Friday, April 27, 2018

A Critical Thread on the White Supremacist Origins of Trumpism

I'm reprinting an important and informative thread from @_Ethan Grey on Twitter on the role of white supremacy in the rise of Trumpism, because I think it's so critical to understand the racially-charged aspect of where we are and how we got here.

Donald Trump won the GOP primary and the presidency because campaigning on whiteness-first messaging still has potency in the 21st century. Plenty of people don’t want to directly engage with this fact, but this thread will be getting into it in full.

All too often I see the framing that “Hillary lost to the worst candidate in history.” But I think this framing has always been wrong, and it allows people to bypass a question that they don’t want to grapple with: why was Trump electorally viable to the degree that he was?

Do not construe this as me arguing that Hillary’s campaign didn’t make mistakes, but I want to laser focus on why people voted for Trump, and what that says about where we are as a country.

We've seen the excuses for Trump: “He promised to shake up the establishment.” “His campaign resonated with those who have been left behind.” “It’s just so refreshing to hear a candidate speak his mind.” “Trump voters responded to economic anxiety.”

But these theories do not have any explanatory power regarding why the vote broke down the way it did demographically. Only one broad demographic seemed to be receptive to the kind of campaign that Trump ran on: white people.

We must be cognizant of what Trump ran on: calling Mexicans rapists, banning Muslim immigration, building a wall to keep undocumented immigrants out, national stop-and-frisk. And he has a track record of questioning the legitimacy of Obama's birth certificate.

We know that denial of racism, alongside hostile sexism, predicted a vote for Donald Trump significantly more than other factors like economic dissatisfaction.

This kind of correlation between racial resentment and the probability of voting for Trump has been observed in other studies.

Lack of education predicted support for Trump because of its strong relationship to ethnocentrism, not so much income and occupation. Trump voters thought that a hierarchy that prioritized white people was under attack. Trump helped cement that belief.

Separate point: perceptions of the economy don’t really determine political preference. Rather, it’s the other way around; political preferences determine economic perceptions. Bearing this in mind . . .

We’ve seen something analogous under President Obama; racial resentment predicted perception of the economy.The more racially resentful, the poorer the perception of the economy.

So yeah. You see the theme. Of course, it’s not enough to grapple with what the appeal of Trump’s campaign was. We must also be cognizant of the fact that that appeal was propelled to the White House while Trump has demonstrated he's thoroughly unfit.

We know Trump’s temperament is horrible, he lacks the qualifications to govern effectively, he doesn’t know the ins and outs of the issues, he has no real desire to learn, he is obsessed with denigrating his opponents and not being humiliated, and he’s a lecher.

We can’t just say “Donald Trump won by cultivating bigotry” though because that still leaves some things ambiguous. Donald Trump won because affirming the primacy of whiteness is still an issue of importance to too many white voters.

What white supremacy greatly fears is a genuine meritocracy, a society where anyone, regardless of race or gender, can rise according to their talents and diligence.

For white supremacy to guard against a trajectory toward meritocracy, this requires everything of merit must be sacrificed, which brings us to a terrifying conclusion: the various ways Trump was unfit for the Presidency were features to his voters, not flaws.

Trump won the GOP primary and was propelled to the White House because a swath of white voters wanted to send this message to people of color after 8 years of a Black President who successfully governed: “The worst of us should still be given deference over the best of you.”

Furthermore, this entitlement is so profound that many white voters have been willing to sacrifice benefits to their class in exchange for seeing institutions uphold the primacy of whiteness.

In W. E. B. Du Bois’s Black Reconstruction in America, he wrote about the psychological wage of whiteness; in exchange for experiencing potentially low economic wages, white people were given a psychological wage in the form of ubiquitous deference.

If you find it hard to conceive of people forgoing fiscal wages for the sake of a psychological wage, consider that similar behavior has been observed in non-racial contexts.

A Harvard study asked people if they’d rather make $50,000 when everyone else around them makes $25,000 OR if they’d rather make $100,000 when everyone else around them makes $200,000. Fifty percent of respondents opted for the former.

Wild, right? People will opt for a job that pays absolutely less so long as they know they make more relative to everyone else over a job where they make absolutely more but relatively less than everyone else. Because people want to know they’re on top.

But if that’s how people behave in non-racial contexts, then it’s actually not a wild leap to conceive of white people forgoing economic benefits so long as they get institutions and politicians upholding white supremacy. They want to know they’re on top.

This is actually why many fiscally left-leaning policy positions that we support run into brutal opposition; the real undercurrent is too many white people do not want to share the safety net with anyone else. Then they wouldn't be on top

Here’s a specific example: we could have had something akin to single-payer during the Truman years. But white southerners opposed it because they feared a national health insurance program would force hospitals to integrate. Seriously.

The 60s marked a period of significant success for the Democratic Party and civil rights. It also led to a flight of white southerners from the party and the end of bipartisanship on redistributionist policies.

Reality: This country was founded upon building an economy on top of exploiting Black labor, concentrating wealth produced from that labor in the hands of white people, and deploying all kinds of terrible tactics to ensure that rigid social stratification was upheld.

And when that status quo has been challenged, our country has experienced its most significant upheavals. The U.S. fought its bloodiest and most destructive war over whether the enslavement of Black people should continue.

Eras of relative stability for the United States, on the other hand, usually relied on people with power tacitly (or explicitly) upholding racial exclusion from democracy.

As minorities increasingly got to participate in democracy—both in terms of voting and participating in government—we saw a decline in bipartisanship, a trend which effectively exploded when Barack Obama was elected President. This isn't a coincidence.

The unfortunate truth is Trump is the culmination of a force that has always been here, namely the tendency to undermine and destroy institutions that do not show extraordinary deference to whiteness, and instead, propping up new and regressive systems in their place.




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