Sunday’s NY Times ran an article by Carol Anderson entitled The Policies of White Resentment which discussed how Donald Trump’s “overt connection” to white resentment and white nationalism helped him win the presidency. Starting with Obama’s birth certificate, Trump’s “base” has responded to Muslim bans, the Border Wall, I.C.E. raids & their war on “Sanctuary Cities,” the Election Integrity Commission, and encouraging police to “rough up” those arrested. All of this “turn the politics of white resentment into the policies of white rage — that calculated mechanism of executive orders, laws and agency directives that undermines and punishes minority achievement and aspiration. “ As Anderson so articulately expresses it: “White resentment needs the boogeyman of job-taking, maiden-ravaging, tax-evading, criminally inclined others to justify the policies that thwart the upward mobility and success of people of color.” That simmering demon of racism has always been with us as a nation, since bringing the first kidnapped Africans to Virginia in 1619, but Trump has proven himself a master at giving license to those who harbor the fears and resentment of “the other.”
Today’s NY Times has run a similar piece, by Lynn Vavreck, entitled The Political Payoff of Making Whites Feel Like a Minority. In it, Vavreck notes that while Trump’s initial calls to “Make America Great Again” and “build a wall” may have been campaign sloganeering, it quickly became something else. “Mr. Trump’s appeals were a form of group politics or identity politics, and he continues to focus on threats to white identity as president.” While many white Americans seem befuddled by Trump’s appeal to their countrymen “survey data suggest that many white Americans do feel threatened, and that they think there are policies that discriminate against them and should be changed.” Trump’s latest immigration plan (cutting the number of immigrants by 50%, etc.) is being hailed by white working class people who believe (evidence to the contrary) that immigrants are taking jobs from white Americans. “Nearly 60 percent of Mr. Trump’s primary supporters thought organizing to change laws that are unfair to white people was extremely or very important.” So, while Republicans rail about Democrats and their “identity politics” Trump has created a strong following who, in fact, identify as an embattled minority: white people.
If you are an educated white person who lives in an urban area, or on some coast of this country (including the Gulf of Mexico & the Great Lakes), the odds are that you do not think this way and you understand (and accept) the notion of white privilege, while seeing Trump’s white nationalism for what it is. But America has a long history of “legally” disenfranchising “others” --- particularly non-whites (and non-Christians). If we go back to the history of Virginia, from its colonial roots, we can see that as early as 1662 the House of Burgesses (the first elected representative legislature in our history) began passing laws that criminalized Blacks. In that year they established a law against “run-aways” as well as one that noted:
any child born in the colony would follow the status of its mother, bond or free. This was an overturn of a long held principle of English Common Law, whereby a child's status followed that of the father. It enabled slaveholders and other white men to hide the mixed-race children born of their rape of slave women and removed their responsibility to acknowledge, support, or emancipate the children. (Wikipedia)
White people implicitly acknowledged, through these laws, that their slaves clearly wanted to run away and that they (whites) were criminally assaulting Black women --- but would take no responsibility for it. They even passed a law in 1667 that declared: “baptisme of slaves doth not exempt them from bondage,” fearing that Christianity might provide a “loophole” to freedom for their “property.”
In 1669 the Burgesses enacted a law that allowed for:
the casuall killing of slaves. if any slave resist his master (or other by his masters order correcting him) and by the extremity of the correction should chance to die, that his death shall not be accompted ffelony, but the master (or that other person appointed by the master to punish him) be acquit from molestation, since it cannot be presumed that prepensed malice (which alone makes murther ffelony) should induce any man to destroy his owne estate. (Wikipedia)
Talk about blaming the victim. If a master "happened" to kill a slave, it was the slave’s fault --- because, after all, what master would destroy his own “estate?”
Yes, these laws were written 350 years ago but their spirit survives. White people knew they had engaged in a devil’s bargain when they entered into the slave trade but had to justify their original sin. They did that by creating legislation putting the blame, the onus, the fault --- on the slave. In 1705 the Virginia General Assembly (having supplanted the Burgesses) declared:
"All servants imported and brought into the Country...who were not Christians in their native Country...shall be accounted and be slaves. All Negro, mulatto and Indian slaves within this dominion...shall be held to be real estate. If any slave resist his master...correcting such slave, and shall happen to be killed in such correction...the master shall be free of all punishment...as if such accident never happened." (Wikipedia – bold mine)
Trump’s playbook, then, is not a new one. Beside himself over the fact that Barack Obama was elected President (and then humiliated at the White House Correspondents Dinner), Trump has resorted to pressing the hottest button in the American psyche --- race. Appealing to resentful whites that believe “they” (Blacks, Latinos/Hispanics, Muslims, LGBTQ, immigrants, etc.) are taking college opportunities and jobs away from the rightful ownership of whites, Trump has kicked the hornets nest and resurrected the dormant spirit of the Confederacy with its white supremacists. While the early laws of the Virginia colony are different in specific subject matter, they are perfectly aligned in spirit with the crass racism this President traffics in. The challenge for fair-minded citizens is not how to stop Trump but how to educate those he so blatantly manipulates with his venomous appeals to their basest instincts.