The last weeks have been . . . interesting. This is a report from the ground.
First, there was my state's primary on 5 March, in which Donald Trump led the pack among Arkansas Republican voters, especially in counties with the lowest educational levels, the densest population of white evangelicals, and where white voters are a minority. And that's to say that he did well in much of Arkansas: he carried 58 of the state's 75 counties. Because outside its two urban areas, Arkansas is a state with educational levels significantly below the national norm, and its culture has historically been dominated by conservative evangelicalism.
In the rich farmland of the eastern and southern half of the state, where the plantation culture and slavery had been well-established prior to the Civil War, a number of counties, including the one in my which my mother was born and grew up, have majority black populations. In such counties across the states of the old Confederacy, white voters have now gone heavily Republican and evidence is mounting that, in the current election cycle, those white voters are ardently pro-Trump.
They adore Trump's out-of-the-closet racism which gives them permission to step out of the closet and say what they have thought all during the two presidencies of Barack Obama: that a black president is stealing their hard-earned white dollars and throwing them away as lavish handouts (e.g., Obamacare) to lazy, immoral black people like himself. "It's payback time," Mr. Trump tells them, and they eagerly lap up the bitter revanchist rhetoric (and see John Aravosis at Americablog). They're itching to pop someone upside the head, either literally or metaphorically, because, you know, their country has been taken away from them, and Obamacare, and the blacks are on top now, and the homosexuals have gotten out of control, and our Christian nation is going down the tubes due to all of this and the immigrants and women acting like sluts, and, well, it goes on and on and on.
How do I know what white voters in places like Arkansas, in counties with minority white populations, are saying about Donald Trump? Because they're my relatives, some of them. As I just noted, my mother was born and raised in one of those counties with a strong legacy of slavery and the plantation culture, with a minority white population. I have relatives in those places.
Some of them are connected to me on Facebook, and they're as mad as hell at me for pushing them, through my Facebook postings, to face up to what they're choosing with the malodorous Donald Trump — the violence, the social division, the racism, the scapegoating of minority groups, the racism, the xenophobia, the racism. Did I say racism?
They do not want to hear any of this. They don't want to face what they chose when they went to the polls on 5 March and pulled the lever for Donald Trump.
They didn't like it yesterday when I posted the following observations by Josh Marshall at TPM Cafe:
Trump has crystallized and made himself the leader of the revanchist core of the contemporary GOP, a group of people who are overwhelmingly white, largely older and believe that their country and a range of social realities they cherished have been taken away from them. They want both back. Jamelle Bouie writes that "white voters hope Trump will restore the racial hierarchy upended by Barack Obama." I am not sure I would phrase it quite so starkly. But I'm also not sure why I wouldn't. Race is at the core of what we are seeing unfold. Indeed, I've made similar arguments myself. What has only fully come into focus for me over the last week is that Trump is not only leading this but embodies it as well.
Some of my cousins on Facebook were equally angry when I posted, prior to that piece, the statements by Jamelle Bouie at Slate to which Marshall refers:
It’s not just anger over jobs and immigration. White voters hope Trump will restore the racial hierarchy upended by Barack Obama.
They fumed when I posted one link after another, all in several days in which violence continues to peak at Trump's rallies, about the roots of Trump's appeal to white voters in the Republican party's Southern strategy, which deliberately began to move white Southern voters into the Republican party by manipulating the racism of those voters after the Civil Rights Act of 1964. As William J. Barber wrote two days ago for The Nation,
Trumpism was created in the crucible of the "Southern strategy." We have sown to the wind, reaping the whirlwind. ...Trump is not the problem; it’s all of the xenophobia and racist innuendo and othering of immigrants that is the problem. It is all of the coded language about people who want free stuff, from the Southern-strategy lexicon of Wallace, Nixon, Reagan, and Atwater that has been spewed for years. That is the problem. Add to it the more recent rhetoric that says President Obama is unfit. Long before Trump, all of this rhetoric created a kind of us-against-them mob mentality, which after it is loosed can manifest in the violence that we now see.
Or as Robert P. Jones of the Public Religion Research Institute told Gail Ablow two days ago at Moyers.com,
[I]t was the Civil Rights Act in the mid-1960s that transformed what we used to talk about as the solid Democratic South into the solid Republican South that we see today. And it was a reaction against civil rights and that was played on by Republican strategists to move disgruntled white voters from the Democratic party where they had been for decades over into the Republican party. And we see the apex of this happening with Ronald Reagan and his kind of sweep of the South for the Republican party. . . .
So we look at white evangelical Protestants who are heavily based in the South and the Midwest, 72 percent of them have this wistfulness for the 1950s. And when we ask other questions about immigration or about Muslims, which have also been key to the election so far, particularly on the Republican side, we see very similar attitudes. Two-thirds of white evangelicals say that immigrants are a burden on the country because they take jobs, housing and health care. Six in 10 say it bothers them when they come into contact with immigrants who speak little English. And nearly three quarters say that the values of Islam are at odds with American values and way of life. So it’s not everyone, to be sure, but the overwhelming majority of white evangelicals are certainly feeling high levels of anxiety over immigration and the changing demographics in the country.
Or as Neal Gabler reminded us,
Obviously, I am not saying that the transmogrification of the Republican Party happened surreptitiously. It happened in plain sight, and it was extensively chronicled — but not by the MSM. The sainted Reagan blew his party’s cover when to kick off his general election campaign in 1980 he spoke at the Neshoba County Fair, just outside Philadelphia, Mississippi, where three civil rights workers had been brutally murdered in 1964. He wasn’t there to demonstrate his sympathy to the civil rights movement, but to demonstrate his sympathy to those who opposed it. This was an ugly moment, and it didn’t go entirely unnoticed in the media. . . .
Something happened in American politics over the last 25 or 30 years to release our demons and remove our shame. The media didn’t want to look. Now Trump has come along to reap what the conservatives had sown, and stir up those demons, and the media are suddenly in high dudgeon. Where were they when America needed them?
At the same time that all this historical-political analysis is pouring forth everywhere online, in light of Donald Trump's meteoric rise in the presidential race, racial tensions have been heightened in my little state due to the decision of the Director of the Department of Arkansas Heritage, a white Republican woman, to have Black Lives Matter t-shirts removed from sale at a black history museum in Little Rock, the Mosaic Templars Cultural Center. When this decision came to the attention of the black community, hell broke loose: why does the Arkansas Heritage Department permit the sale of Confederate memorabilia at some of its park sites, when it bans the sale of BLM t-shirts, some local black leaders asked?
A campaign of calls to Ms. Hurst's office and the governor's office was organized, and Ms. Hurst backed down. The t-shirts went back on sale at the Mosaic Templars museum. (See Max Brantley's report on this at Arkansas Times.) When I posted a note of congratulations on Facebook to my friend Wendell Griffen, who helped lead the campaign of calls to protest Ms. Hurst's decision to stop the sale of BLM t-shirts at the black history museum, I got hot responses from a cousin of mine, who informed me that all lives matter — as if the point of the statement "Black lives matter" is to diminish the value of white lives and not to remind us that, for a very long time, black lives have mattered far less than white lives in our society.
To say that Black Lives Matter is does not mean only Black Lives Matter.
To say that Black Lives Matter does not mean Black Lives Matter more than other lives.
To say "Black Lives Matter" means, rather, that Black Lives Matter also!
It is important to affirm that Black Lives Matter because U.S. history shows how official threats, abuses, and destruction of black lives have occurred often, systematically, and inexcusably. The history of lynch mobs require that we affirm that Black Lives Matter!
Hate groups such as the Ku Klux Klan require that we affirm "Black Lives Matter!"
250 years of un-remedied, slavery and another century of legalized segregation justify that we remind ourselves that "Black Lives Matter!"
Police brutality, extra-judicial executions of unarmed black people, and the terrorism of racial profiling require that we declare that Black Lives Matter!
So this is my own little report from my little out-of-the-way corner of the country, as his supporters kick, shove, and curse targeted others at Trump rallies ("It's payback time!"), and as cousins who posted angry Facebook statements about how they want to secede from the Union when Barack Obama was re-elected in the last presidential election now descend on me with rage because I speak well of the Black Lives Matter movement — because I speak positively about how black lives have to matter for our society as a whole, if we expect to be a healthy, happy society. Because I'm challenging their decisions to support the racist Donald Trump this election cycle, and they know that's what I'm doing . . . .
At the same time, other cousins on Facebook tell me that they can't get embroiled in politics, even as they post glowing tributes to Rev. Franklin Graham when he speaks about "taking our country back." "I just can't read books that have ideas I don't agree with due to my religion," one of these cousins recently informed me. What she's actually saying is, "I intend to do what I've always done, and vote Republican, because that's what my evangelical church tells me to do."
And so it goes, as I also receive out of the blue an email from a nephew who has not spoken to me (as his siblings have not) for three or four years — for reasons never explained to me: they just walked out of my life after their father, my brother, divorced his wife, and, I suppose I'm supposed to understand why that warrants their treating me as if I'm dead. The email invites me to resume our "relationship," and then, when I respond to the email, the nephew falls totally silent all over again. Does not want to hear what I think or feel or have to say. Such "relationship" as we'll ever have will be on their terms, not mine.
Because they're superior and I'm inferior, and that's how "relationship" ought to work between superiors and inferiors. That has long been the message this nephew and his siblings (and their parents) have given Steve and me, even when they've repeatedly taken what we have to offer (large sums of money loaned in times of crisis, lodging when they've needed a place to stay), but have never, ever given back to us, offered any support (or love, to be honest) to us.
That nephew and his siblings are probably not pro-Trump. As I say, they're superior. They're above all the mess of Arkansas and its backwards ways, above the mess of their uncle who's too stupid and feeble to leave the state behind as they've done.
I honestly don't see them as a bright and shining alternative to the family members mired in racist evangelical culture, however. Those, at least, engage me and try to argue with me, while the superior family members simply behave as if I'm dead — not worth engaging in any way at all.
There surely have to be better ways of being family in the 21st century. There have to be better ways of being Christian than the kind of "Christianity" we see being lived out by many white evangelicals at this point in history — and by the pastoral leaders of the U.S. Catholic church, who have allied themselves with those same white evangelicals.
There has to be a better way to be a nation — better than this ugly racism hitched to pseudo-Christianity, or the supercilious toxic individualism of our cultural and economic elites, which feel so righteously justified in turning their backs on "inferiors" and "weaklings" and "losers" — so that they end up sounding and acting like Donald Trump even when they scorn him as boorish and loud-mouthed.
There have to be better ways. Don't there?
The graphic is from the Facebook page of Anthony K. Valley.