Were you surprised? I wasn’t. Of course, there’s been universal media condemnation of the Trump campaign’s use of an actual Nazi symbol. Quite rightly, Facebook removed the ads. What the media hasn’t been as focused on, however, is what this incredibly tactless move might actually mean for the Trump campaign’s strategy moving forward.
A quick take would be that the symbol was a shameless dog whistle. The longer take is this: amid poor performance in the polls and ever-increasing pressure from the pandemic, the New Civil Rights movement, and a slouching economy (just to name a few), Trump is left with one trick he knows will make his most passionate acolytes happy — hate. By displaying a symbol actually used by the Third Reich to designate political prisoners on a campaign ad, Trump is illuminating the sky with a swastika-shaped Bat-Signal letting all the shittiest of voters that he still has their backs.
Trump knows there is a unique power in hate. I can’t remember where I read it, but I once read about somebody who used to study right wing extremists and hate groups. He said that one of if not the only reason for these groups not organizing and growing is because they can’t unify around one leader — too many of them want to lead and it results in infighting. Trump waltzed right through the crowd and took the throne. He knows he’s the president of those kinds of people, and arguably their first unifying leader in America. He knows that to keep them interested, he needs to give them a wink and a nod once in a while. With the banned Facebook ad, we watched Trump wink and nod to them in broad daylight.
What this indicates to me is two things: (1) Trump’s elections tactics haven’t fundamentally changed, and (2) Trump has nothing else to offer and he knows it. He knows he’s in trouble. By reminding his extremist supporters that he’s their guy, he’s employing a swarm of skinheads to get out there and do what they can to get him reelected. This won’t be the last time we see Trump do something like this before the election.