“The Nationalist’s Delusion”: Trump’s supporters backed a time-honored American political tradition, disavowing racism while promising to enact a broad agenda of discrimination.” by Adam Serwer is mind blowing; this article convinced me to subscribe to The Atlantic. I had so many thoughts and “Yes!” moments while reading that I new I had to blog about it. However, since the printed out article is 24 pages, it’ll take a few blog posts. Bear with me.
Mr. Serwer starts out by revisiting the 1990 run of David Duke, a former grand wizard of the KKK, for the senate. If you remember, nearly half the state voted for him. The media tried to explain this away by saying Duke resonated with working-class people, not because he was a racist, but because he voiced their rage at being left behind economically. Sound familiar? Well, this interpretation of his miraculous showing doesn’t account for the fact that poor blacks didn’t vote for him. In fact, it was black people showing up at the polls that kept Duke from winning and representing Louisiana in the senate. And yet, the media wouldn’t let go of their mantra of working-class whites being so frustrated and left behind.
And how did those same working-class whites explain their support of a former Klan leader?
Many of Duke’s voters steadfastly denied that the former Klan leader was a racist. The St. Petersburg Times reported in 1990 that Duke supporters “are likely to blame the media for making him look like a racist.” The paper quoted G. D. Miller, a “59-year-old oil-and-gas lease buyer,” who said, “The way I understood the Klan, it’s not anti-this or anti-that.”
My initial gut reaction upon reading this paragraph was simply a deep angry sigh and the thought: “White people. WTF?”
While the rest of the country gawked at Louisiana and the Duke fiasco, Walker Percy, a Louisiana author, gave a prophetic warning to The New York Times.
“Don’t make the mistake of thinking David Duke is a unique phenomenon confined to Louisiana rednecks and yahoos. He’s not,” Percy said. “He’s not just appealing to the old Klan constituency, he’s appealing to the white middle class. And don’t think that he or somebody like him won’t appeal to the white middle class of Chicago or Queens.”
Here the author then quotes Trump’s take on Duke’s candidacy and shows Trump’s understanding of white nationalist appeal. Of course, when he was asked about Duke’s support of his own bid for president, Trump said he knew nothing of the man or his ideas.
Yet Trump learned much from Duke’s campaign, like how to make racist/discriminatory statements and then vehemently deny being a racist. And still the media and liberals were hard pressed to admit that racism was a driving force in his support. They insisted it had to be economics.
It was not just Trump’s supporters who were in denial about what they were voting for, but Americans across the political spectrum, who, as had been the case with those who had backed Duke, searched desperately for any alternative explanation—outsourcing, anti-Washington anger, economic anxiety—to the one staring them in the face. The frequent postelection media expeditions to Trump country to see whether the fever has broken, or whether Trump’s most ardent supporters have changed their minds, are a direct outgrowth of this mistake. These supporters will not change their minds, because this is what they always wanted: a president who embodies the rage they feel toward those they hate and fear, while reassuring them that that rage is nothing to be ashamed of.
Why? Because we keep being told that racism is over and a thing of the past? Both conservatives and liberals buy into this.
The specific dissonance of Trumpism—advocacy for discriminatory, even cruel, policies combined with vehement denials that such policies are racially motivated—provides the emotional core of its appeal. It is the most recent manifestation of a contradiction as old as the United States, a society founded by slaveholders on the principle that all men are created equal.
Americans, specifically white Americans, have always had a hard time seeing racism in anything, regardless of their political leanings.
Trump has been race baiting since the 80s, at least. He was also part of the vocal GOP birther conspiracy, insisting the United States’ first black president was not born in the country.
His campaign speeches painted a portrait of an America where Mexicans rape and kill, Muslims masquerading as refugees are hell-bent on destroying our country and its’ freedoms. He specifically mentioned Chicago, Obama’s hometown, as a city permanently afflicted by crime. While he never mentioned black thugs being a reason for this violence, everyone knew what he meant. Openly white supremacist organizations endorsed Trump, saying he spoke for them. Not so openly white supremacist fans denied the racism in his speeches.
“Anytime that you disagree with someone’s point of view—if you say, ‘I don’t like Islam’—people say you’re an Islamophobe, or if you don’t like gay marriage, you’re a homophobe, and you’re hateful against the gays and Islam, or different things like that, where people are entitled to their opinion. But it doesn’t mean that you’re hateful or discriminatory,” Scott Colvin, who identified himself as a Navy veteran, told me at a Trump rally in Virginia. “Seeing how women are treated in the Islamic religion, it’s not very good, and he’s bringing a lot of light to it—that there is a lot of drugs and crime coming across the border, and that Islam does not respect women, does not respect homosexuals—and so calling it out and raising awareness to that is pretty important.”
Again, “White people, wtf?” Oh, so good, expert even, at making prejudiced comments and then putting on the “who me?” look of Alfred E. Neuman. If you don’t like Muslims, gays, Mexicans, you’re prejudiced. Period. And if you really gave a shit about how women fare in Muslim countries, do you know how they fare in this country? Three women are murdered everyday by a male partner. The incidents of domestic violence in this country are high, and even higher in law enforcement and the military. Are any of these people, so worried about the subjugation and status of Muslim women in Muslim countries, doing anything or speaking out against the violence aimed at American women? Probably not, because they don’t actually care about women, or gays when they decry anti-gay violence inherent in Islam.
The plain meaning of Trumpism exists in tandem with denials of its implications; supporters and opponents alike understand that the president’s policies and rhetoric target religious and ethnic minorities, and behave accordingly. But both supporters and opponents usually stop short of calling these policies racist. It is as if there were a pothole in the middle of the street that every driver studiously avoided, but that most insisted did not exist even as they swerved around it.
Life here in these United States, since forever.
To be continued later.