Yes, I know this will shock those who know me even casually, given my outspokenness against that national emergency called Donald Trump. However, I do mean it: Trump’s supporters, the poorly educated and endlessly manipulated, are my people.
The Republican Party was not surprised by Trump, by his antics or his despicable discourse any more than it was aghast by what his supporters seem to believe and stand for. Not being able to control the outcome this time surprised the GOP. Governor Mitt Romney, who sought Trump’s endorsement for his failed 2012 presidential bid and had a binder full of praising words for the real estate mogul who was then the leader of the bigoted birther movement, is all of the sudden up in arms about the crassness and bigotry Trump spews and spreads.
I do not despise Trump’s followers as a whole, in particular, I find much solidarity with the most disenfranchised among them, despite viscerally and thoughtfully reviling almost everything they stand for. I do not despise them because they are my people. Yeah, they would not say the same of me, as in their minds I have done to them every wrong by being black, Latina, radically progressive, liberal, pro-LGBT, pro-choice and other vulgarities. Nevertheless, they are my people.
I come from the same place of struggle and I too have been told I am better than “them”- those blacks, those Latinos – because my education apparently makes me raise above the innate failings of my skin color, ethnicity and poverty. Trump’s followers have been always told the reverse argument: You are better than they are because you are white and nothing will erase your innate superiority, therefore, you will always be better off than “they” will.
Trump’s followers and I have been sold a bill of very bad and ill-gotten goods.
All strategists are now saying the #NeverTrump movement should have begun much earlier; that the GOP underestimated Trump and assumed he will fall of his own lightweight. That is BS. To paraphrase the GOP establishment’s doomed darling Senator Marco Rubio’s robotic statements, let’s dispense with the notion that the GOP didn’t know what it was doing. It knew exactly what it was doing. In fact, this was the same strategy followed by that other open-minded candidate in the race, Senator Ted Cruz: Let’s not mess with, nor alienate Trump’s followers because we need them. When Trump finally suffocates from overeating or something, we can even thank him for energizing the base with the basest of arguments and not forcing us to do it ourselves, as in previous election cycles.
The GOP establishment did not counter Trump in time because they were hoping to use him the same way they have used his base, his followers, my people, for many decades, while leaving them in the same dire straits right after garnering their votes. Those dire straits were useful when the next election cycle rolled around to cast blame on the “other” – blacks, immigrants, Chinese…never, say, corporations – for my people’s misery.
They have been Tom Sawyering my people into whitewashing their fences since the time they got poor whites without property or voting rights to fight for the rights of slave owners. As James Baldwin keenly put it: They were told they were white.
This time my people found a nasty leader to follow.
This is the worst possible scenario: A demagogue whose speech satiates the venal and despicable hunger the GOP has cultivated in these, my people, for a very long time. Do you remember the “Negro child” flyers about Senator John McCain in South Carolina in 2000? Karl Rove’s racist whispering campaign that asked voters, “Would you be more or less likely to vote for John McCain…if you knew he had fathered an illegitimate black child?”
The “Negro child” was McCain’s daughter, Bridget, adopted from Bangladesh.
Yeah, Trump clearly invented the GOP’s racist strategy.
Now that this reliable constituency has turned on the GOP establishment, they are portraying them in the worst possible light: White trash. The National Review, the conservative journal, published without the slightest hesitation a piece by Kevin Williamson that literally says those white “dysfunctional, downscale communities” deserve to die.
For blacks, this language sounds awfully familiar. In fact, that is the origin of the phrase “white trash:” People who were squandering their whiteness by acting in innately black ways. Williamson even describe the phenomena further, yet again, in terms that are still deployed to describe blacks:
If you spend time in hardscrabble, white upstate New York, or eastern Kentucky, or my own native West Texas, and you take an honest look at the welfare dependency, the drug and alcohol addiction, the family anarchy—which is to say, the whelping of human children with all the respect and wisdom of a stray dog…
I know how much racism and bigotry Trump’s supporters spew and that most of them are not poor whites. I have even complained about how tentatively we denounced their racism and privilege most of the time. However, let us not be fooled by that and fail to recognize our common humanity and our common plight. When the poor and poorly educated whites turned against their handlers, they were put in their place…and that place is right next to ours: the blacks, the immigrants, the poor.
I dawned on me while noticing the photos the Media was using to portray Trump’s supporters at rallies. If you darken them, you will see they are of a kind with the ones used to show black protesters. The most unflattering, grotesque, violent, irrational-looking images possible. The poor and disenfranchised has this in common: For the Media, they all look alike.
Much has been made of the similarities of Trump’s and Sanders’s constituencies. Yes, of course, they both have been wronged…by both parties. I am not that surprised of the crossover some pundits find so unfathomable. We are assuming Sanders’s supporters should all be totally on board with their candidate’s forward looking and inclusive platform. What we ignore is that they are looking at him precisely because he has bucked the Democratic Party.
Liberals’ elitism, their supposed meritocracy and their cult of technocracy end up looking down on the majority of people and forgetting their own rise is not that different from that of conservatives. Their concern for the poor, when not feigned, is not much more than the charity-tilt with which conservatives clean their conscience.
We, even us liberals, say “poorly educated” almost as an insult. As if they were at fault for their poor education – ignoring, for instance, local funding of schools, that mean-spirited strategy to hurt blacks that now has come back to hunt the poor of all colors – and as if not being educated made one undeserving.
Racism is never excusable and those espousing it, regardless of their plight, should be held accountable for their bigotry. However, in America, only blacks surpassed poor whites’ awareness of the weight of race. It was studiously impressed upon them as a perfect divider.
Is it any surprise they feel serious racial anxiety? They were made to believe they were white and whiteness was a ticket to ride to the top (preferably on the backs of non-whites.) Now, they look to the top and there is a black man there. They live more racially segregated than ever, therefore, they cannot see how poor blacks live. They see their own prospects growing bleaker and, on TV, wealthy non-whites in shining clothes and shinier cars.
Indeed, non-whites have made great strides…That is not hard when you come from far behind.
Socioeconomic conditions are complex and politics is ever more an act of oversimplification. Do not count on Trump or the GOP to make this plain, when they could just put the blame on blacks, Mexicans, Muslims and China.
Both parties have abandoned my people. Many times, democrats have been worse in their effects, because they make it look as coming from a place of love. The Democratic Party, convinced that it does not have a chance, leaves the South alone after the primaries, and does not come back until the next round. The Republican Party leaves it after the general election.
This time my people found someone who lies more convincingly and, betrayed, disillusioned, stuck and looking for someone to blame, has put whatever eggs are left in this demagogue’s basket. To see them fall for it again is heart wrenching, but to see how little of an answer we have for their actual needs is enraging.
DISCLAIMER: These are my personal views and do not represent the opinions of my employer, or any other organization.