Trump has masterfully channeled and capitalized on the collective anger of a conservative white popular base who feels abandoned by the G.O.P. Their anger is partially rooted in the significant economic losses they have suffered for the last 40 years (which they erroneously blame on liberals). But these pale in comparison to the psychological losses they experience when they see a black family living in the White House, Black Lives Matter organizers standing up to unjust police violence, Latino/a immigrants fighting for family reunification and an end to deportations, and Muslim-Americans building mosques in America.
Trump’s supporters use metaphors like “brown tide,” “dangerous waters” and “war” to describe America’s cultural and demographic shifts. They see Trump as the commander who will help them restore America to their preferred order, a leader who will rebuild their sense of security and superiority.
It does not matter that these ideas and sentiments are factually baseless. As Donald Trump understands all too well, feelings trump facts. The candidate rides this populist anger, proliferates it and politically profits from it. In return, that white popular base wins some psychological wages, compensating for their acute sense of abandonment by a nation that was once theirs. Trump is not unique for the race-baiting strategies he has used to create a populist unity predicated on nationalist and racist sentiments; he is unique only in the fact that he has been unflinchingly transparent about his strategy.
Bernie Sanders’ popular base also feels a deep sense of rage and abandonment by national leaders. This rage is rightly directed toward wealthy elites and multinational corporations who have robbed middle-class Americans of their faith in the dream and starved poor Americans into destitution. Sanders’ base dreams of democratizing resources, restoring the health of our emaciated public goods, ending wars and shrinking the prison industrial complex. Yet they too carefully evade America’s Achilles heel. Every working-class, labor movement in the U.S. has been neutralized because whites have chosen to defend their racial interests over collective economic interests that would also benefit people of color. Sanders’ supporters see racism as a problem, but not the problem that will once again sever the potential of a populist labor movement. This evasion sets them up to repeat history.
There is a way to move people and resources toward America’s democratic ideals. But this requires a confrontation with racism as the central hindrance to American democratization.
Paula Ioanide is an associate professor at the Center for the Study of Culture, Race and Ethnicity at Ithaca College and the author of “The Emotional Politics of Racism: How Feelings Trump Facts in an Era of Colorblindness.”
Date: May 12, 2016
Source: The New York Times