"Trump's Angry White Folks:
Getting Beyond Reaction to Response"
When Hilary Clinton took a break from a debate stage during the Presidential campaign, reality TV show star
and megarich real estate mogul turned politician Donald Trump trumpeted, "I know where she went.
It's disgusting, I don't want to talk about it -- too disgusting, don't say it,
it's disgusting." And I thought to myself, "What is this, a ten-year-old boy?"
Still, I think it's a mistake just to dismiss Trump as a vulgar jackass, tempting as he too often makes that.
He didn't propel himself to the top 1% of the economic pyramid by being stupid,
and I'm sure I'm not the first to suspect that he's just playing the rest of us for his
own amusement. I imagine him deriving no end of hilarity in watching reaasonable people writhe in
consternation at his latest outrageous Tweet. And as for his actual followers,
it is, for me, one of the election's greatest ironies that they could believe he actually cares
about them or their circumstances.
Despite the heat that Hillary Clinton
took for implying that some of his supporters might be "deplorables," some of
his adherents really are deplorably bigoted, intolerant and even
fascist in their leanings, both in public and private. They represent the dark
undercurrent of American culture, and it is dangerous to the health of a democracy for the rest of us not
to pay attention. Their paranoid rage has been simmering for decades - and their numbers
are expanding as the once merely disaffected have become increasingly radicalized in their beliefs.
Trump didn't invent that rage; he's just tapping it, easy as tapping maple trees.
Even if Trump ends up doing little else of value for
his country, he has exposed the heretofore underestimated breadth and depth of this dark
undercurrent in American society.
And we can't let it run the country. Whether dealing
with the angry white adherents of "The Donald" or dealing with Isis recruits, the general response must
be the same: depriving these toxic movements of oxygen, which means sincerely and
effectively doing something positive to address whatever legitimate nuggets there may be
among their grievances.
From "Take Back Vermont!" to "Make America Great"
Around 2000, a strange grass roots campaign made itself known on the back roads of Vermont.
Its hallmark was large signs with black block lettering on a white background demanding,
"TAKE BACK VERMONT!" So unclear were the agenda, motivation, and sponsorship for this campaign
that it pretty much confused everyone who wasn't actually in it. Some people thought
the signs were a backlash against the legalization of same sex unions. Most famously,
many visitors to Vermont thought the signs were an advertisting campaign to get tourists
to buy the state's signature product, maple syrup, to take back home with them. As usual, few actually living
in Vermont bothered to ask the owners of properties posting these signs what they
meant by them - maybe because few wanted to risk getting their heads shot off by people
so manifestly pissed off in a state that, for all its liberal and independent reputation,
loves its guns.
Closer analysis of the signs themselves would have focused on where, specifically, they were posted.
They could be found on the sides of dilapidated barns and the outbuildings of ramshackle trailers
on the least traveled roads of the state. The signs were emblems of alienation for people
who'd been left behind both economically and politically as the rest of the state surged forward.
So in 2010, when these signs still remained the sturdiest things
on their distressed properties and Democratic then-governor Peter Schumlin managed to squeak out
a re-election victory by the narrowest possible margin, it seemed to me the political pundits
commenting on the surprisingly close election were missing the point. Meanwhile, I, as
about as liberal a voter as one can find, was becoming increasingly frustrated by the
state's political preoccupation with fluff such as whether or not to tax sugary drinks
as a blow against obesity. Talk about fiddling while Rome burns!
Still Missing the Point
campaign was the national equivalent of that Take Back Vermont campaign. Both campaigns
were fueled by similar sentiments. Trump's campaign slogan was, after all, "Make America Great Again!"
It's far too simplistic to say the people sporting these
signs and bumper stickers were pining for an America that never was even back in the 1950s.
We have to stop focusing so slavishly on what's getting better in culture and economy and
spend some energy on those for whom things are not getting better.
Of course it's ridiculous to believe there's some kind of national war on Christianity!
Of course, it's nonsense to claim that white men are losing ground economically
because of some mythical hiring preference for women and/or people of color!
But if the only response the rest of us can muster to the anger that fuels such dark fantasies is to leave
that anger in the dust of its own disaffection, then terrorism from without will be the least of
our national worries.
More Peg's Blog Posts
· The Trouble with That Anonymous Trump-Circle Editorial
· What "Telling It Like It Is" Really Means
· Breaking News: We're All "Values Voters!"
· Monuments Flap Is Not about the Monuments
· Have We Always Been the Disunited States of America?
· A Humble Defense of the Constitution
· The Trump Presidency: Bigotry's Cause or Only Its Effect?
· Race, Class, and Access to Women's Health Services
· Trying to Learn from the Holocaust
· Whatever Happened to "Look It Up?"