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Trump and the prophecy of Fatimah

Eight years ago, a Daily News op-ed sparked a national uproar by speculating about a "race...war." Today, it's the candidate who's predicting a riot.

The 2016 presidential race has been so bizarre that it's gotten me thinking about a lot of things that I haven't thought about in years. Like, for example, Benito Mussolini.

Or the words of a former Daily News op-ed columnist, the late Fatimah Ali. Ali, who died at age 55 in 2012, had a long career in Philadelphia radio; I didn't know her -- she was an occasional, outside contributor and not a member of the staff here at the Daily News -- but as a reader I recall her pieces as sharp and provocative.

Outside Philadelphia, to any extent that Ali is remembered, it is for just two words that were part of a column published on Sept. 2, 2008.


The words were part of her much longer (duh) piece in the Daily News that day. It was a searing indictment of the George W. Bush years, which had been punctuated that month by the economic collapse on Wall Street. Near the end of her essay, Ali wrote: "If [Sen. John] McCain wins, look for a full-fledged race and class war, fueled by a deflated and depressed country, soaring crime, homelessness - and hopelessness!"

It was the sentence heard round the world, thanks in large measure to the Drudge Report, which spotlighted the piece. Conservative blogger Jim Hoft wrote that Ali "has no idea that her hate speech is not helping her candidate Barack Obama…," while a columnist in the Washington Times said her piece translated to: "Unless you vote for Obama, you're a bigot."

It wasn't the best choice of words, in that it certainly waved a red towel in the face of a fledgling Tea Party movement that wasn't yet called that -- just a bunch of folks increasing worried that fall about their status in an America where non-whites will someday be a majority. It was also somewhat prophetic, in a somewhat ironic way. McCain lost, Obama won -- and yet the next eight years were arguable the most divisive among race and class lines since the 1960s, from Glenn Beck on the National Mall to the protests in Zuccotti Park to the unrest in Ferguson and Baltimore to the rise of...

This guy:

"I think we'll win before getting to the convention, but I can tell you, if we didn't and if we're 20 votes short or if we're 100 short and we're at 1,100 and somebody else is at 500 or 400, because we're way ahead of everybody, I don't think you can say that we don't get it automatically," Mr. Trump said. "I think it would be — I think you'd have riots. I think you'd have riots. I'm representing a tremendous, many, many millions of people."

He added: "If you disenfranchise those people and you say, well I'm sorry but you're 100 votes short, even though the next one is 500 votes short, I think you would have problems like you've never seen before. I think bad things would happen, I really do. I believe that. I wouldn't lead it but I think bad things would happen."

I guess we'd better get the fainting salts for all those conservative pundits who were so outraged over Fatimah Ali eight years ago. Of course, she was just a social commentator read by tens of thousands of people, while Donald Trump is a purported leader with millions of followers. The fact that such a prediction of violence could come from the top of the 2016 presidential race -- rather than from the bottom -- certainly feels like evidence of a downward social spiral.

Or maybe political violence just seems more inevitable because so many of the problems mentioned in Ali's piece -- the economic despair, the homelessness -- seem more intractable than ever. I don't know where Donald Trump thinks he's going with this. It would have been interesting to know what Fatimah Ali thought about it.