It has been a year, close enough, since the billionaire populist gave his rousing Inaugural “American Carnage” speech to the mostly invisible millions on the Capitol Mall. Anticipating his first State of the Union address in just two weeks, I thought Martin Luther King Day seemed a fitting occasion to squeeze in what is sure to be a dissenting perspective.
In that year we have had constant tweets, pronouncements, and actions from the White House, any of which taken individually would have constituted a show-stopping crisis or scandal for any previous administration. Yet, while the majority of Americans have responded or watched in horror, fully one-third of the electorate has been unwavering in its support of the president, even as he has repeatedly betrayed his economic promises to his white working class base. Why? That may be the most frequently repeated question of 2017.
The first explanation that has made solid sense to me was in a recent column by Charles Blow in the NY Times.
Trumpism is a religion founded on patriarchy and white supremacy.
It is the belief that even the least qualified man is a better choice than the most qualified woman and a belief that the most vile, anti-intellectual, scandal-plagued simpleton of a white man is sufficient to follow in the presidential footsteps of the best educated, most eloquent, most affable black man.
As President Lyndon B. Johnson said in the 1960s to a young Bill Moyers: “If you can convince the lowest white man he’s better than the best colored man, he won’t notice you’re picking his pocket. Hell, give him somebody to look down on, and he’ll empty his pockets for you.”
Trump’s supporters are saying to us, screaming to us, that although he may be the “lowest white man,” he is still better than Barack Obama, the “best colored man.”
In a way, Donald Trump represents white people’s right to be wrong and still be right. He is the embodiment of the unassailability of white power and white privilege.
I don’t know about you, but this was a hard assessment for me to read. In 2008, didn’t most of us believe the U.S. had turned the corner on race with the election of Barack Obama? And yet, Blow’s argument rings true. It explains the obsession by Trump and many on the right to obliterate any trace of the Obama legacy. It explains how Trump and the GOP Congress could so brazenly enact massive tax cuts for big corporations and the uber wealthy, confident in their ability to sell it to their base as a boon to the middle class.
And now, like an exclamation point on the year that started with the Muslim travel ban, Trump has grown comfortable enough in the Oval to make clear his world view: America First should be open to countries like Norway, i.e. white, and not to shithole countries like Haiti, El Salvador, and those in Africa, i.e. black and brown.
Naturally, this opinion has caused a negative sensation throughout the country and the rest of the world. That was to be expected. But, don’t be fooled. Pay attention to the sizable fraction of the country that was not repulsed and offended. Those who say that Trump is merely using colorful language to express what is obvious. Those who excuse his racism as telling it like it is. Those who are silent in the face of hate and ignorance emanating from the White House.
Consider the possibility that a large portion of American adults– one-fourth? one-third?– share Donald Trump’s racism. He did not create it in them, but he has exposed, exploited, and liberated it. He will, possibly, hold office for 3 more years. (I’m ignoring the spectrum of alternate possibilities from early impeachment/resignation to, godhelpus, a second term.) Then, he will be gone. But racial divisions and resentments will remain, even more intractable than political ones I expect.
Here’s the thing. In the spirit of Dr. King, this is a challenge we can begin to address now. Instead of railing at every outrageous utterance from Trump’s mouth or Twitter finger, our energies should be going into finding ways to counter the damage being done and the conditions that made Trump possible in the first place.
Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter. -MLK, “I Have a Dream” speech, 1963