Ta-Nehisi Coates' "The First White President" is mandatory reading if you truly want to understand just how much trouble we are in as a nation. I have a general rule of thumb: When people who are smarter than I am come to the same dark conclusion, that's when I should start worrying. After reading this, I'm past worried.
"The First White President" is sure to set off a firestorm of criticism from the right for accurately describing the dynamic that put Trump in the White House:
Trump truly is something new—the first president whose entire political existence hinges on the fact of a black president. And so it will not suffice to say that Trump is a white man like all the others who rose to become president. He must be called by his rightful honorific—America’s first white president.
It's something the press has been dreading to speak aloud since Trump announced his candidacy: There was, and still is, a massive appetite for an openly racist candidate in America.
A clear majority of white Americans made their racism known in 2016 and the press has been struggling to ignore that fact ever since by clinging to the myth of the white working class being motivated by "economic anxiety" while ignoring that Trump won in every white income bracket by more than comfortable margins:
The focus on one subsector of Trump voters—the white working class—is puzzling, given the breadth of his white coalition. Indeed, there is a kind of theater at work in which Trump’s presidency is pawned off as a product of the white working class as opposed to a product of an entire whiteness that includes the very authors doing the pawning. The motive is clear: escapism. To accept that the bloody heirloom remains potent even now, some five decades after Martin Luther King Jr. was gunned down on a Memphis balcony—even after a black president; indeed, strengthened by the fact of that black president—is to accept that racism remains, as it has since 1776, at the heart of this country’s political life.
The right will howl in indignation and then go right back to defending Confederate monuments and the racist policies of the Republican Party. That's to be expected. But Coates' article is also going to infuriate part of the left. Specifically the white left that continues to demand the Democratic Party abandon identity politics, a call echoed by a number of ostensibly liberal writers like Mark Lilla. Identity politics have got to go they argue. At least, everyone else's identity politics:
That Trump ran and won on identity politics is beyond Lilla’s powers of conception. What appeals to the white working class is ennobled. What appeals to black workers, and all others outside the tribe, is dastardly identitarianism. All politics are identity politics—except the politics of white people, the politics of the bloody heirloom.
This is the power of white privilege; the ability to base your politics on race while simultaneously decrying the very idea of racial politics. This blind spot of the white Left that wants to abandon the minority vote will only serve to legitimize the right's attacks on "political correctness", the code word for anything that restrains the hate speech of the right.
And this is where I've become increasingly worried that we as a nation are in a lot of trouble.
I've been arguing for several years now that the Republican Party is destined to become the party of white nationalism in 10 to 20 years. Fox News, Breitbart, and AM Hate Radio have the right wing so addicted to rage, fear, and hate that they are trapped in an inescapable death spiral that can only lead to a fully actualized white power party.
I was actually pleased (Dog help me) that Donald Trump was running on a platform of explicit racism since I, like most people, assumed he would lose the primary but still damage the party. My belief was that he would accelerate the GOP's collapse into the white rage singularity by a few years, thus rendering Republicans unelectable outside of the most racist pockets of America. I didn't understand that those racist pockets are pretty much everywhere with an overwhelming majority of whites. Hence the election of Donald Trump.
Now that Trump is squatting in the Oval Office legitimizing neo-Nazis and the KKK while struggling to twist our democracy into a fascist dictatorship, I live in mortal terror. Not of Trump, but of what comes next:
The American tragedy now being wrought is larger than most imagine and will not end with Trump. In recent times, whiteness as an overt political tactic has been restrained by a kind of cordiality that held that its overt invocation would scare off “moderate” whites. This has proved to be only half true at best. Trump’s legacy will be exposing the patina of decency for what it is and revealing just how much a demagogue can get away with. It does not take much to imagine another politician, wiser in the ways of Washington and better schooled in the methodology of governance—and now liberated from the pretense of antiracist civility—doing a much more effective job than Trump.
My belief is that we will see a slew of explicitly white nationalist candidates run against establishment Republicans in 2018 and win. The longer Trump is allowed to make white nationalism respectable, the easier it will be for those "moderate" whites to vote for them. Once the Republican Party realizes that its base will, in fact, reward them for being honest about their hatred of minorities, the dog whistles politics of the Southern Strategy will be replaced by the bullhorn of Bull Connor.
If we do not make Donald Trump the last white president, the next one will be far more dangerous. White nationalists have gotten a taste of real power and Trump has proven that millions of angry white people will vote for hate without hesitation. Sooner than later, one of the more charismatic and intelligent monsters will smooth talk white America into voting for his white power platform and that will be that.
Right now, Trump, dreaming of a second term, is already looking for ways to rig our elections that will go far beyond the already massive voter suppression Republicans have in place. His obviously phony voter fraud commission is trying to force states to remove millions of voters from the voting rolls and there's no reason to believe he won't try to delay the midterms to keep his Republican majority if it looks like the Democrats will take control of the House.
But Trump is clumsy and is incapable of leading anything other than chants of "Lock her up!" The next white president won't be a Twitter and cable news addicted simpleton, he'll be smart and he'll have an agenda that does not include little things like civil rights and democracy.
Unless the Left can get over its own divisions, the best we can hope for is that the white rage that elected Trump, much like the temper tantrum of a toddler, will leave white Americans drained of energy, unable to muster the anger to vote for more destruction and chaos. If not, they will continue to abuse their power to get revenge on everyone that made them feel like they weren't entitled by birth to be the masters of the universe, a crime of unimaginable proportions in the mind of the angry white voter.
Donald Trump is America's first white president and our future depends on him being the last. Time to get to work.
There are 424 days left to the 2018 elections.
- This article kills fascists
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