Photo: Screenshot from CNN
Apparently a large portion of the United States wants to elect a modern day Caligula to be President of the United States. This is what happens when the empire of white hegemony in the U.S. is in its death throes, but dealing with anything in its death throes can be the most dangerous moment. We will either find a way to die to white hegemony and move forward into a more diverse, just, peaceful, participatory, and sustainable society; or we may find ourselves falling into something akin to a fascist tyranny. There has been no moment where the choice for our future has been more stark since the Civil War.
This moment has been a long time in the making. The civil rights laws and the rejection of segregation and overt racism in the 1960’s created an opportunity for a more just and equitable society, but large swaths of white America were unwilling to give up the near monopoly of economic and political power that they had enforced throughout the history of our country. The history of America is a racist history of white supremacy, and racism is the original sin of our country. The genocide of indigenous people, the enslavement of Africans, the violently enforced segregation of our society along racial lines, the use and abuse of Latinos in our agricultural economy, the war on drugs, the mass incarceration of minorities at levels far higher than that of whites, the unequal funding of public education, unequal treatment of minorities by the police, and ongoing economic inequality are all expressions of this original sin of racism in our nation.
Overt attempts at overturning civil rights laws and desegregation in the 1960s quickly proved to be an ineffective strategy for those who wished to prolong the white hegemony in our country. Politicians like George Wallace would never gain widespread appeal, and those in the federal government at the time were intent on enforcing civil rights laws over a resistance based on an appeal to “states’ rights.” White hegemony would have to be more covert than the overt racism of the KKK and the segregationists in order for it to persist. And more covert it became, using language, symbols, and structures that perpetuated white supremacy while being less overtly racist. After a Southern democratic president oversaw the enactment of civil rights legislation, Richard Nixon’s well documented Southern strategy with his emphasis on restoring “law and order” was quite effective in shifting the Deep South towards republican control. Ronald Reagan’s support of the “moral majority,” a predominantly Southern white Christian movement, along with his perpetuation of the “welfare queen” myth to characterize African American women receiving government assistance further strengthened the Republican Party’s control of the Deep South and of the hearts of those white supremacists beyond the South as well.
Democrats have also tapped into and perpetuated the power of white hegemony for their own political purposes. For decades, many Southern democrats were openly racist and many of them were staunch segregationists. Lyndon Johnson knew what he was talking about when he said the Democratic Party would lose the South for a generation after the passage of the civil rights legislation. Bill Clinton’s “Sister Souljah” moment during his first presidential campaign and his willingness to support “Welfare Reform” and promote changes in the criminal justice system that contributed to massive increases in incarceration for minorities are also a part of the narrative of white America clinging to its place of political and economic primacy.
The racism of our political and economic processes that had been more covert for 40 years became increasingly out in the open with the election of our first African American president. His American citizenship and his religious affiliation were openly questioned; he was called a Kenyan, a Muslim, and a socialist – the main point being that President Barack Hussein Obama could not be “one of us”- understood as a white Christian American. Open racism and Islamophobia have grown throughout his presidency. This racism, coupled with an unjust and inequitable economic system that has left many white Americans with less economic opportunity, has set the stage for scapegoating non-white and non-Christian persons for our economic and political problems. This is the context in which a demagogue like Donald Trump can create an ever more openly fascist movement of angry white economically disadvantaged Americans who want to “Make America Great Again” and who want “to take their country back.”
It does not matter to his supporters that Trump does not know the difference between a communion plate and an offering plate or that he does not know that it is Second Corinthians and not Two Corinthians. It does not matter that he calls women horrible names or says they need to be treated “like shit.” It does not matter that he frequently drops the f-bomb or that he talks about the size of his penis in a presidential debate. It does not matter that he incites violence and denigrates Latinos and Muslims. It does not matter that he acts very un-Christian. It is not about making America Christian again; it is about making American white again, and in Trump, those who are clinging desperately to white hegemony see a strong and wealthy person saying he will do things for which they have yearned silently (or openly only in the presence of the like-minded) for years. As Trump himself is proud to espouse, the vast majority of his supporters will support him no matter what he does. As he says, he could walk down the street and pull out a gun and shoot someone and his supporters would stick with him. This is not about Christianity. It is not about capitalism. It is primarily about white power. The ascent of Trump is what the death throes of the empire of white hegemony look like. There is absolutely nothing entertaining or funny about it. This is a time of great danger, and every person who longs for a more diverse, just, peaceful, participatory, and sustainable society must do every non-violent thing we can to make sure that Mr. Trump or anyone like him comes nowhere near the Presidency of the United States of America.