What Do We Know: Trump’s Rise

This will be an ongoing series, trying to tease out facts we can rely on from a morass of opinion, suspicion, and outright falsehood.

We know that in the primaries Donald Trump made sexist and racist comments, mocked a disabled reporter, said false and prejudicial things about a major religion, and made suspicion of legal and illegal immigrants a key plank in his platform. This was unlike the statements of any politician in recent memory, and brought sexism, racism, etc into the political mainstream in a way those of us in our 20s and 30s had never seen before. We also know that this rhetoric was rejected by many Americans, but greeted by some of his supporters as a refreshing lack of a filter and a rejection of oppressive political correctness, and by others of his supporters as a chance for white nationalist groups to gain newfound political influence.

How do we know this? We heard his words with our own ears (some of which I’ve linked to above), as well as the words of his opponents and supporters, including those who were members of white nationalist groups such as the KKK. Our memories tell us that this is a change from previous politicians, who were careful not to say openly racist, sexist, or prejudiced things, or who apologized when they said something that was construed that way.

We know that Donald Trump believes in torture, which is illegal according to the Geneva Conventions, that he’s expressed an openness to using nuclear weapons, and more recently in sending “the feds” into a major American city. We also know that he has spoken admiringly of Russian leader Vladimir Putin. This knowledge supports a belief that he is an authoritarian who respects strength to the extent that he might not agree with (or even understand) the constitutional limitations on presidential power in America, or the consequences that the use of torture or nuclear weapons might have on American soldiers or the safety of the American homeland.

We know that Trump has visited Russia, but at present we do not know what sort of ties, if any, Trump has to Russia, or if Russia has some sort of leverage against Trump. On that we have only rumors, suspicions, and innuendo. In fact, the evidence for Trump’s Russia connections at this time resembles the “evidence” for weapons of mass destruction that was amassed in the lead up to the war in Iraq, which subsequently turned out not to have such weapons. The case for Russian hacking and subsequent dissemination of material harmful to Hillary Clinton in the election is stronger, but I’m still hesitant to put it in the category of something we know for certain. This is my skepticism at work—I haven’t personally seen the proof of Russian hacking and do not have the technical expertise to evaluate it if I’d seen it.

To summarize: I know that Donald Trump has brought racist, sexist, and anti-immigrant sentiments into the political mainstream. I believe he has an authoritarian temperament and lacks respect for (or understanding of) the US constitution, based on the evidence in his own statements. Some people suspect (but I do not know) that he has unusual support from/connection to Russia for an American president. We can argue about whether these are good things, bad things, or irrelevant things, but I believe we can agree on them.

A caveat: Philosophically speaking, all of these things are in some sense unknowable. We’re just doing our best here. If you’d like to dispute my facts or their interpretations, leave me a comment.