Democrats make a mistake when they describe President Donald Trump’s loyalists as a bunch of idiots. They are not.

The Trump true-believers have heard the same appalling stories about this president as everyone else, and they’re just as shaken by them. Who wouldn’t be? They know all about this president’s 20,000 catalogued lies, and many can spot the emptiness in Trump’s denials when he called America’s military warriors “losers” and “suckers.”

Trump can feign outrage and deny these claims (reported in The Atlantic) all he wants. But he can’t erase his past. His history is right there on tape — audio and video — for all to see and hear, going back to his record on Vietnam and his unconscionable slander of the late Sen. John McCain.

Trump’s true-believers know all of this, but they’ve decided to brush it off. They know, too, about the various ways Trump conspired to rig the last presidential election: the sucking up to Vladimir Putin, the secret campaign dances with Russian spies, the six-figure hush money payments to Trump’s ladies of the night.

They know about the countless working people Trump has ripped off. They know about the business failures and frauds, and all those naïve, trusting students cheated by the phony Trump University, and they know about the insidious ways he and his family have cashed in on his presidency as no one ever previously imagined.

They know he’s bungled the coronavirus plague, so that hundreds of thousands have paid the price with their lives. They know this bungling led to the collapse of the U.S. economy. And they know that millions of Americans spend sleepless nights terrified they’ll lose their homes.

They saw him go to Kenosha, Wisconsin, and say not a word about Jacob Blake, the Black man shot in the back seven times by a police officer. And they knew Trump’s silence was a signal to them. They heard Trump open his last campaign talking about Mexican rapists and Muslim travel bans. They heard him boast about building a wall to keep desperate immigrants from coming here, and they watched him separate sobbing children from their frantic parents at America’s southern border.

They heard him call bigots marching in Charlottesville “fine people” in the early months of his presidency. And now, in its closing months, they’ve heard him describe demonstrators whom he says want to “destroy” America’s suburbs.

It won’t matter to Trump’s true-believers. They’ve known where he stands from the start. The one consistent Trump message has been his willingness to tear the country apart at its oldest fault line — skin color.

His supporters knew this going into this relationship, from his real estate days when the government went after him for refusing to rent to people of color. They knew it from his eagerness to execute the “Central Park Five,” innocent in the eyes of the law but still guilty in Trump’s eyes. And they knew it from Trump’s phony birther issues with Barack Obama.

Am I calling all of Trump’s supporters racist bigots? No. Some are racist, and some aren’t. That’s America for you; that’s human nature for you. And that’s Trump’s sales pitch.

Some of his supporters are reminiscent of post-war Americans, who bailed out of all-White neighborhoods at the first hint of Blacks moving in, and created the mid-20th century exodus to the suburbs. Some were bigots. Some were just frightened. They looked at all their White neighbors bailing out, and worried they’d be the last White people on their block. They worried their homes would lose financial value. They worried history was leaving them behind. They worried they’d be unsafe, that Black people might treat them the way Whites historically treated Blacks, which was truly a terrifying thought.

Trump is sending out signal after signal that he’s the last man who can somehow hold back the tide. It’s Trump trying to cash in on America’s historic anxieties over race. He watches street demonstrations and focuses on the tiny percentage of cretins doing damage, instead of the overwhelming thousands who are out there to protest police violence against Blacks.

He tries to block the changing of U.S. Army bases named for Confederate generals. He criticizes NASCAR for banning the Confederate flag. He calls Black Lives Matter a “symbol of hate.” He threatens to strip funding from “Democrat cities.”

The Trump faithful know all of his character flaws. They aren’t dumb. But they hear his signals on race, as clearly as he senses their anxiety and their anger, and he’s ready to exploit it, whatever the cost to America.

A former Baltimore Sun columnist and WJZ-TV commentator, Michael Olesker is the author of six books. His most recent, “Front Stoops in the Fifties: Baltimore Legends Come of Age,” was reissued in paperback by the Johns Hopkins University Press.

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