants (they’re bringing crime!), women (know your place!), and Latinos and African-Americans (threatening to “real” Americans).

That’s why Machado’s story matters – it cuts to the core of who this dangerously unqualified man is and always has been. As we noted yesterday, how can Republican elected officials like Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan and their candidates continue to support Trump and willfully ignore the threat he poses to civility and American values?

Among the key pieces we’ve seen in the array of coverage reacting to the first debate are a few pieces that capture the larger implications of the debate, the Machado moment, and its aftermath, including:

In the Washington Post, Janell Ross writes

“In both angry conversations and casual ones, Trump referred to Machado as “Miss Piggy,” “Miss Housekeeper,” and “Miss Housekeeping,” who should know her place and do as she was told. He said it to her face. And he said it to Miss Universe staff.

…When Trump declared that he would compete for the White House and, in the same speech, described illegal Mexican immigrants are ‘rapists’ and ‘criminals,’ Machado says she was alarmed and sickened. As his campaign developed, it became clear that Trump’s thinking, his attitudes and opinions had not really changed, Machado said.

‘It became clear to me that hate and ugliness, disrespect for women, for Latinos, for African Americans is part of this man’s political philosophy,’ Machado said. ‘This is the way his mind works.’”

In Huffington Post, Ryan Grim and Emily Peck write

“As the most bigoted campaign in modern memory stumbles toward a close, it’s perfectly fitting that two immigrants ― a woman from Venezuela and a man from Pakistan ― may have delivered the fatal blows to Donald Trump.

First it was the GOP nominee’s self-defeating, relentless bullying of the Muslim American parents of Capt. Humayun Khan after the slain soldier’s father, Khizr Khan, denounced Trump at the Democratic National Convention. Trump’s unhinged and hostile remarks, which continued against the counsel of all his advisers and any sense of decency, were directed at deeply sympathetic figures and drove a mass defection from his campaign by fellow Republicans.

Now, the former reality TV star has set his sights on another sympathetic target, former Miss Universe Alicia Machado, whom he had previously called “Miss Piggy” and referred to as “Miss Housekeeping,” as Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton noted in Monday night’s debate. If there are any women still on the fence about Trump, these latest comments should send them screaming into Clinton’s arms.”

In SlateJamelle Bouie writes of the racial dynamics underpinning some of Trump’s highest profile proposals, noting: 

“What does Trump want for the country? He wants a wall on the Mexican border and a massive expansion of federal immigration enforcement, to remove millions of “illegal” immigrants from the country. He wants a ban on Muslim refugees to the United States as a “matter of quality of life” as well as a precaution against terrorism, and he wants a larger ban on any travelers from “dangerous regions” (read: Muslims). He wants greater surveillance of Muslim communities and religious institutions. He wants to expand stop-and-frisk to other cities, and his vice presidential nominee—Indiana Gov. Mike Pence—believes we spend too much time talking about “institutional bias or racism within law enforcement.

These plans are instructive, even as they lack for detail. They provide a vision of Donald Trump’s America. It’s a country where a new deportation force is empowered to scour the land for unauthorized immigrants and remove them as a matter of course. It’s one where Muslims are under constant suspicion and surveillance. It’s one where millions of black Americans are deprived of key constitutional rights under a regime that treats them as presumptively criminal and turns a blind eye to bias in policing and law enforcement. It is, with no exaggeration, an America where whites receive the legal and cultural benefit of the doubt, and nonwhites are held guilty or complicit until proven otherwise.”

According to Frank Sharry, Executive Director of America’s Voice, “This campaign is about so much more than Republican vs. Democrat. It’s about what version of American identity prevails. Are we going to beat a populist retreat to the bad old days of racism, bigotry, and misogyny, or are we going to continue creating a path forward to an inclusive, pluralistic America where hard work, character, and contribution matter more than gender, background, and birthplace? This is a moment of truth for who we are as a nation. Let us work to make this an election that confirms not our worst fears, but instead our finest ideals.