Whitelash in the White House

Last Wednesday I was rude with a good friend, someone whom I always knew was not a Clinton supporter, nor a Democrat and is a radical critic of our electoral process. But when we spoke on the phone, I just could not listen to her say that she was “glad Hillary didn’t win, not that she supported Trump, but…..” At that point, I couldn’t listen, I cut our conversation off.

Now I feel bad about being so rigid and disrespectful. Here I what I wrote to apologize.

“I AM deeply frightened by Trump, and fearful that so many people will ignore his racist, misogynist, xenophobic demagoguery. I grew up with people like him and still have almost panic reactions to his style and message. I couldn’t talk on Wednesday, but four days after the election, I now understand why you can say that you are glad Clinton didn’t win. While I can’t quite go there, I do find myself feeling relieved that I don’t have to seem to defend her kind of white neoliberal we-know-betterism any more.

I felt much better last Wednesday night after marching around with more than a thousand young, black, brown and angry people in downtown Boston chanting “He’s not MY President”. No one was calling FOR Hillary. Just for something better.  

Now, as bad as Trump and the Republicans are, at least we can just organize against them–if they don’t arrest, silence or deport us first. We can now make clear demands and plans for more truly radical change that don’t have to be vetted by mainstream Democrats. We don’t have to seem to support the worst parts of Hillary, or even Obama, any more. That’s over”

Now, one week further on, I am now feeling both worse and better.

I feel worse because now that Trump is President-elect, the good citizenry is being admonished “not to judge him by what he said during the campaign, but to give him a chance.” Some are taking heart from his 90 minutes with Obama, or because he is talking about the parts of Obamacare he can live with. He said a few good words about Clinton, and taken the most anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant material off his website. Yet he has also appointed Steve Bannon of Breibart to be his Alt-Right Man in the White House. Others insist that his white working class supporters didn’t really agree with him, they just were in pain and trusted him as “a business man, who wouldn’t be trapped by all the political correctness.”

At best, Trump voters heard what he said, but think “he didn’t really mean it,” Pardon me, what part of voting FOR him to be President didn’t they hear? Maybe he will have to “face reality and realize he has to govern,” as one friend hopes.I try not to scream, “but Trump doesn’t want to govern, he wants to rule.” Unless checked, he will do all he can to derail hope for positive governing — for protecting, much less advancing social rights.         When Trump says, “You know what I mean,” we do, and it’s not good.

 I feel worse too because I can’t help but think about Hitler. About how he never won the popular vote. About how the German establishment thought they could control him, that he would have to come around. But he didn’t; he moved on and over them. He felt no obligations to respect traditional processes, except for the sake of temporary appearances. He gave permission to his followers to say and do whatever was disruptive, whatever was somehow justified as necessary, and never really condemned them until it served his political purposes. He moved on to build a “national community,” through his programs of “strength through joy.”

People who knew what was happening were afraid. Jews and non-Jewish socialists left if they could. Other non-Jews engaged in what they called “inner migration” trying to stay out of public life. It sort of worked for awhile, until in six years, it didn’t work at all.

I feel worse when I remember the brief hopes of post-Civil War Radical Reconstruction, hopes that so many black (and some white) people tried to realize until they were betrayed by growing Northern opposition and indifference in the face of murderous white violence. Finally their best efforts came to be scorned within most mainstream and popular history for almost a century. W.E.B.DuBois’ assessment forces itself back on us: “One reads the truer deeper facts of Reconstruction with a great despair. It is at once so simple and human, and yet so futile…The unending tragedy of Reconstruction is the utter inability of the American mind to grasp its real significance, its national and world-wide implications”.

As I face the failure of Southern and other states even to adopt the simple Medicaid extension options offered by Obamacare, I must recall Dubois’ rueful observation that

 ‘The South, after the war, presented the greatest opportunity for a real national labor movement which the nation ever saw or is likely to see…Yet the labor movement, with but few exceptions, never realized the situation. It never had the intelligence or knowledge, as a whole, to see in black slavery and Reconstruction, the kernel and meaning of the labor movement in the United States. When white laborers were convinced that the degradation of Negro labor was more fundamental than the uplift of white labor, the end was in sight… Let that stand as Reconstruction’s epitaph.

Again, my Southern roots leave me looking at election-result maps and feeling again the ways that so many white people still don’t connect. The Confederacy has risen again, as my mother always believed it should.

I feel worse when my longtime co-author and forever brave comrade, Diane Dujon, cries on the phone because we have “gone back to the Fifties,” (as I note sadly “and it is the 1850’s).” She moans that she just “doesn’t know what to do.” And neither, really, do I.

It hurts when a Muslim friend reports from Pakistan:

“I checked with some of my Muslim friends in the US, they are terrified. Those with young kids are wondering how they can gather up the courage to send their children to school this morning. I haven’t spoken to my sister yet, haven’t had the heart to. She is a speech therapist in the Detroit school system and has been told by children as young as 5 that they think she is going to kill them because she wears a head scarf.”

As I watch Democracy Now and hear about all the incidences of abuse and attacks on Muslim neighborhoods and children, I wonder how to join with some kind of US Muslim protection efforts that I don’t even know how to find. I suggest to friend that we create “Women’s Watch Society” to oversee “every step he takes, every move he makes”. But it is not enough.

I do keep trying to feel better, because Donald Trump did not win the national popular vote. Most voters did not vote for him. Clinton won, in spite of herself. But she lost in our inadequate civic construct of an “electoral college,” mainly because of herself.

Now few seem to want to look backward, but rather to look forward. It’s too tiring, too much a return to acrimony. Only those who truly wanted Hillary herself seem to find comfort in looking back: What could have been done to tip enough votes back into a win? A bigger turnout? Fewer third party votes? Even more support from black and Latino people? These interesting questions seem strangely irrelevant already.

Looking forward to a Trump administration is hard, even for those who actually supported him and for Republicans who find themselves now accepting him. What does anybody on his side want that doesn’t ideologically contradict somebody else with an equally important claim on his Presidency? Most anything he proposes will actually take more public spending — more government. In the past war justified this. Maybe he will try it, but probably not right away.

I don’t really see The Donald immediately whipping up major domestic pogroms or an actual violent crusade against presumed “radical Islamic terrorists.” And I doubt that Trumpists can even cost out, much less enact, the whole set of reactionary changes to which they have already committed themselves.

It is up to leftist/progressives forces to try to deconstruct the weaknesses of Trump/Republican plans, and to keep exposing all his Alt-Right appointments. We must be prepared, whatever that means, to fight them back, specific issue by specific issue.

I hope the Trumpists fail and look as dangerous as they are. But I fear that, rather, the Big Lie will grow, and keep actual Trump supporters and wanna-be winners from noticing how much more is being robbed from all of us his phony “successful” businessman’s scam proceeds. I know that the white people (and they are almost all white, whether they deny that that matters or not) who voted for him, will pay dearly too. It is sad, but I cannot feel empathy. They know what they voted for, no pulling the wool over anybody’s eyes.

 Is it possible for things to be better for progressives? Can or should a multi-hued coalition of folks refuse to shore up a bankrupt Democratic Party, but instead seek to build a massive majority movement?  Maybe.

It is good that lots of folks are talking this way. It’s up to those of us who knew what was wrong with Hillary, and with mainstream neoliberal politics, to articulate something different. We certainly failed by letting Hillary try have “her turn” this year. Maybe we can still create a genuinely radical movement, if we don’t get stuck on who the next President will be — and white people move out of the limelight.

Veterans of ’60’s/’70’s and even ’80’s activism should now try “not to speak until spoken to” by the new base of a healthy movement. Those who will be most hurt by a triumphant Trump agenda must lead; white people should be there, we just must learn to follow with integrity.

I do believe that others will decide to ask us about what our experiences might mean for today. Good white activists whose time has come and is now passing, will be asked for our reactions, and maybe our advice, and surely for our support. We do have helpful things to say about what won’t work. But, even for this, we have to wait for the right time.

This is all ok with me. Since I hear few ideas that sound fresh or convincing from last century’s cohort, it does not seem too hard. Let’s let others ask us to react to their ideas and plans, and then give our response with respect and honor.

How about it?


ANN Withorn, radicalreentry.com



. .



Another thing I miss about my office is the chance to be helpful to students, and other people who just stopped by to “talk something out” for a bit. Usually it was individual/organizational problems and strategies — how to understand and manage that difficult boss or coworker, how to think out intra- and inter-organizational dynamics and dilemmas. Sometimes it was whether to seek a new job, or which grad school to pursue, or how to get something organized.
I didn’t give advice as much as I listened to what people wanted to do, feared doing, or just needed to talk through with an empathetic, somewhat experienced person. Sometimes I suggested someone else to talk with, or named a possible resource that wasn’t obvious. I loved this role because it made me feel useful and allowed me to deepen connections with people beyond academic or political purposes.
Now I am trying to  continue to keep my virtual office door open. So please, if we have connected this way in the past, feel free to contact me via the radicalreentry@gmail.com address and/or my Facebook “messenger” account. I now check them  daily. Maybe we can just email each other, or arrange to talk on the phone, or even in person at my house or at some not too distant quiet cafe or park. If this works out, my plan is eventually to set up some kind of a virtual sign-up sheet, where I will be accessible at set times.
I’m sending this notice out to people I used to work with in such a way — former students, and colleagues, friends and neighbors mainly. But I’m sending it alongs to new connections, especially new FaceBook and Linked In friends. Usually, as before, I will just view it as part of my work, but now in my new “office.” But if anybody wants me to come talk with others, or visit their workplace/organization, I may be up for it. Let me know.

it might have to be more formal, like some kind of “consultant” role. And, it there were enough of this kind of request, I might need to charge some money, to cover the extra time and/or travel. But that would be negotiable.
Mainly I just want to be available and useful to folks. Please follow up if it makes sense, or with suggestions for how to make this work.


Trump and Whiteness November 11

Trump and Whiteness


It’s been 72 hours since the Election from Hell stopped, but didn’t really end. I have the sad feeling that I am at the beginning of Faulkner’s past that did not end.. It is not even past.

I am prompted by Boston activist Harry Spence’s insightful Facebook post:

The amazing thing is that after Trump’s total defeat in the debates and the revelation of his predatory sexual behavior, support for him seemed to collapse. But in a few short weeks, he regained all of his earlier support and more, even after there was no longer any question about the kind of person he is. Three quarters of white men and over half of white women voted for him with full knowledge of all his qualities. What does that tell us?

A majority of those making less than $50,000 a year voted for Clinton. Trump’s support was strongest in the $50-250,000 population. This was not a revolt of those most victimized by globalization; it was a revolt of those who feared their status endangered—by a changing economy, by racial and gender diversity, by America’s changing place in the world. Angered and terrified by a rapidly changing world, they grabbed at the promise that they could go backward in time, and return to a time when they were certain of their relative status. “There is no rage like the rage of the privileged” and the fear of losing privileges that accrued to people due to their national, gender and racial identity overwhelmed their moral judgments of the candidate they selected.

When fear overwhelms moral judgment and constraints, we are in a dangerous time.

Yes Harry, and I thank you for saying this so well.

For me, it’s whiteness that is the most important among the people you identify: “those who feared their status endangered—by a changing economy, by racial and gender diversity, by America’s changing place in the world.”

It’s white people we have to look out for and, yes, disempower. If white men and women can’t get over themselves and accept that their America was never great, and that their White Privilege was neither real nor superior but rather is, and always was, a curse, then the only thing everyone else who disagrees can do is to move on and push white people, as such, to the margins.

The “British Empire” was powerful and arrogant and is now is a joke. White power is an anachronism, despite the Trump-induced reactionary death rattle.

There are still people living in Britain — they just don’t own and rule the waves, or the world.

There is no country to “take back,” only a better, more interesting multi-colored world to join, if it will accept us in spite of our historic crimes.

White people can admit this and join with the whole human race, or keep resisting it and keep looking more and more pathetic, like the Donald. Either way, it’s over.

As a white person I can feel immense relief.. Good riddance. I just hope it’s not too late for some of us to seek, and be granted, forgiveness for accepting the undeserved, unearned benefits of whiteness for far too long.

And we can only earn such forgiveness by fighting back against Trumpism within (but not leading) a full blown movement that is demanding a more just world.


More thoughts about the election emerged from my fevered brain as I obsessively wrote after election day. They may or may not make sense, but they were all I could manage in the fog of what felt like despair.  I don’t like despair.

November 9:

On the one hand, it is not so hard for me to process Hillary’s loss. She was an uninspiring candidate because she was so scripted and so mainstream neoliberal.  Despite being a woman, she WAS not the change we needed. Yet Hillary wasn’t evil. She could have governed, as well as Obama did, probably better, for better and for worse — despite her hawkishness and elitist We-know-betterism.”  She was qualified, sane and wasn’t defending whiteness nor xenophobia. Objectively we would all have been ok if she were elected, and still facing a struggle for more.

But, thoughts about Hillary mellowed as I became ever more aware of who Trump is and what he represents. He is not your usual capitalist, conservative Republican. He is dangerous to all of us and can’t be opposed in the usual ways.

Hillary did not lose because she is not a socialist nor an opponent of neoliberalism;  Trump won because of who is. When he says knowingly, “you know what I mean,” he is correct; he is truly a racist, misogynist, xenophobic bullying demagogue, No doubt about it. We do know what he means.

As a white Southerner,  I recognize and am frightened, up-close and personal, by the cruelty and deep reactionary forces he stands for. I don’t think any of us can know what he will do. That in itself is scary.

Even more unsettling, is that so many of my fellow citizens would actually go into a polling place and vote FOR him. David Duke supports him; his followers are the kinds of white people who have kept this country from EVER being great over its entire history. They have always been there, but seldom if ever so fully represented the whole nation. As Lincoln said, the “better angels of our nature” usually pushed such folks to the side, except in the whitest places–like the South I grew up in and in other places defined by racial entitlement and white separateness.

Sure, some white folks have real reasons to be frightened, to feel left behind, disrespected and undervalued. But they aren’t the only ones who are hurting — a social fact that they pointedly miss.

Black people have always in all circumstances been at greater risk, as have gay people, and most identifiable immigrants from anywhere. And in large part, their pain has been directly connected to the actions, structures and words of the very white people who feel so aggrieved by the personal misery that they blame on the “others” who dare to claim equality with them.

Trump claims (however falsely and manipulatively) to speak for such people. He proclaims that he alone can lead them “to take our country back.” Now he is fairly elected President with no limits of party or creed to contain him–that terrifies me. The rage and sense of righteous woundedness that the white people who chose him embody leaves me frozen

.I have seldom, if ever, been able to talk rationally with such folks, whether in my birth family, or on the bus, at social gatherings, or in the park.  Now it feels impossible.

  • At U.Mass. Boston, I could foster discussions in my role as professor, but now I’m not there;
  • With union comrades, with whom I worked in various settings, it was easier because we came together out of a sense that solidarity mattered, that class unity was primary;
  • I’m an atheist, but could sometimes find ways to connect with people in “interfaith” dialogue, out of some shared history of humanitarian religious values — “do unto others, as”, “god is love”, “judge not lest ye be judged” etc. etc.

But now I feel pretty isolated, safe only with those I know aren’t hateful, and fearful of being around anyone who could actually vote for Trump.

Nov. 10:

Last night I went to a spontaneous rally/march on Boston Common. I felt safe chanting “Trump’s not MY President” with hundreds of young “socialists” of all stripes and colors, in front of many, many cops, I didn’t know a soul, but I belonged there. It was at the exact same place where I was once hit by police (after chanting “fuck you, men in Blue,” at an anti-police violence rally in 1970). I didn’t want to be anywhere else.

Last night we were all just glad to be together and outraged that this white man, this rich charlatan, could have won–elected President by the most dangerous elements in America.  We weren’t them. We all had at least one thing that upset us most, that brought us to yell louder–his anti-immigrant threats, his violence, his racism, or his attacks on women and anti-abortion rights. But we were all there together, angry, and unafraid, and part of a real “movement” based on shared solidarity, and knowing that “love trumps hate.”

It was the right place to be, not at an endless meeting focused on strategic plans, by-laws, and position papers. There is always time for that.