White power trumps good sense

Jamaica Gleaner - - IN FOCUS - Ian Boyne

IT IS not enough to say that Don­ald Trump’s vic­tory is a ‘white­lash’ against eight years of a black man’s be­ing in the White House. It is, in­deed, true that Trump’s as­cen­dancy as Amer­i­can pres­i­dent-elect is the cul­mi­na­tion of the Tea Party in­sur­gency started just one year af­ter Obama’s first vic­tory in 2008. White peo­ple, par­tic­u­larly marginalised white males, swept away by the tide of glob­al­i­sa­tion, have risen up to take back their coun­try and to put Amer­ica first.

No elec­tion in Amer­i­can history has left in its wake so much re­sent­ment, bit­ter­ness, anger, dis­ap­point­ment — and fear – not just in Amer­ica but around the world. Ja­maicans at home and in the US are ter­ri­fied of the con­se­quences of this Trump vic­tory which, they catas­trophise, is likely to tor­pedo their dreams of a bet­ter life. Ja­maicans, var­i­ous mi­nori­ties, and pro­gres­sive, for­ward-think­ing peo­ple are be­ing coun­selled that “it’s not the end of the world,” but for many, Trump’s vic­tory cer­tainly seems like that.

‘Stun­ning’, ‘shock­ing’, ‘as­ton­ish­ing’ are just a few of the ad­jec­tives be­ing used to de­scribe the vic­tory that was not seen by poll­sters and pun­dits. Al­most ev­ery­one had writ­ten off Trump. Ex­cept the Silent Ma­jor­ity. Yet, hid­den in academia were some books that speak plainly about the phe­nom­e­non that the me­dia are now widely re­port­ing on af­ter the fact. One book that nar­rates the cri­sis of the white work­ing class and its alien­ation from the elites is Nancy Isen­berg’s White Trash: The 400-year Un­told History of Class in Amer­ica (2016). Be­fore that, in 2012, the well­known so­cial sci­en­tist Charles Mur­ray had pub­lished his Com­ing Apart: The State of White Amer­ica, 1960-2010. In Septem­ber, the re­spected

At­lantic mag­a­zine did a long piece ti­tled ‘The Orig­i­nal Underclass: Poor, White Amer­i­cans’ Cur­rent Cri­sis Shouldn’t Have Caught the Rest of the Coun­try as Off Guard as it Has’.

Then there is also Hill­billy El­egy: A Mem­oir of a Fam­ily and Cul­ture in Cri­sis (2016) by J.D. Vance, whose views are now be­ing sought be­lat­edly by Amer­i­can jour­nal­ists to un­der­stand what es­caped them. But if

you want one book that grip­pingly and com­pre­hen­sively explains the Trump Phe­nom­e­non, you have to get The Pop­ulist Ex­plo­sion: How the Great Re­ces­sion Trans­formed Amer­i­can and

Euro­pean Pol­i­tics. I no­tice it is now be­ing fea­tured as ‘One of the Six Books to Help Un­der­stand Trump’s Win’ and it has been given the thumbs up by the most in­tel­lec­tu­ally as­tute me­dia host in Amer­ica, GPS’s Fa­reed Zakaria.

There is a lot of hasty, half­baked com­men­tary be­ing dished out, but this Trump­ism de­serves a se­ri­ous and sur­gi­cal anal­y­sis. Yes, white power has been as­serted in a most fe­ro­cious and ag­gres­sive way, and Trump, like all neo-fas­cists, was able to ex­ploit the fears and anx­i­eties of the ma­jor­ity against “the de­plorables”. But re­mem­ber, that’s the same coun­try that voted for a black man as pres­i­dent not once, but twice. Barack Obama did bet­ter than Trump’s op­po­nent among white vot­ers. Did those white peo­ple tem­po­rar­ily lose their in­grained racism when they voted Obama? What happened be­tween 2008 and 2016?

In a re­view es­say ti­tled ‘The Great White Nope: Poor, Work­ing Class and Left Be­hind in Amer­ica’, in the Novem­berDe­cem­ber is­sue of For­eign

Af­fairs, which features “The Power of Pop­ulism”, History Pro­fes­sor Jef­fer­son Cowie says: “Most Amer­i­cans are op­ti­mistic about their fu­tures — but poor and work­ing-class whites are not . ... Poor African-Amer­i­cans — who face higher rates of in­car­cer­a­tion and un­em­ploy­ment – are nearly three times as op­ti­mistic as poor whites”. He quotes one econ­o­mist as say­ing poor whites suf­fer from “un­hap­pi­ness, stress, and a lack of hope” . Says he: “That might ex­plain why the slo­gan of the Repub­li­can pres­i­den­tial can­di­date Don­ald Trump — Make Amer­ica Great Again! – sounds so good to so many of them”.


Now this was where the economic in­ter­sects with the cul­tural. Whites ex­pect that in their own coun­try, they are en­ti­tled to feel happy and ful­filled. They are not im­mi­grants. It is their coun­try that many be­lieve God planted them in. Why the hell should all these Mex­i­cans, these as­sorted Lati­nos, im­ported AfricanAmer­i­cans, and even those darn Mus­lims come here and reap all these ben­e­fits while we are left be­hind? That fu­els the rage. If they were get­ting ahead, their racism would not nec­es­sar­ily van­ish, but it would not be as eas­ily ex­ploited by a dem­a­gogue like Trump.

Trump gal­vanised a con­stituency that even his Repub­li­can tra­di­tion­al­ists were not able to ex­ploit as well. Trump tapped into the rage, frus­tra­tions, and ex­is­ten­tial angst of many ru­ral, un­e­d­u­cated whites, par­tic­u­larly males who ad­mire his own mus­cu­lar, ‘chuck bad­ness’ poli­cies and misog­y­nis­tic ex­pres­sions. Be­gin­ning about 1999, life ex­pectancy be­gan to de­crease for less-ed­u­cated whites — when it had been in­creas­ing sig­nif­i­cantly for all Amer­i­cans through­out the 20th cen­tury. The Clin­ton pres­i­dency de­liv­ered economic growth, but it was not an economic growth that was in­clu­sive enough. Be­sides, there were no com­pen­sat­ing fac­tors to deal with the fall­out from glob­al­i­sa­tion, trade deals, and the in­fu­sion of new tech­nolo­gies that dis­placed labour.

Barack Obama him­self ob­served in 2008, while run­ning for pres­i­dent: “You go into some of these small towns in Penn­syl­va­nia, and like a lot of small towns in the Midwest, the jobs have been gone now for 25 years and noth­ing’s re­placed them. And they fell through the Clin­ton ad­min­is­tra­tion and the Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion and each suc­ces­sive ad­min­is­tra­tion has said that some­how these com­mu­ni­ties are gonna re­gen­er­ate, and they have not.” And he got the pres­i­dency for eight years and he also made no marked dent.

The Demo­cratic Party has failed the work­ing class, black and white. That is why Bernie San­ders was such a strong op­po­nent of Hil­lary Clin­ton, so en­crusted in the Es­tab­lish­ment.

Bernie San­ders tapped into the dis­il­lu­sion­ment and alien­ation of the work­ing and mid­dle classes just like Trump, but his was a pro­gres­sive pop­ulism – de­void of Trump’s racism, sex­ism, and xeno­pho­bia. The peo­ple saw that the Demo­cratic Party was of­fer­ing more of the same, and that is why many mil­len­ni­als and eth­nic mi­nori­ties ei­ther stayed home or voted for in­de­pen­dent can­di­dates. Re­ac­tionar­ies and con­ser­va­tives voted for Don­ald Trump’s prom­ise of change.

And while cul­ture war is­sues did not fig­ure promi­nently in

this elec­tion like they did in of 2012— not much at­ten­tion to God or gays – the fact is, Evan­gel­i­cal Chris­tians and Catholics felt threat­ened by what they saw as an ag­gres­sive sec­u­lar­ism fos­tered by the Democrats. Chris­tians voted over­whelm­ingly for Trump de­spite his be­ing thrice di­vorced and his vul­gar state­ments about women. Evan­gel­i­cals, with their the­ol­ogy of grace and em­pha­sis on the fallen-ness of hu­mans, were will­ing to for­give Trump’s tres­passes and saw the Democrats as a greater threat, cer­tainly af­ter the Supreme Court’s de­ci­sion to le­galise gay mar­riage.

Chris­tians have also been both­ered about in­creas­ing threats to free speech as a result of their op­po­si­tion to ho­mo­sex­u­al­ity, abor­tion, and, in the case of Catholics, con­tra­cep­tion. Billy Gra­ham’s son, Franklin, said on Thurs­day: “In watch­ing the news, the sec­u­lar me­dia keep ask­ing, “How did this hap­pen?’ ‘What went wrong?’ ‘How did we miss this?’ Some are in shock. But I be­lieve God’s hand in­ter­vened Tues­day night to stop the god­less, athe­is­tic

pro­gres­sive agenda from tak­ing con­trol of our coun­try.”

And Amer­i­can Catholics, who make up 25 per cent of the elec­torate, voted largely for Trump. Exit polls in­di­cated that 52 per cent voted for Trump, com­pared to 45 per cent for Clin­ton. Catholics liked Trump’s run­ning mate, Pence, who is strongly anti-gay and anti-abor­tion and is ac­tu­ally church­go­ing (un­like the he­do­nist pres­i­dent-elect). A Daily Beast ar­ti­cle last week, ‘Why Catholics crucified Clin­ton’, shows that leaked emails re­vealed peo­ple in the Clin­ton Cam­paign speak­ing dis­parag­ingly of Catholics and Catholic doctrine.

Fear of Is­lamic ter­ror­ism; jobs be­ing lost through glob­al­i­sa­tion and im­mi­gra­tion; in­ter­na­tional en­tan­gle­ments drain­ing Amer­i­can re­sources; what one book mock­ingly cel­e­brated as The End of White Chris­tian Amer­ica (they had bet­ter think again!) caused Amer­i­can whites to fight back. Trump­ism is no wan­ing phe­nom­e­non. Un­less Amer­ica deals with its wealth con­cen­tra­tion and class in­equities, Trump­ism will grow.

Fa­reed Zakaria, in an es­say in the lat­est For­eign Af­fairs (‘Pop­ulism on the March’), says West­ern coun­tries need much stronger re­train­ing pro­grammes as well as bet­ter safety nets. But Trump is for smaller

Gov­ern­ment and less so­cial spend­ing, while propos­ing a $6.2-tril­lion tax cut for the rich.

This is what has to be an­a­lysed: What caused Hil­lary Clin­ton to do worse among Lati­nos and blacks than Barack Obama? Why did so many Demo­cratic vot­ers stay home? The fac­tors that brought Don­ald Trump to vic­tory are both economic and cul­tural, but the economic ex­ac­er­bated the cul­tural. There was a di­alec­ti­cal in­ter­play be­tween economic and cul­tural forces, but had white workingand mid­dle-class peo­ple not seen their liv­ing stan­dards sav­aged by the Great Re­ces­sion of 2008, and had glob­al­i­sa­tion not been so un­even and mis­man­aged, a can­di­date who so shame­lessly used race-bait­ing, xeno­pho­bia, misog­yny, and big­otry in his cam­paign could not have been elected.

We have paid a heavy price for the ex­cesses of neo-lib­er­al­ism and its off­spring, in­equal­ity. A per­fect storm re­sulted in Hur­ri­cane Trump, the most dis­as­trous to ever hit the United States.


Pres­i­dent Barack Obama and Pres­i­dent-elect Don­ald Trump shake hands fol­low­ing their meet­ing in the Oval Of­fice of the White House in Washington last Thurs­day.


Mis­sion High School stu­dents Hope Robert­son (left) and Cat Lar­son yell as they protest with other high-school stu­dents in op­po­si­tion to Don­ald Trump’s pres­i­den­tial elec­tion vic­tory in front of City Hall in San Fran­cisco, last Thurs­day.

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