Cheeto Hitler? Nah, Cheeto Buchanan!
In between the disbelief and frustration, a feeling of familiarity crept in. There I was, debating whether supporting a racist is inherently racist. To me, it seemed so obvious. If you enable racism, that is a racially violent act. How could this be about anything else? And so we went round and round in circles.
“I’m not a racist.”
“But you enabled racists.”
“that’s not why I voted for him.”
“It just wasn’t important enough to care? Is
that any better?”
“People think he’ll make their lives better.”
“Yes, and he said he would do that through
nativism. You want prosperity at another
“But it’s not about that!”
“How could it be about anything else!?”
That’s when it hit me. I’d had this conversation in the classroom, teaching the causes of the American Civil War. This isn’t post-war Germany. We’re in the antebellum U.S.
It’s almost its own genre now: the “how the fuck did we get here???” Drumpf thought piece. There seems to be consensus that we got here because of an autocrat exploiting economic insecurity and scapegoating marginalized groups to attain power. It sounds familiar. Like a guy whose name rhymes with Shmitler. It’s appealing. It allows us to feel wise and do our usual liberal self flagellation. WE DIDN’T HEAR THE ANGUISH OF THE NOBLE RURAL POOR!
Don’t get me wrong. I love liberal guilt too. But this doesn’t sit right with me. Here’s why: numbers don’t back it up. He did not surf into the white house on a wave of populism. The numbers suggest a race-based revolt, not a class-based one.
Yes, middle America voted for He Who Shall Not Be Named. But Trump did not completely redraw the map; the only category in which he made significant gains was white blue collar men. Democrats would be foolish to forsake their current base to pick up these votes. Clinton won the popular vote by about 2 million. Among the poorest voters, Clinton won by an impressive margin. This was not the populist revolt you are looking for (unless you were actually looking for a bunch of disgruntled middle-income white dudes).
In point of fact, the typical Drumpf voter is a middle to high income male, along with the woman who married him. Oh, and they are really, really white. Like, lily white. Mayonnaise white. Even the Latinos who voted for him are probably white… ok, I can’t back that up, but this sounds like something my fellow white hispanics would totally do. ¡Pendejos!
So, all this middle-america rage. What’s it about then?
It’s about the social order, folks.
Many are still convinced the Civil War was not about slavery. In fact, reconciliation depended on that lie. That fundamental lie - that states’ rights were what started the conflict - does more to explain this than post-war Germany. If we peel back the onion, we see that the Civil war wasn’t just about slavery, but maintaining the social order and the racial hierarchy. How else could we explain why so many people who could never have afforded slaves fought and died for the Southern cause? Sure, they thought Lincoln a radical… because he was in favor of abolishing slavery. Sure, they wanted their states to retain the rights to that decision… because they were afraid the federal government would abolish slavery. And why were they afraid? Because the working poor had been conditioned to view the world along racial divides, rather than class. No matter how scarce resources were, they got to help themselves to their piece of the pie before the black man did, and that is what mattered.
Similarly, if we look at economic conditions today, we see evidence of economic despair. I won’t deny that. Rust belt towns are suffering. But are they suffering more than they were 8 years ago? No. They are not. What has changed? White men don’t get to cut to the front of the line of the buffet anymore. Now, they have to queue up with women, people of color, and (god forbid) Muslims!
This wasn’t always the case. The social order they crave, the America they seek to find again, is one in which they have a social contract that states the following: If I perform my masculinity correctly, I will get my piece of the pie first. I get to help myself before men who aren’t manly, men who aren’t white, and people who aren’t men.
A black president was an affront to this social contract. A female president was another insult to them. And so they yell, “Trump that bitch!”
I’ve been implored, indeed scolded, by (former) friends that I must now empathize and try to understand this. I understand it all too well. The self-appointed redneck whisperers lecture that we must address their plight. We must reconcile with those who cling to the old social order, just as we did after the Civil War. Find common ground. Prioritize peace over freedom. Reinterpret the events to fit a neat narrative that those who sought to oppress were simply fighting for their way of life. Ignore that their way of life caused harm to people of color. Ignore this so we can move on and feel good about each other.
We can’t keep doing this. We can’t keep rewriting history to allow us to get along and move on. It will continue to fester. The only answer is to bravely and calmly state the truth: a free and just society will demand that you give up the privileges you assumed under the old social contract. You will not get to help yourselves first in the buffet of life. We will still feed you, but you will not stuff your face while women, homosexual and transgender americans, people of color, Muslims, and immigrants go hungry.