A Sunday Lament
How Did We Get Here?
(Some Historical Perspective?)
I can’t deny the reality, try as I might. Donald Trump is the President of the United States. It is 2017 and we have an erratic, politically & historically ignorant demagogue in the White House. Hillary Clinton’s campaign memoir‘s title basically sums it: What Happened? While it would be easy to write this off as some kind of historical anomaly, an aberration, a moment of widespread national dementia, I’ll contend that this wave has been swelling up for a half a century and Trump is simply the crash on the beach, the logical conclusion to the accelerating fear of white males that began with Nixon. Some may have seen this coming but it has been subtle growth over time and the body politic, like a cancer patient who ignored his/her doctor, didn’t catch on until it was too late.
We know that Nixon’s appeal to “The Silent Majority” was a less than subtle acknowledgement that the Republican Party was going to corral all those Southern “Dixiecrats” who would not countenance Lyndon Johnson’s “betrayal” of their (white supremacist/racist) ideology. The “Silent Majority” net also pulled in all those “hard-hats” (or those who identified with hard-hats, particularly after an NYC rally when construction workers left their jobs to attack Vietnam protesters in the street). The counter-cultural rift that had emerged in the 1960s is still at the heart of the political divisions in the United States. Nixon and the Republicans put a simple dichotomy in high relief: you are either with us --- for “law and order,” patriotically supporting the war, hard-working Americans --- or you are with “them” --- unpatriotic protesting and supporting (gay, women’s, Black) “liberation” while promoting rock music, free love, abortion-on-demand, affirmative action and what would later be criticized as “politically correct” positions. The elephant in the room, of course, was the fear that white men would lose their grip on controlling this country.
Watergate, of course, sowed the seeds of distrusting the government but, after Jimmy Carter’s ineffectual, “malaise” Presidency, Ronald Reagan’s first inaugural address, in which he stated “government is not the solution to our problem, government is the problem,” set the stage for increasing division along old, old political lines: the federal government vs. “states’ rights.” Coupled with Reagan’s dismantling of social safety nets while criminalizing large swaths of the population through the “War on Drugs” and cozying up to the “Religious Right,” Reagan’s “morning in America” was a sun that only rose in a white, male dominated world.
George H.W. Bush’s “read my lips, no new taxes” quote dissembled his Presidency, of course, but it also contributed to the notion that you simply can’t trust any politicians. Bush’s defeat at the hands of “Slick Willy” Clinton who, amid one scandal after another (some real, some not), moved the Democratic Party so close to the “center” that it might be labeled “Republican Lite.” It was during Clinton’s administration, of course, that Newt Gingrich created his “Contract with America” which might be viewed as the first step toward the extreme polarization we now see in the Federal Government, as well as many state houses. By the election of 2000 (in which, of course, Bush, the popular vote loser, was given the Presidency by a Republican-majority Supreme Court, 5-4) the political schism was wide and clear. In broad terms, the “Left” (liberals, Democrats) stood for “political correctness:” a woman’s right to choose, gun control, equal political & economic rights for minorities and women, universal health care, saving the environment & fighting against climate change. The “Right,” of course, supported tax cuts for the wealthy, increased defense spending, letting the private sector & local government handle health care and they were “pro-life” anti-gay, anti-affirmative action & for gun rights. Not very different from today, really.
The Obama Presidency really brought the white supremacist worm out of the woodwork, What we have discovered is that beyond the ideological differences between America’s “Left” and “Right” is a powerful cultural force that is rooted in white supremacy. Yesterday’s Blast highlighted Te-Nehisi Coates’s arguments about how the Trump Presidency’s ideology is white supremacy and I believe he is right. One of the most compelling points Coates makes is that we keep hearing about the “plight” of the “white-working class” --- as if there is no Black or Latino working class. More significantly, it is presented as if this is some “unnatural” plight --- that, somehow, white people shouldn’t suffer (the way Blacks, Native Americans, & other people of color have, historically). The cards are now on the table.
You can talk all you want about health care, taxes, defense spending, climate change, or whatever other issue you’d like: at the heart of America’s politics in 2017 is a President who represents what we can only hope is the last gasp of white supremacy’s grip on the throat of the United States. What drives Trump and his supporters is a belief in innate white (male) superiority and much of their focus is simply undoing anything and everything Barack Obama did --- whether what he did was good or bad for Americans. The premise is this: if the Black President did it, we must un-do it!
The Russian investigation may short-circuit all of this, of course, and it’s hard to believe that some conflict-of-interest or crazed Tweet won’t, at some point, bring this Presidency down. But strange things have happened throughout American history and we may look back in 2030 and simply say: “What the f*&k were people thinking?”