Source: Ben Alexander, Wikimedia Commons
“To all the Republicans, and Democrats, and Independents. I say to you, it is time to come together as one united people.” So goes Donald Trump’s initial effort at reconciliation after one of the most extraordinary, bitter and divisive campaigns in memory. His attempt at unification is equally extraordinary in its arrogance and utter disregard for the fundamental role that racism played in his victory. Trump waged a campaign that not only vilified large swaths of the population — women, African Americans, Mexicans, Muslims, disabled persons, and veterans — but he strategically deployed incendiary rhetoric to stoke the embers of white racism into a conflagration that energized millions of white voters. While Trump did not create the racial resentment of whites across the nation, he knew it was just below the surface, he deliberately tapped it, and deployed it for his own personal gain. As a result, whites feel more empowered to protect and express their sense of entitlement and ownership as white than they have since the 1960s — and to do so with a level of confidence and security that they will not face sanction.
Within the logic of Trump’s so-called “incredible and great movement,” those of us who provided the fodder for his “winning strategy” are supposed to put aside the racism, xenophobia and anti-Semitism? The misogyny? I think not. In many ways, that is the history of the United States. For centuries white people have systematically (versus individually) immiserated and impoverished those deemed nonwhite for their own benefit. Yet, after tapping into this history of violence and trauma and mobilizing it on behalf of a massive self-aggrandizement project, Trump asks us to “get over it” in order to move forward and make democracy work. Juliet Hooker, a professor of Government at the University of Texas has observed that “Black sacrifice” is standard operating procedure when it comes to addressing white violence and racism in the U.S. Hooker explains that democracies are based on winners and losers. As long as there is a regular rotation of who wins and loses, the system retains its legitimacy. Black sacrifice is the idea that not only is the humanity of black people regularly sacrificed as part of the democratic process, but they are not supposed to respond with anger or violence after being wronged. I extend her concept of Black sacrifice to other people of color as well. Until the 1960s, people of color and Native peoples have been U.S. democracy’ persistent losers. Think of indigenous land loss; the genocide of Native people; chattel slavery; Mexican conquest; Jim Crow; the lynching of Black, Brown, Red, and Yellow people; Chinese exclusion, the internment of Japanese Americans, the Bracero Program. In all of these cases, with the exception of the Internment, there has been nothing close to a full reckoning, a true acknowledgement, a heart-felt collective apology, or serious consideration of reparations. To do so would be too disruptive to the myth of democracy that is central to the U.S. Instead, people of color are supposed to be the “good losers,” they are supposed to respond peacefully to racism and violence. Few acknowledge this particular manifestation of racism and the toll that it takes on those who are systematically targeted.
Hooker notes that when racial progress has occurred, whites have not been “good losers.” Consider Reconstruction after slavery; violent white resistance to desegregation; and the backlash against President Obama. This double-standard plays out in many ways. Most recently the acquittal of seven defendants in the armed occupation of the Malheur Wildlife Refuge contrasts powerfully with the Standing Rock Sioux opposing the Dakota Access Pipeline who were attacked by police dogs, pelted with rubber bullets, assailed with sound cannons, and “detained” in cages. While the dominant tendency is to examine racist actions on a case-by-case basis, doing so overlooks the consistency of the larger pattern and the deeply entrenched racism embodied in white nationalism.
Thanks to the Trump campaign, we no longer have to pretend that we are a post-racial society. This campaign has been a stark and painful reminder of the degree to which millions of white Americans resent, and yes, in many cases despise, those who are not white. While commentators talk about “discomfort” with demographic change, such politically-correct language obfuscates the harsh truth. Racism has been and continues to be the go-to ideology to wield power in the U.S., be it economic, social or political. This is an old story. The difference is that people of color will not play the role of the “good loser” in order for this charade of democracy to continue. We know that “making America great again” is a call to white supremacy and that there is no greatness where racism resides.