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Sat 17 August 2019
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CJ Werleman on the US President’s worrying attempts to gain support by tapping into deeply-rooted anxieties and prejudices concerning race.


When Hillary Clinton said during the closing weeks of the 2016 US presidential election that half of then candidate Donald Trump’s supporters belong in a “basket of deplorables” characterised by “racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamophobic” views, she was widely condemned for demonstrating an aloofness with predominantly blue collar whites and their “economic anxieties”.

This economic ‘theory’ has remained a stubborn explainer for why and how Trump secured electoral success in states and counties that had voted for President Barack Obama in 2012, despite the fact that it has been debunked in one major study after another.

“The nativist narrative about ‘taking back America’ and anti-immigrant sentiment became stronger forces than economic issues,” observes Ann Oberhauser, one of the sociologists responsible for collating and analysing the shift in attitudes among Iowa voters from Democrat to Republican between 2008 and 2016.

“Hitler’s poisonous rants blamed Jews, Roma, and the ‘elites’ for Germany’s problems. Trump blames Muslims, undocumented immigrants from Central America, and ‘the elites’ for America’s problems”

Burt Neuborne

Ultimately, the data demonstrates that, the less educated a voter and the less likely they were to actually have close personal relationships with non-whites, the more vulnerable that voter was to Trump’s racism, xenophobia and fear-mongering.

That voters rewarded a campaign built on overt hatred and fear of the foreign ‘other’ was a damning indictment on the emotional state of American society in 2016, but things have become substantially worse in the nearly three years under the rule of the most obviously racist US President in more than a century. The country is on the brink of crashing through yet another dangerous moral threshold.

Trump has normalised overt racism in such a way that genocidal “great replacement” theories have moved from the dark corners of the internet into mainstream political discourse, with neo-Nazis coming out from their secret hiding places to march openly in the streets.

Black churches are fire bombed, mosques are fired upon and synagogues are under attack like no other time since Europe’s darkest days – a reality emphasised by the rocketing of hate crimes against Muslims and Jews since Trump’s inauguration. It must be noted that right-wing extremists are responsible for 100% of terrorist attacks on US soil since the end of 2017.

The ban on Muslim immigration and the separating of migrant children from their parents at camps set up on the US-Mexico border have also become notable low-level water marks for a presidency that seemingly knows no moral bounds.

That Trump’s approval rating among Republican voters has been at around 90% during the country’s rapid Trump led decline into the moral abyss, subjecting the country to the scorn and condemnation from its Western democratic peers, remains a perplexing phenomena for anyone who isn’t a Trump supporter.


Racism Rewarded

It matters not to a Trump supporter that the President has told nearly 11,000 lies and false statements in the nearly 900 days he’s held office.

It matters not that Trump’s tax cuts have failed to deliver them a single tangible economic benefit while, at the same time, ballooning the deficit by a whopping 77% a year. And it matters not to them that Trump has taken away their access to healthcare.

Electing Trump was never about ‘making America great again’. It was always about making the country “white again”, as observed by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and many others – despite the fact that a whites-only America has existed only in the imagination of the demented and deranged.

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The way in which both Republican law-makers and voters have responded to Trump’s repugnant attacks on four female congresswomen of colour in the past week might be viewed by future historians as the point in which the country passed the tipping point of no return from what promises to be a dystopian destiny.

Last Sunday, Trump used one of the most aggressively racist tropes in urging them to “go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came”, even though three of the four women were born in the United States. The fourth, Ilhan Omar was naturalised as an American citizen at the age of 17.

The response that followed from Republicans will have sent a chill down the spine of anyone who has studied the rise of authoritarian regimes. Not only did a nationwide poll taken two days after Trump’s racist tweet storm show a five percentage point increase in his net approval among Republican voters, but also only a lone Republican senator described the President’s comments as racist. All but four House Republicans voted against a resolution condemning Trump’s remarks.

Then came the pro-Trump rally held in Charlotte, North Carolina, last Wednesday – one at which the President was greeted by a chant that called for America’s first black Muslim congresswoman to be deported. The words “send her back” echoed throughout the auditorium, prompting Jon Favreau, a former White House speechwriter, to describe the scene as the most “frightening” thing he has ever witnessed in US politics.

Since, Trump has described the crowd as “great Americans who love their country”, thus creating a horrifying positive reinforcement loop in which his supporters reward his racist viciousness and, in turn, he rewards theirs. One can only dare to imagine where this all ends.


Untold Damage

Dangerously, Trump portrays the United States to be locked in a battle between whites and non-whites, or American born citizens versus immigrants. In this zero sum game, “whites must contend with non-whites for jobs, wealth, safety and citizenship,” as stated by the New York Times. It’s a contrived battle that will end disastrously for America, the same way it ended for Germany in the 1940s.

“Both Hitler and Trump excelled at scapegoating,” says Burt Neuborne, a civil liberties professor at New York University. “Hitler’s poisonous rants blamed Jews, Roma, and the ‘elites’ for Germany’s problems. Trump blames Muslims, undocumented immigrants from Central America, and ‘the elites’ for America’s problems.”

Electing Trump was never about ‘making America great again’. It was always about making the country “white again”

“Hitler hardened Germany’s border, restricting travel to and from the country and engaging in trade wars designed to benefit German industry. Trump bans Muslims, wants to build a wall on the Southern border, and has initiated trade wars with China, India, Europe, Canada, and Mexico.”

Nazi metaphors aside, whatever you make of Donald Trump’s latest appeal to mankind’s worst impulses, the fact of the matter is that the current occupant of the White House has broadened the Republican Party’s appeal to non-college educated, white voters by tapping into deeply-rooted anxieties and prejudices concerning race.

The damage done to the country will take more than an election or two to undo.

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