As we know, many folks have tried to portray Trump’s hardcore base as just a bunch of salt-of-the-Earth working class guys, anxious about trade policy and its effect on factory jobs, or worried about the effects of globalization on long-term employability, or whatever. The idea being that “if we could just reach them with a good progressive message, we could bring them over to our side!” The wishful thinking on display in this argument—and the way in which it sidesteps the obvious centrality of RACIAL resentment in Trump’s movement, and the way race is inextricably bound up in whatever real economic anxiety some of his base might be experiencing—is distressing to say the least.
These are folks who (and now there are studies that have confirmed it, about which others have posted on this site) are motivated by a sense of racial/cultural grievance. They are losing their hegemony, and perceive that loss as oppression, because when you’ve been top dog, having to share a country and the culture and power and opportunity with “the other” (be they racial, religious, etc) is like the end of the world. WEB DuBois talked about the “psychological wage of whiteness” and the way in which it really serves as the transmission belt of what Marx would have called “false consciousness” in the white working class. It basically says, “you might not have much, white folks, but at least you’re not black/Latino/indigenous, etc.”
Until we confront the fact that racism and white nationalism is at the heart of modern right-wing politics (more than fundamentalist religion, and certainly more than conservative economic theory) we will have no chance at really crushing (in political terms) the movement that Trump has tapped into.
I mean, seriously, if you look at the picture above this diary, can you really honestly envision the young man with his middle fingers extended being animated by typical boilerplate conservatism? Or even by some of the non-racial things endorsed by Donald Trump? Or by anything progressive, upon which we might build? If you had to caption the photo, would any of you believe it logical to caption it as follows:
1. “Listen, marginal tax rates are just too high. We need a flatter, simpler tax code!”
2. “Just think about how much better black folks would have it if we unleashed the power of the free market in their communities with things like Enterprise Zones!”
3. “I mean, let’s not TOTALLY privatize Social Security, but maybe we could let people choose to invest a small portion of their retirement savings in the stock market?”
4. “Tort reform and portability of benefits: those are the keys to a workable health care system.”
5. "I’m thinking perhaps an 18% tariff on Chinese imports, just until the American manufacturing sector improves. Are ya with me?"
6. "I'm just anxious about my job but I know it’s not the Mexicans' fault. It’s really just the inevitable outgrowth of late-stage capitalism."
7. "All I’m saying is, I think the Department of Defense wastes a lot of money in the weapons procurement process. We need to get serious about cutting the waste!"
8. “I mean, I think it’s rather obvious by now that the economic stimulus was far too small to spur demand-side growth. We obviously need a new New Deal!"
9. "My main issue is simple: we absolutely MUST restore barriers between commercial and investment banks!"
10. "Personally I love Black Lives Matter. I just disagree with some of their tactics."
11. "I don't dislike Hillary. I'm just worried, like Sean Hannity, about whether she’s really healthy enough for the job."
12. "As per the Laffer Curve, tax cuts generate MORE revenue via economic growth, dummies! Everyone knows that, sheesh!"
13. "Our roads and bridges are in disrepair. We need a huge infrastructure investment bill. That’s why I support Trump, because he proposed one!"
14. “Donald Trump says Hedge Fund managers are parasites and should have their taxes raised. That is TOTALLY what drew me to him! I’ve been saying that for years to my buddies.”
15. "I mean, c'mon, ISIS was the predictable result of a post-Saddam power vacuum. Anyone could have seen that coming! We should never have gone to war with Iraq. That’s why I support Trump, because he understood that!"
16. “If I’ve said this once I’ve said it a million times: PAID PARENTAL LEAVE people! For the love of God, why are we such an embarrassment compared to all the other OECD nations when it comes to our paltry social safety net!”
None of this is to say that we can’t ever reach people who would vote for Trump. I think some people are reachable, and yes, with an economically populist message. But that doesn’t mean his base is truly reachable. I sincerely believe they simply have to be defeated, over and over and over again, and then our movements and candidates have to do everything possible to make life better for them and all working folks, both because it’s the right thing to do, and because perhaps if we do that, their resentments can diminish a bit. Also, to whatever extent we can reach any of them, it will require an honest and forthright conversation about racism and the way that racism has been used to divide and conquer. We can’t work around that issue or act like it’s not the key, or refuse to challenge white folks about racism for fear of them “backlashing” against the analysis. They are already backlashing (one might say “front lashing”) with or without us confronting it. It’s time to push back and demand that we create a new society based on racial equity and multiracial democracy. Folks will ultimately either have to get down with that, or get politically steamrolled. There is no other way.