Donald Trump’s White Identity Politics
“Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected; and handed on for them to do the same, or one day we will spend our sunset years telling our children and our children’s children what it was once like in the United States where men were free.”
Donald Trump behaves, speaks and operates like a black politician. That does not mean Trump eats collard greens or listens to Hip Hop; instead it indicates that Trump has adopted the tactics, rhetoric and style of African-American politicians like his fellow New Yorker; Al Sharpton.
Trump is clearly practicing the same kind of racial-identity politics that has long characterized radical black politicians. The difference is that he tailors his message for a larger audience that has many more votes: whites. What Trump is practicing is not classical racism; instead it is white identity politics patterned after “black power,” or African American identity politics.
The phenomenon of white racists mimicking black radicals is hardly new. One of the best known white hate groups; the Aryan Nations, is little more than a bargain basement imitation of the Nation of Islam. White racists often talk of fighting for white rights, white pride, white civil rights, or white families, and use rhetoric that sounds as if it was ripped from The Autobiography of Malcolm X.
How Trump is Making Racism Mainstream Again
Trump’s rhetoric is hardly new; or surprising, to anybody familiar with the self-proclaimed white power movement. The difference is that Trump is the first figure to successfully inject such rhetoric and ideology into the political mainstream. What is more troubling is that these appeals are very popular; they have given Trump the Republican nomination.
Since Trump has made this brand of racism mainstream; we need to take a look at its roots in African American identity politics. From this we can identify a pathology that explains Trump’s appeal, and the thinking of at least some of his followers.
The Pathology of White (and Black) Identity Political Thought
Some of the characteristics that black identity politics shares with Trump’s white identity politics include:
- An almost pathological obsession with the material trappings of American success; big cars, fancy clothes, mansions etc. With his private jet, palatial penthouse, Florida estate and supermodel trophy wife the Donald certainly displays this behavior. Disturbingly, Trump’s lifestyle often resembles a bad Hip Hop video – the only things missing are the guns and the pit bull.
- A lack of faith in America. Much of the appeal of leaders like Sharpton is based on their ability to sow doubts in America, its values, institutions, laws and free enterprise. Okay, much of this criticism is well placed; but it is also effective in isolating their followers from the political mainstream, giving those leaders a solid base other politicians cannot touch. Much of Trump’s success can be attributed to widespread skepticism about the current direction of American society; particularly capitalism, globalism and the drive for racial equality, among middle and working class whites. People whose income and social status has been falling in recent years.
- Hostility to authority and the establishment. Black power leaders liked to rail against the man, and talk of revolution. Trump loves to belittle and disrespect political leaders, intellectuals, reporters, corporate executives and other pillars of the establishment. His followers talk of blowing up the Republican establishment.
- Anti-Intellectualism. Historically one of the most successful tactics of African-American demagogues was to denounce all thought, philosophy, science, etc. as a racist conspiracy to keep the people down. Trump’s campaign has been marked by a similar and very vicious anti-intellectualism. The candidate has voiced his scorn for data; and his contempt for intellectuals, like the staff of The National Review. Donald has even called economists dummies in his speeches. He has made a point of ignoring intellectuals and their institutions. He even rejects some elements of science like global warming and vaccination. The purpose of this is to discredit any criticism of Trump.
- Strongman leadership. African American identity politics has often been characterized by blind submission to often questionable leaders such as the Reverend Farrakhan. Trump’s followers demand blind obedience and submission to their leader, while belittling his rivals. Like many poor blacks; some of Trump’s followers seem to view him as a messiah who will lead them into the Promised Land. Many Trump supporters admire his blunt style which they view as an indication of strength.
- Blind loyalty to the group and its leaders. Like the followers of some black politicians, Trump’s followers refuse to see his many obvious faults. They ignore Trump’s history of shady business practices, lack of ethics and bizarre behavior, just as former Washington DC Mayor Marion Barry’s supporters ignored his cocaine use.
- A tendency to see persecution everywhere. Like many African Americans, many whites increasingly see themselves as a persecuted minority. A poll; conducted by the Public Religion Research Center, found that 61% of Americans who described themselves as “evangelicals;” now believe that discrimination against white people has become as great problem in the United States as discrimination against people of color.
- An “us vs them” view of the world. Just as many African Americans, see any criticism of their community or a black person as racism. Many whites now see any criticism of white people or their institutions as “reverse racism.” When Republicans and others criticized Trump’s attacks on federal judge Gonzalo Curiel; the Donald’s surrogates branded them “racist.” This explains why intellectuals like Pat Buchanan are so quick to defend cops in shooting cases – even when the evidence points to police wrong doing. It also explains the imbecilic hysteria of the “war on cops” conspiracy theory.
- A willingness to break laws and violate social norms to redress wrongs or injustices – real or imagined. Just as African American leaders are willing to scrap professional and educational standards in order to help their people advance. Trump’s followers are willing to end free trade; and trample the rights of immigrants, to protect what they see are their economic interests.
- An inferiority complex. Just as there are many in the African American community who believe a black man cannot succeed without Affirmative Action. There are now many whites who believe that white men cannot compete with Mexican or Central African immigrants; or Chinese factory workers. Like Affirmative Action apologists, Trump’s followers cloak their demands in appeals for fairness.
- A worship of raw power. Just like generations of African American radicals; such as W.E.B. DuBois the father of black identity politics, Trump speaks admiringly of foreign tyrants and strongmen. During the last years of his life, DuBois was an apologist for Communist dictators like Mao Zedong. Trump applauds North Korean tyrant Kim Jong-un; and speaks of his admiration for Vladimir Putin and the late Saddam Hussein. Trump’s admiration for these loathsome figures is based upon what he sees as their strength.
As you can see Trump’s white-identity politics and black power share the same pathology. They also share some of the same roots; such as a lack of economic opportunity and a declining social and cultural position. Black power appeals most to marginalized African American men, white power to marginalized white men.
Trump’s White Identity Ghetto
The two schools of thought share something else in common; they do little or nothing to help their followers. African-American identity politics helps trap blacks in the ghetto by placing a narrow ideological straight jacket upon their minds. In many cases, it deprives poor blacks of the tools they need to get out of the ghetto; such as education and free enterprise. White identity politics will do the same to those who follow it.
White identity thought will do nothing to help the growing legions of often unemployed and uneducated; or underemployed and undereducated, working class white men who spend their days aimlessly shuffling around our communities. Just as black identity thought does little to help the large numbers of unemployed African American men who spend their days hanging out in the ghetto, or worse in prison.
Like black identity politics, white identity politics will end up enriching a few corrupt and dishonest demagogues and do nothing for its followers. Some of these leaders will undoubtedly turn upon those followers the minute the big corporations open their checkbooks.
Donald Trump did not invent white identity politics he only popularized it. By taking white identity politics into the mainstream Trump is introducing a new level of divineness into the national dialogue that will disrupt much but accomplish little.
Yet perhaps the most disturbing aspect of this drama is that some whites seem to be adopting such identity politics as African Americans are moving away from them. The Bill Cosby scandal; and the African American community’s refreshing refusal to come to that loathsome man’s defense, shows that Black America might finally be moving beyond identity politics. Unfortunately, Donald Trump shows us that White America is not.