By ABE ASHER
When Donald Trump began running for president two summers ago, very few political observers could pin him down.
For much of his life as a sideshow, Trump had been pro-choice, pro-universal health care Democrat. How was it, then, that he had transformed into a hate-spewing, nationalist, populist Republican candidate for president?
The consensus became that Trump had no political beliefs — no moral compass, no center, other than his own greed and lust. He’d say anything, we figured, as long it benefited him. His lack of shame was his greatest political gift.
The blame, then, for his vitriol, fell at the feet of his advisors. Trump, we thought, was being used as a vehicle for their ideology and their demagoguery. Mike Pence is worse, because he really believes this stuff, and so on.
But if Trump’s presidency — especially over the last several weeks — have made anything clear, it’s that those views were naive. Trump has an ideology. It’s outside of anyone’s control, and it’s rides on bigotry and fear.
Trump’s ban on transgendered people serving in the military? No one asked for it. Not the military, not Congressional Republicans, nobody. He just woke up one morning and decided to do it.
His decision to pardon Joe Arpaio, the sadistic Arizona sheriff who once marched all of his Latino prisoners into a pen with electric fencing? Not even Jeff Sessions wanted to touch it.
Then there’s Trump’s horrifying response to the hate and terror in Charlottesville, which so riled members of his cabinet that some — including Rex Tillerson and Gary Cohn — publicly disagreed with it over the weekend, consequences be damned.
That response, which had white supremacist leaders like Richard Spencer and publications like the Daily Stormer gushing like Trump was Bull Connor, shouldn’t have come as a surprise.
Trump’s biographer Michael D’Antonio told PBS last September that Trump believes in eugenics — the theory that some people are genetically superior to others — a claim that Trump so elegantly confirmed on the campaign trail when he announced that he “believes in the gene thing,” which is why he’s “like, a smart person.”
“I think the guy is lazy,” Trump reportedly said of an African American employee in the 90s. “And it’s probably not his fault because laziness is a trait in blacks. It really is, I believe that. It’s not anything they can control.”
Trump’s history of racism is long and unflinching. He spent the 70s being sued by the Justice Department for racial discrimination, and built his political career by championing a movement to delegitimize the country’s first black president.
He still believes that the Central Park Five — a group of black and hispanic teenagers wrongly convicted of raping a jogger in Central Park — are guilty, despite the fact that their confessions were illegally obtained, they were exonerated by DNA evidence, another person confessed to the crime, and their convictions were all vacated.
When the City of New York settled a lawsuit with the five in 2014, agreeing to pay them each roughly a million dollars for every year they spent in jail, Trump called the settlement a “disgrace,” and “the heist of the century.”
This is a man who tweeted a picture of Hillary Clinton’s face atop a pile of money next to a Star of David, issued a Holocaust Remembrance Statement that failed to mention Jews, and then, a year later, staunchly defended the group of people who took to the streets of Virginia brandishing Swastikas and screaming “Jews will not replace us!”
Over the course of his campaign, Trump called Latinos “rapists,” said that African Americans are “living in hell,” proposed banning all Muslims, and argued that Judge Gonzalo Curiel couldn’t treat him fairly because he’s “He’s a Mexican,” which he isn’t.
Notice a pattern? Steve Bannon at various points courted both Sarah Palin and Sessions to run for president as nationalists. Neither took the plunge. But Trump never had to be courted. He was espousing Bannon’s ideals long before Bannon ever considered that he might be their standard-bearer.
Bannon, of course, lost his job in the White House earlier this month. No matter. Trump continues to dive deeper and deeper into the most troubled fringes of the American political spectrum.
For example: Arpaio and deranged Milwaukee sheriff David Clarke are — or, in Arpaio’s case, were — constitutional sheriffs who believe that they are the highest law enforcement authority in the country, above federal and state officials.
As Forbes‘ JJ MacNab explained this week, constitutional sheriffs are a subset of the anti-government extremist movement that includes sovereign citizens, militias, and tax protesters who think they can pick and choose which laws they decide to observe.
The Southern Poverty Law Center has written that the movement is, shockingly enough, “rooted in racism and anti-semitism.”
The Bundy family, the charming bunch responsible for the armed occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge last year, are leaders in this world. Trump advisor Roger Stone headlined a fundraiser for the family in Las Vegas in July.
This is the kind of violent, anti-democratic dystopia that Trump has bought into — informed by his vision of a “third world” America infested with crime and chaos that he so chillingly broadcast in his inaugural address and at the Republican National Convention.
Earlier this week, Trump reversed an Obama executive order banning the sale of military equipment to local police departments — the local police departments that he encouraged to “not be too nice” when dealing with suspects.
Last week, he again trumpeted a made-up tale about an American general named John Pershing capturing 50 Muslim terrorists and killing 49 of them with bullets dipped in pigs’ blood.
The only reason the United States hasn’t returned to a program of torture is because Jim Mattis, the Secretary of Defense, the man who told a group of soldiers after Charlottesville to “hold the line until our country gets back to understanding and respecting each other,” won’t allow it.
When someone shows you who they are, believe them. Donald Trump has his beliefs. He has a political ideology. It’s dark, diseased, and has nothing to do with health care or infrastructure, but it’s there.
If Trump’s views and behavior were completely changeable based on what he felt was best for him, they’d have changed by now. His approval rating is plummeting towards 30 percent; his base shrinking.
It doesn’t matter. Through three different campaign managers, two Chiefs of Staff, two National Security Advisors, and on, and on, Trump hasn’t changed. Unless you think Omarosa is the puppet master, he isn’t going to.
Give the man his due. Trump might be unhinged, but he isn’t amorphous. He’ll continue to aid and abet white supremacists, and he’ll continue to sabotage the institutions of American democracy, because that’s what he wants to do.
There should be little quarter for the men who have surrounded and encouraged Donald Trump these last two years. But those people aren’t steering this ship. Trump is. He’s doing it his way.
With or without Trump, the United States is in danger. But while Trump is at the helm and until he is removed, that danger will continue to take on an immediate, terrifying tint.