Sunday, March 20, 2016

Trump and Working-Class White Anger: Valuable Commentary Pushing Back Against Refusal to Face Racism As Key Factor Fueling Trump's Rise

I'm glad to see increasing pushback against the meme that Donald Trump's phenomenal rise to power reflects justifiable working-class white anger — and that the overt, strongly discernible racism fueling that rise to power and energizing Trump's supporters is beyond the pale for discussion. Here are some valable pieces of commentary about this theme that have caught my eyes in the past two or three days:

Henry A. Giroux at Truthout (with thanks to Rachel Fitzgerald for emailing me a link to this piece): 

The authoritarian tendencies of Trump's followers cannot be explained through economic analyses alone. Denying the importance of racism, xenophobia, corporate-driven public pedagogies and a culture shaped by the financial elite greatly ignores modes of domination that go far beyond economic discontents and are produced and legitimated daily in mainstream cultural apparatuses. As Ellen Willis has pointed out, domination is not simply structural -- it takes shape through beliefs, persuasion, rhetoric and the pedagogical dimensions of politics. What Trump has tapped into is not simply economic resentment but also decades of a formative culture that is as divisive as it is anti-democratic. Violence is ubiquitous in US society and has become normalized, furthering a politics of anxiety, uncertainty and bigotry. 
Trump has taken advantage of a proliferating culture of fear to create what Susan Sontag has described as a mimicry of fascinating fascism that trades in a carnival of violence and hatred. This spectacle furthers a politics of nihilism and brings many Americans closer to the abyss of proto-fascism. Under such circumstances, it is fair to argue that many of Trump's supporters have embraced the core elements of totalitarian politics. In this instance, politics has become a staged event, a spectacle that both normalizes violence and makes it a source of pleasure. 
Trump echoes a fascist script that has been updated to address the fears and anxieties of people who feel betrayed by mainstream politics and channel their anger toward immigrants, Black people and anyone they deem un-American. Given the way in which racism mixes with the growing fear and anger over economic precariousness of working-class white people in this country, is it any wonder, that Trump presents himself as the strong leader, the mythic strongman offering redemption, revenge and a revitalized white Christian United States? Trump is not only the new face of proto-fascism, but also the logical end result of neoliberal capitalism's numerous assaults on democracy itself.

Donald Trump's win in Mississippi on March 8 completed his sweep of Deep South states, effectively destroying the myth that the GOP rise in the South was due to the embrace of "small government conservatism" rather than racism.

Demographically and geopolitically, being a white American no longer means what it used to; Obama became a proxy for those who could not accept that decline, and who understood his very presence as both a threat and a humiliation. Trump, in many ways, is their response.

We should just call it what it is: Donald Trump is the leader of the White Lives Matter movement. . . . We should have seen Trump coming. We should have known that decades of Republican race baiting — from the Southern Strategy to welfare queens to self-deportation — and decades of the GOP welcoming racists in their tent would eventually lead to "Make America White Again." We should have known that the browning of America and the growing inclusivity of America was not going to be taken lying down. Many people see all of that as code for the decline of white people. And to some, any advance by Black and brown people is a loss for whites.

For the past 40 years, the right wing has peddled a winning strategy. It sells the economic agenda of the 1% to working- and middle-class white voters through a hidden formula: 
Fear People of Color → Hate Government → Trust the Market and the 1% 
And they’ve been selling us this idea even as it has hurt Americans of all races whose wages have plummeted and economic insecurity has soared.

Donald Trump’s celebration of the "poorly educated," conservative commentators' indignation at [Kevin] Williamson [of the National Review], and even the mainstream media's continued characterization of Trump's supporters as victims of "failed government policy" or "cracks in the economy" expose the Republican Party and powerful parts of the press as facilitators and enablers of America's worst historical sin: racism. 
The inconsistency and hypocrisy evident in the right-wing portrayal of poverty, and even in the softer version of the mainstream media's differing depiction of poor people, is overwhelming. The black, urban poor are lazy parasites who need to get it together, study longer and work harder, but the unemployed and uneducated white people empowering Trump's vulgarity and bigotry are helpless victims of large economic conspiracies. 
Personal responsibility, it would appear, is only applicable to the lives of black people.

Trump actually does slightly worse with voters who are concerned with the economy than he does overall. This is yet more evidence that economic anxiety just isn't a big factor driving Trump's success. The bigger factor, by far, is immigration, and [Scott] Winship [in The National Review] argues persuasively that this is not primarily an economic concern. It's a cultural concern: 
"For many, it is about national security, as reflected in the draconian suggestion that Muslims be barred from coming to the United States. For others, immigration is simply about the rule of law....For a non-negligible subset of Trump voters, anti-immigration sentiment is about racism and nativism, plain and simple. Many more are uneasy about rapid cultural change....People value ways of life for understandable reasons; when their permanence is thrown in question, it is reasonable for them to be anxious about change."

The real issue is not whether Trump is a modern-day Hitler or Mussolini. The problem lies deeper: with the social and political mores that have made possible his crude nativism and contempt for social progress. Democrats and Republicans alike have been marveling at his success as if it were a bolt out of the blue. Yet for years now Republicans have been bowing before the idol of radical conservatism. They have cowered before the tea party and have stashed the party coffers with immense contributions from the Koch brothers’ operation. The people who are now struggling to stop Trump are the same ones who made his views salonfähig
In America today, the major threats do not come from abroad. They lie within, from those who claim to believe in democracy yet undermine its substance by deploying great wealth in the political process and devaluing the diversity of American society. And the danger comes especially from those who perhaps should know better, but make anti-democratic, radical conservatives salonfähig. That is the real lesson to be taken from Weimar Germany. 

And, finally, Jen Yamato at Daily Beast interviewing former KKK Grand Dragon Scott Shepherd:

Shepherd offered an explanation for why the kind of people attracted to the KKK are also drawn to candidates like Trump. Duke, after all, successfully won one term as a Republican Louisiana House Representative before going on to wage several other campaigns for state governor, U.S. Senate, and the White House. 
' 'They all feel like they’ve not been given a fair handshake, and that their rights have been taken and priority has been given to people of color,' said Shepherd."

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