By the middle of last week, the polls were tied and nervous lefties were losing the will to live; by the end of last week, we were all reminded that Donald Trump's worst opponent may well be himself.
(And before we feel too good about that, let's remember that Hillary Clinton, too, may be her own worst enemy.)
Last week, though, Trump pretty much held all the cards: a solidified nomination process that was pretty much unstoppable, the evaporation of all but the barest wisps of resistance (largely because Republicans think dissent is vulgar, and thus for liberals), and even forcing the party's highest profile and brightest hope to bow down and kiss his ring. And how do you top that?
By going after the judge in your high profile federal fraud case. Naturally.
Going after Judge Gonzalo Curiel may well be the new definition of "fool's errand" but before we savor Mr. Trump's still smoking gun aimed at his own foot, let's consider that what Trump has done, as much as anything, is remind us of how we got to this terrible moment in Republican politics.
For years, conservatives have fought everything around diversity - indeed, it's been the hallmark of the transition of the South from Democrat to Republican - fighting Affirmative Action, efforts at integration, gay rights, the women's movement and so much more. Underlying all of this has been an argument that to try to diversify hurts "merit" - that the best educated, most qualified, experienced people will suffer. And by extension, they are probably white, and male.
Virtually nothing about this is borne out by evidence; if anything, years of efforts to make diversity happen have shown the opposite, over and over. Women take more seats in top classes and schools. Asian Americans test better than everyone else. Creativity thrives, ideas bloom, communities strengthen when diversity is embraced. The case for diversity is really rather obvious, and where diversity isn't, really, is where we continue to have problems.
Unless you look at this from the right.
I've watched - and felt - the befuddlement other lefties have when Trump trotted out his "Mexican heritage" argument against Curiel. It's a bizarre allegation, the idea that one's ethnic heritage or family's nations of origins, would drive one's worldview. It's led to both the defense of Curiel's citizenship (he was born in Indiana) and the expression of pride of those who share the identity - the latter being further proof that Trump's single mindedness in pushing Hispanics to oppose him as a matter of ethnic pride may both prove his point and be his undoing.
The thing is, conservatives do really see people as biased for "their people." They are simply waiting for that moment when they can say "aha!" when a black person identifies with the black experience, when gay people stand up for one another, when a woman supports another woman's point of view. It is, they suggest, embedded in our DNA - our tribe, our sense of belonging somewhere, to something.
And layered on top of this is the fallacy that impartiality and objectivity come with being white.
At heart, this is the American dilemma, a nation of immigrants where every group is its own, but we are all American. It's inherent biases around race and class and assumptions about people and their motives that are really kind of sad and ugly and small. We are all prejudiced. We will all defend our own. This logic is also internally incoherent - if blacks, gays, women, hispanics revert to defending their own... then so do whites. The Irish, the Italians, the Scots, the Swedes... are we not all from a clan? Do we not all, then, come home to our own?
The argument Trump is making against Curiel is one that's been used repeatedly in court appointments - against naming a "jewish seat" to the Supreme Court. Against Thurgood Marshall. Against Sonia Sotomayor. The fear of "prejudice to one's own" is a handy mask for the real prejudice here: the fear of difference, and the loss of white privilege.
In reality, conservatives can't have it both ways: you can't simultaneously argue that "properly impartial" judging is what you're after and, as Trump is doing here, complain that judges carry around biases based simply on their heritage and who they are. We can't, in fact, really have a society at all under those assumptions. What we have, at best, is trust. Trust that people will try their best to be impartial, to judge fairly, to see beyond themselves and their own range of life experience. Trump's case against "Mexican heritage" is the underlying truth behind years of conservative lip service to "faithful interpretation of the Constitution." That's not what you're really concerned about if the only "faithful interpreters" are white. And most likely, male.
It's nice to see that Trump's appeal to these base prejudices is being seen mostly for what it is; I'd feel better if many lefty defenders moved past the "but he's from Indiana" defense of Curiel if only because we often pretend that papering over our histories and our different heritages and experiences makes us all the same. It doesn't. I rather like the sum of my Swedish and German ancestors, and my African American roots because that's pretty darn unique. And I celebrate the different perspectives that come from others as well. I am not afraid of people who don't have the same background as me - because that's mostly everyone else.
Of course Trump's vitriol and grab bag defensiveness has to be rejected - it's not who we are as Americans, and it's giving into the worst bullying impulses of a man who really fears going before a judge because almost any judge, no matter of what background, can see his guilt. But let's also admire the gift that Trump has given us and make a moment of it - a moment to reject, once and for all, the myth of superior white impartiality. That would make this trip down the rabbit hole something to actually feel better about, in the end.