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.
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.
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.