By Brittany Hogan
It happened that a fire broke out backstage in a theater. The clown came out to inform the public. They thought it was a jest and applauded. He repeated his warning. They shouted even louder. So I think the world will come to an end amid the general applause from all the wits who believe that it is a joke.
It’s ironic that FX is airing “The People vs OJ Simpson” right now, as Americans once again face their great Achilles Heel: race. For, despite the gains of the last 60 years that have made our country more inclusive; despite electing our first African-American president, many in white America continue to harbor deep-seated resentment toward other races. It still remains, as Toni Morrison said, that “[i]n this country American means white. Everybody else has to hyphenate.”
Until this time in modern history, white Americans have not had a viable political candidate behind whom they could throw their support; no one who clearly articulated their angst regarding their perceived loss of power. Enter Donald Trump. perusing the comments section of many online articles regarding Trump’s cringe-worthy run for the White House reveals a scathing potpourri of racist sentiments straight out of a 1950’s Klan meeting. In fact, a cursory reading of such comments would give one the impression that white resentment has been simmering there, just under the surface, for quite some time, waiting for the right demagogic mouthpiece to articulate it.
In many ways, Donald Trump is the right’s Barack Obama: that one candidate who storms onto the otherwise staid political scene and threatens to shake things up, to bring “hope and change” to the disenfranchised and disillusioned. Yet, while Obama appealed to a large cross-section of American voters of all races, Trump, although promising to take on the establishment, is also brazenly un-PC, calling out Mexicans and Muslims, mocking the disabled and women. And he is winning.
It’s like how all of us, Democrats and progressives, pinned our hopes on Obama, despite what he said, or didn’t say. It didn’t matter that he surrounded himself with a trusted cabal of old Democratic advisors when he got into the White House, he was going to do something. He was “hope and change.” Donald Trump’s supporters don’t seem to care that he tepidly denounced the KKK, after numerous questions regarding David Duke’s support; they don’t care that he is calling for the murder of innocent people in this country for no other reason than they are Muslim and happen to be related to someone who allegedly commits terror attacks (a slippery slope if ever there was one). White conservatives are pinning all their hopes on Donald Trump to save them from the scourge of poverty and joblessness, no matter how he does it.
Barack Obama’s election, while it may have advanced our race-stunted society by leaps and bounds, has also served to deepen the angst of the white, male Republican base. For years we have heard them rail against reverse discrimination, affirmative action, and political correctness, all code words for their terror at losing power in an increasingly inclusive social landscape; and, for years, we have ignored them, believing that they would just go away. But this is America, and in America, race never goes away.
According to sociologist Julien Freund, “There is an essence of politics…There are no politics without a real or potential enemy.”
Donald Trump is giving a voice to all of that white male hysteria. The enemy is illegal immigrants, who we need to keep out by building a “yuuuuuuge” wall on our southern border; the enemy is Muslims, who we need to forbid from coming into our country and kill the families of terror suspects; the enemy is China, who we will really piss off with some “yuuuuuuge” tariffs. Basically, our enemies are anyone who doesn’t look like “us,” and by “us,” he means white Americans.
At a recent Trump rally, a protestor interrupted Trump and his only question to her, which he repeated into the microphone three times for perfect clarity was, “Are you from Mexico?” It’s very easy, when people are worried about unemployment, to place blame. Hitler famously did this with the Jews. It didn’t matter that the Germans had just lost World War I, and that the Versailles Treaty was a consequence of that; the Germans needed an enemy, someone on whom to pin all their blame. Until now, Hitler’s rise to power was seen as a poignant lesson in what not to do; but Trump seems to use it as a playbook. A former ex-wife even admitted that he kept a copy of Mein Kampf on the bedside table. Guess what? It is working.
In a New York Times article from 1922, documenting Hitler’s rise to power, Cyril Brown writes, “A sophisticated politician credited Hitler with peculiar political cleverness for laying emphasis and over-emphasis on anti-Semitism, saying, ‘You can’t expect the masses to understand or appreciate your finer real aims. You must feed the masses with cruder morsels and ideas like anti-Semitism. It would be politically all wrong to tell them the truth about where you are really leading them.’”
It’s not the fact that we have spent exorbitant amounts of money fighting an endless war in the Middle East; it’s not that we continue to spend equally exorbitant amounts of money on our military-industrial complex. The reason the economy is down, the reason jobs are down, Trump says, is because of the Muslims and the Mexicans. Since American education became solely focused on memorizing answers to test questions and not on using basic critical thinking and analysis to solve problems, many gullible voters are buying into this. After all, it is always easier to blame someone else than it is to take the blame yourself.
It remains to be seen whether Donald Trump can sustain his support through the Republican convention and actually win the nomination. His party is already in panic mode and is pulling out all the stops (and old politicians) to try and derail him; but this only emboldens his fiery base by harkening back to the days of Goldwater or Reagan, both staunch anti-establishment heroes. It’s like that fiery base of hysterical white supporters are so desperate for a mouthpiece for their racism, that they aren’t even paying attention to half of what he is saying. They want their power back; they want to be on top again; and they aren’t going to let anything as inconvenient and boring as the lessons of history stop them.
If Donald Trump wins the presidency, we will all be forced to deal with the consequences of his trending global insults, either through wars, terrorist attacks, or tariffs. Trump’s election would actually weaken America’s stance in the world and hurt us economically. (Who’s really going to pay for that $10 billion wall on the Mexican border?) In fact, the only people who would prosper would be the military-industrial complex, because we would be in a perpetual state of war, kind of like we are now, only worse, because ALL of our allies would turn on us. Trump wants to be friends with Vladimir Putin, and we would end up fighting with them in Syria and Ukraine.
It’s easy to just laugh it off, as we watch this Republican debacle unfold; it’s easy to reassure ourselves with, “It can’t happen here.” This has been one of the least civilized primaries in American history, and as Marco Rubio and Donald Trump engage in veiled insults about each other’s penis size, it’s easy to shake our heads, and turn the channel. But this is not just another episode of “Real Housewives.” This is the future of our country, and this is not just a script. Donald Trump’s words have real, global implications.
As we watch this debacle, we can only hope the American people heed the words of Bobby Kennedy and not Donald Trump. Kennedy believed, “The problem of power is how to achieve its responsible use rather than its irresponsible and indulgent use — of how to get men of power to live for the public rather than off the public.” Hopefully the American people will realize that life is not a reality show, and that words do have consequences.