The Nostalgia of Bigotry: Make America White Again

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I probably read a dozen articles every week that point out, quite convincingly, and in minute detail, every failure of competence, intent, morality, and judgment of the President of the United States. It’s pretty much all the chattering class talks about. The problem is pointing out Trump’s failures to people who already despise him is a pointless exercise. We are no closer to addressing the ogre under the bridge.

Shock and indignation add to his strength. That’s why he is so adept at producing it. It fills his followers with glee to see liberals pulling out their hair and mumbling dirty wackafrass. They have no interest in whether he is honest, good, moral, patriotic, or competent as long as he can “own the libs.” That is how they define “winning,” and “winning” is all that matters.

Why? because Trump’s appeal lies in being the savior of white America, and liberal inclusiveness its greatest enemy. The diversification of American culture that began with the Civil Rights movement, the election of the liberal elite Kennedy and the heyday of the Warren Court culminated in the election of a black man as President of the United States. The thin veneer of white privilege had been wearing away for a long time, but the election of Barack Obama, seen by so many worldwide as an almost miraculous step forward for the race-haunted United States, sounded the alarm bells for the diminishingly privileged white American. A black man in the White House who openly encouraged diversity and tolerance of issues the white majority had long sought to anathematize (gay rights, transgender rights, humane immigration reform, engagement and multilateralism in foreign policy) created the stark realization that the America they thought they enjoyed was fading before their eyes, and with it their privileged status in it. MAGA doesn’t really mean “Make America Great Again” in any sense that a decent human being would consider great. It means make America white again. In other words, bring back the good old days of unchallenged white supremacy. Most of those wearing MAGA hats will swear they are not racist nor white supremacist. In the chorus of speculation over how America could have chosen Trump Adam Serwer writes in the Atlantic, “Trumpʼs supporters backed a time-honored American political tradition, disavowing racism while promising to enact a broad agenda of discrimination.”

When confronted with the issue of privilege most people who have it deny it. It’s not always because they are trying to obfuscate. When you live a life of privilege you experience it as normal. People who don’t have privilege recognize it immediately, but those who have it don’t recognize it until it is challenged.

Denied or not, white privilege exists in the United States. Some of its benefits are tangible, but a major role of privilege in the United States is psychological. The privileged group claims natural superiority over the other groups in terms of identity. In the United States, the privileged group has always been white, and underprivileged groups have been racial, ethnic, and cultural outsiders. It is seen most starkly in the race division between poor whites and blacks. Poor whites and blacks experience nearly the same lack of economic opportunities and face essentially the same challenges when race is factored out, but the white considers himself superior to the black based on skin color. Since colonial times people with darker skins, particularly blacks, have been subject to legal restrictions not imposed on poor whites. These restrictions prevent the underprivileged from progress and offer the white the psychological wage of not being restricted. But the privileged white, not legally but economically and culturally restricted,  is not able to advance his situation either. By any realistic measure the poor white and poor black are in the same situation, but the white can claim, “well at least I’m not black.” And that may be his only connection to privilege.

After denying equal status to blacks for so long to see the restrictions on their progress lifted created a crisis. If my only claim to privilege is the access to rights not enjoyed by another group, and the other group is granted those rights, what happens to my privileged status? The reaction to attempting to correct racial injustice by imposing racial quotas only makes the problem worse. Because now the impoverished white who might not be prepared for university or advancement or who might not be able to afford it sees formerly excluded groups moved to what looks to him like the front of the line. This is not a path to racial harmony. To try to overcome race division by dividing people into races is absurd.

But that really is the point. It is not in the interest of those who hold the reins of wealth and power to allow class solidarity. As long as the lower classes are squabbling with each other they will pose no threat to the wealthy elite. Or so the story goes. Marx may have been correct that at some point the oppressed classes might rise up against the elite, but keeping the oppressed classes divided has so far prevented it.

I’m not sure Donald Trump is intelligent enough to grasp the ultimate outcome of his bigotry and divisiveness. As Fintan O’Toole writes in Irish Times, “It is easy to dismiss Donald Trump as an ignoramus, not least because he is.” But he has surrounded himself with people who are more adept at practicing the wicked art of division, and for even more nefarious purposes than to entrench capitalist oligarchy.

Whatever their ultimate aim, in order for it to progress the narrative of Trump as the relentless champion of those whose privilege is melting away in the face of godless liberalism, Trump must be made to appear strong, decisive, bold, courageous, self-sacrificing and wise, even though he is none of these things. But with a dedicated propaganda machine pumping out outrageous lies 24/7 he has become that in the eyes of his supposedly beleaguered base.  He and his surrogates subscribe to the principle of the big lie. Just say it often enough and boldly enough and people will believe it. There are too many examples of this too count in Trump’s short but altogether too long presidency. He will say something and when confronted deny he ever said it. Even when there is video tape to prove it. Which demonstrates that support for Trump does not originate in rational thought but in the survival oriented realm of tribal thinking, which is impervious to logic.

This is why it is impossible to successful oppose Trump and Trumpism with facts and reason. He must be opposed by appealing to the tribal instincts of his followers. When they realize they have been played for suckers and his much ballyhooed defense of their tribe is all smoke and mirrors intended to keep them down, they will turn on him. Rather than pointing out what an ignoramus Trump is, his followers must be made to feel they are the fools for following him.

The tribe of Trump must be proved a sham. This is done not by rational argument but by exposing the lie in his manufactured façade. Trump is a loser; it shouldn’t be too difficult to prove it.