A few days ago, our friend Hugh asked a question:
“Apropos of nothing in particular, but I wonder if Trump’s popularity, not to mention his election, is a cultural reaction to the fact that America had a black president for eight years. If this is even a possibility, it would suggest a racism that is endemic to this country and goes much deeper than I had imagined. Just asking…?”
Not for the first time, I revisited this question, for it is one I have asked since well before the election, when Trump’s popularity seemed to rise in direct proportion to his level of obnoxiousness. My answer to Hugh was …
“This is the question I have wrestled with for more than a year, and I have concluded that yes, indeed, the “Trumpian revolution”, if you will, is naught more than a push back response to the election of an African-American president. Much of our nation is, indeed, extremely racist. That anybody could condemn Obama for wearing a beige suit one day, for trying to ensure that everyone is able to seek medical assistance, and at the same time support a ‘man’ who calls white supremacists “fine people” and proves time and again that he has no morals, no character … to me, that is the proof. I think there are more in this country like you and I, who are appalled by the current climate, but the racists, for the moment at least, own the stage. Some say Trump’s win was a response to economic frustrations among the middle class, but that argument doesn’t hold water for a number of reasons. Others say they were tired of the corruption in Washington, but look at it now! So … sad to say, but blatant racism, hatred for any who is different, seems to be the only answer.”
Each time I revisit this question, my conclusion is the same, and in my mind, I have often likened it to a pendulum that swings to the left and back to the right. Or vice versa. But the thing I have never been able to wrap my head around is the answer to the next question: WHY?
Last night I came across an article on NPR:
Why More White Americans Are Opposing Government Welfare Programs
“A new study shows that since 2008, more white people in the United States oppose welfare programs, in part because of increasing “racial resentment.”
One of the reasons for this opposition, according to the report, is white Americans’ perceptions that they might be losing their financial and social status while people of color make gains in those areas.”
According to the findings of the study, while white American’s perception is that minorities are the biggest recipients of safety net programs such as Medicaid, food stamps and housing assistance, the reality is that 52% of the recipients are actually whites. African-Americans are fewer than 25% of the recipients. But even when these statistics were pointed out to them, whites were against safety net programs that they continue to perceive as helping minorities.
Another study in 2016, by the same researchers, linked racial bias to the Tea Party movement.
Kevin Boyle, an American history professor at Northwestern University, says that white supremacy has always lurked in America’s shadow, and …
“Donald Trump gave them permission to come out into the real world.”
There is some agreement among scholars as to how the widening racial and ideological divide took root: Some white Americans began feeling left behind by progress. The decline of the white working class coincided with drastic cultural changes, like quickly diversifying demographics and the election of the nation’s first black president. According to Steven Hahn, a history professor at New York University …
“With the election of Barack Obama, there was so much talk about being this post-racial moment, and on some levels it was extraordinary. But it didn’t take long for the really vicious racism to surface. It turned out to be an instigator of an enormous amount of rage, and I think Trump both fanned it and inherited it.”
All of which is intended to explain, but in my mind, it doesn’t. Decline of the ‘white working class’? What, exactly, is the ‘white’ working class? In a factory or an office, there are people doing a job. If you do the better job, perhaps you will be promoted, given a raise. It doesn’t matter whether your ancestors hailed from Africa, Northern Ireland, Samoa, Argentina or Germany does it? It doesn’t matter whether you consider yourself a Christian, a Muslim or an atheist, does it? And it doesn’t matter whether the partner you go home to at night is of the opposite or same sex, does it? What matters is that you are dedicated and enterprising at the job you do. Or at least that is what should matter.
Last night I spent nearly three hours reading articles, studies, OpEds and the like, seeking an answer, and I still do not understand. Yes, Donald Trump sits in the Oval Office today because Obama sat there for the previous eight years. But WHY? Obama was intelligent, well-educated and soft-spoken, and the majority of his policies were for the betterment of the nation and its people. Obama’s presidency saw no scandals … not a single one. His daughters did not appear drunk in public, he did not engage in extramarital affairs, and he and his family were the epitome of grace and dignity. His policies were humanitarian, seeking to help people from all walks of life. He was not perfect and did not always make the best decisions, but what president does? If one considers the many foibles of his predecessor … and his successor … well, enough said.
So yes, the fact that a racist, ignorant, ill-spoken madman was elected to the highest office in the land is a push back, a response to the fact that we had a black man who was the opposite of all those things in office for the previous eight years. It is, but I do not understand why, and likely never will, for I think the explanation defies logic. That our nation is heavily racist is no longer in doubt, and the current climate that gives permission to such racism is setting this nation back in time. As I said in the beginning, it is like the swing of a pendulum and I do wish somebody would take the battery out of the damn clock so the pendulum might come to rest.