Monthly Archives: September 2017

The Unbearable Whiteness of Being

“The First White President,” an Atlantic essay (https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2017/10/the-first-white-president-ta-nehisi-coates/537909/) by Ta-Nehisi Coates, is a must read for progressives.  Coates argues that Donald Trump was elected for one reason: his unapologetic whiteness.  “It is often said that Trump has no real ideology, which is not true—his ideology is white supremacy, in all its truculent and sanctimonious power.”

Coates contends that excuses for Trump’s victory over Hillary Clinton should be set aside: Trump didn’t win because the Russians hacked the election or because Democrats forgot how to talk to working-class white voters or because Hillary was more hated than Donald.  Coates believes Trump won because he championed whiteness. “To Trump, whiteness is neither notional nor symbolic but is the very core of his power. In this, Trump is not singular. But whereas his forebears carried whiteness like an ancestral talisman, Trump cracked the glowing amulet open, releasing its [supernatural] energies.”

Ta-Nehisi Coates makes three arguments to support his contention.  The first is statistical: “Trump’s dominance among whites across class lines is of a piece with his larger dominance across nearly every white demographic. Trump won white women (+9) and white men (+31). He won white people with college degrees (+3) and white people without them (+37). He won whites ages 18–29 (+4), 30–44 (+17), 45–64 (+28), and 65 and older (+19)…. From the beer track to the wine track, from soccer moms to nascar dads, Trump’s performance among whites was dominant.

Coates’ second point is that political observers have chosen to ignore the central role of race and instead have focused on Trump’s appeal to working-class whites. “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.”

Finally, Coates argues the emphasis on working-class-white malaise was a tactic formulated by white progressives:  “The left would much rather have a discussion about class struggles, which might entice the white working masses, instead of about the racist struggles that those same masses have historically been the agents and beneficiaries of… This notion—raceless antiracism—marks the modern left, from the New Democrat Bill Clinton to the socialist Bernie Sanders.”

Ta-Nehisi Coates is correct.  “Raceless antiracism” does distinguish the modern left.  A failed attempt by progressives to deemphasize racism, to keep it in the shadows, where — because of political correctness — it won’t be discussed.  And Coates is correct asserting that Donald Trump harnessed racist energy to capture the presidency.  As a consequence: “Democrats [are no longer] the party of white people—working or otherwise. White workers are not divided by the fact of labor from other white demographics; they are divided from all other laborers by the fact of their whiteness.”

Nonetheless, Coates conflates “racism,” “white supremacy,” and “whiteness.” That muddies already troubled waters.

Trump was elected because of his white supremacist perspective, not just his racism.  Many of us know Trump voters who pulled the lever for Donald because they hated Hillary Clinton.  Sexism was an important aspect of Trump’s appeal.

However, not every white person who voted for Trump is a racist or white supremacist.  Many of us know Trump voters who held their noses and voted for Donald.  They had poor judgement.  That’s a consequence of their whiteness.  They are tacit supporters of white supremacy.

“Racism” is a subset of “white supremacy”, which is full-service bigotry.  In contrast, “whiteness” is synonymous with “supporting the system of white male privilege;” a larger and less distinct concept that incorporates racism, sexism, homophobia, classism, anti-semitism and dominionism.  In essence, white male privilege is the notion that straight white Anglo-Saxon men should dominate the social order because that is the “natural” hierarchy.

Full disclosure: I am a privileged white male.

Ta-Nehisi Coates recognizes that Donald Trump garnered the presidency because of his brazen white supremacy.  During the election, the Trump base was more energized than the Clinton base because Trump voters saw Donald defending the “natural order.”  That’s the power behind “Make America great again;” it’s a call to restore white male privilege.

America faces four challenges in this era of renewed white supremacy.  First, the President is an unbalanced bigot.  Trump has peppered his Administration with other white supremacists, such as Jeff Sessions and Scott Pruitt.  Progressives need to fight off multiple assaults on democracy.

Second, white supremacists don’t have the numbers to hold power long term.  Hillary Clinton won the 2016 popular vote by 2.9 million.  Furthermore, by 2040 whites will be a minority in the United States where 52 percent of the population will be asian, black, or hispanic.  White supremacists are running out of time and that fuels their desperation.

Third, white supremacy is detrimental to the economy.  Societal stability depends upon the health of the middle class; bigotry damages it.  Inevitably the economy will crash.

Finally, the United States is a Christian nation and white supremacy is inconsistent with Christian values.  Trump, and many Republicans, do not practice Christianity but instead an offshoot of Calvinism — with its emphasis on worldly success as a measure of goodliness.  Real Christians follow the teachings of Jesus, whose second commandment was “love thy neighbor as thyself.”  Trump’s white supremacy is leading America into a moral abyss.

Ta-Nehisi Coates’ “The First White President” should be considered by all progressives.  It’s an accurate assessment of the state of American society and an indication of what it will take to restore democracy.

The Aftermath of Hurricane Donald

In the aftermath of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, Americans have an initial estimate of the damage.  However we have yet to assess the costs of “Hurricane” Donald Trump.

Moody’s Investor Services estimates that Hurricanes Harvey and Irma caused approximately $200 billion in damage.  Of course, beyond the monetary damages there are psychological and social consequences; millions of people have been dislocated and, to some degree, traumatized.

Hopefully, the long-term consequences of the devastating Hurricanes will include changes to government policy: for example, at the federal level, recognition of the reality of Global Climate Change and reduction of the power of the fossil-fuel lobby; and at the local level, changes in city planning and building codes (such as not paving over wetlands.)

The long-term consequences of Hurricane Donald are more costly than the damage inflicted by Harvey and Irma.  Here are five social costs associated with Trump.

Economic Inequality: Trump defeated Hillary Clinton because of economic injustice:  Millions of voters — predominantly white — felt their lives had not improved during the Obama Administration.  They believed Trump’s promise to “make America great again.”  Trump supporters felt he would change the way Washington does business, shake up the establishment, bring good jobs back to the heartland, and substantially improve their lives.

Eight months after occupying the White House, Trump has done little to justify his supporters’ confidence in him. He has not taken on economic inequality.  To the contrary, post-election Trump appears to be a typical Republican politician who sides with the one percent at the expense of the 99 percent.  (Trump’s tax plan — still being formulated — favors wealthy Americans at the expense of working families.)

Ignoring economic inequality has long-term consequences.  Many economists have observed that the Republican ideology — “trickle-down” economics — damages the economy: it fails to address pressing national needs, such as infrastructure repair, and does not increase the disposable income of the middle class.

Furthermore, protracted economic inequality jeopardizes democracy.  Not only does the Republican ideology favor “big money” in politics but it discourages average Americans from participating in the political process; for example, because they are too busy earning a living to adequately inform themselves about national issues.  In addition, economic inequality breeds cynicism, distrust of democratic institutions.

Social Injustice:  Writing in The New York Times, Emory University professor Carol Anderson observed: “The guiding principle in Mr. Trump’s government is to turn the politics of white resentment into the policies of white rage — that calculated mechanism of executive orders, laws and agency directives that undermines and punishes minority achievement and aspiration” Trump’s vociferous August 16th press conference — where he defended the Charlottesville White Supremacists — illuminated Donald’s true feelings.

The primary focus of Trump’s prejudice has been immigration.  On August 2nd, Trump endorsed a Republican initiative — led by Senators Cotton and Perdue — that would dramatically change immigration policy and reduce immigration levels by 50 percent.  That same day, presidential aide Stephen Miller appeared at a White House press conference to laud the immigration initiative and claim that current policy has produced a slew of economic problems such as income inequality and a dearth of good-paying jobs.  (There’s no compelling evidence for this assertion but it plays well with Trump’s base.)

Besides being immoral, Trump’s prejudice undermines American democracy.  It jeopardizes the core notion that we are “one nation, indivisible.”  The United States has thrived because it has been seen as a land of opportunity, a vast “level playing field,” where anyone willing to work hard could be successful regardless of gender, race, religion, or national origin.

Climate Change: Donald Trump is a climate-change denier and a tool of the fossil-fuel industry.  His actions — whether taking the US out of the Paris Climate Accord or appointing climate-change deniers to top Administration positions — are deleterious to the health and safety of all Americans.  Hurricanes Harvey and Irma proved that we need to drastically curtail carbon emissions (and move millions of Americans to higher ground).

International Relations: On January 20th, Donald Trump became the United States leading “diplomat.”  Unfortunately, Trump does not practice diplomacy; he doesn’t believe in negotiating for the common good, striving for a “win-win” agreement where both negotiating partners feel good.  Trump is a “deal-maker,” which he once capsulized as “the thrill of winning.”  He’s not interested in fair agreements but rather ones where he comes out looking good.

Now Donald represents the US in a variety of harrowing matters.  He is negotiating with North Korea, Russia, Iran, and China, among others.  Furthermore, Trump is negotiating perilous issues such as the proliferation of nuclear arms, global climate change, immigration, and sex trafficking.

National Consciousness:  We live in a difficult time.  Many Americans are experiencing a level of psychological disturbance above-and-beyond what we might attribute to living in the fast-paced modern world.  The national zeitgeist features anger, despair, and hatred.

Much of this widespread psychological disturbance has been caused by Hurricane Donald.  It’s unsettling for the nation to be led by an unstable bully.  A man who lies all the time.  Who does not care about the national interest, but rather what benefits him.  A president who does not treasure democracy.

Trump’s Big Deal

Even though Donald Trump often appears to be out of control, he’s executing a disciplined political strategy to tighten his grip on the Republican base.  Nonetheless, to hold onto power, Trump’s going to have to move beyond his base.  To accomplish this, he’s working on his biggest deal.

While Trump’s favorability ratings continue to decline, he remains popular with his base — around 80 percent of Republicans approve of his conduct.  Trump once joked that he could “stand in the middle of 5th avenue and shoot somebody and not lose any voters.”  This has held true for his first 223 days in office.

Trump’s recent actions — his ad-libs about the Charlottesville violence, his transgender ban, and his pardon of Sheriff Arpaio — are viewed negatively by most Americans but approved by mainstream by Republicans.  Indeed, within the GOP, Trump is much more popular than the congressional leadership, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

Trump has a parasitic relationship with the orthodox Republican Party.  He uses their organization but he’s not wedded to their principles; Trump is a maverick Independent using the Republican Party infrastructure.

During the presidential campaign, Trump made a number of promises; the most general was to “make America great again,” and the most specific was to build a wall along the southern border.  At the moment, given his general unpopularity and his lack of support from both sides of Congress, it’s hard to imagine how he would keep his promise to build the wall.

Nonetheless, Trump has recently talked about a spectacular “deal,” threatening to shut down government unless Congress allocates funds for his border wall.  This sort of high-stakes gamble is right out of Trump’s book, “The Art of the Deal,” where he describes eleven tactics: “Think big; Protect the downside and the upside will take care of itself; Maximize your options; Know your market; Use your leverage;  Enhance your location; Get the word out; Fight Back; Deliver the goods; Contain the costs; Have fun.”

In “The Art of the Deal,” Trump emphasizes the way to get the deal you want is to leverage your power: “Start from a position of strength and convince the other side that you have something they need.”

Although Trump is President, at the moment he doesn’t have a lot of leverage with Congress.  Most members don’t like him.  In addition, Trump has a weak staff and, therefore, the White House isn’t presenting Congress with coherent legislative plans.  While Trump isn’t viewed as a leader, that doesn’t mean he has no power.  For example, he can decide to veto legislation (and pardon convicted offenders).

On August 22nd, at a Phoenix campaign rally, Trump said, “If we have to close down our government, we’re building that wall… One way or the other, we’re going to get that wall.”  In September there will be a chance for Trump to shut down the government when he receives the 2018 (fiscal year) appropriations bill.  If it does not contain money for the construction of a border wall then Trump could chose to veto it; the government would run out of money on September 30th and many governmental operations would shut down on October 1st.

The orthodox Republican agenda for September is for Trump to quickly sign the appropriations bill and an increase to the debt ceiling, and for the GOP to then focus on tax reform.  However, Trump is not an orthodox Republican.  According to New Yorker writer Ryan Lizza (https://www.newyorker.com/news/ryan-lizza/will-trump-shut-down-the-government) “Trump has never really been excited about the traditional Republican agenda on tax reform.”  It certainly has not been a primary component of his base appeal.

If Trump does veto the appropriations bill, Lizza says there are three logical outcomes: One would be “a grand compromise” where Congress would allocate additional funds for the wall and the shutdown would be avoided.  There are two problems with this scenario; one is the amount of money involved.  It’s estimated the wall would cost $21.6 billion (https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/politics/wp/2017/02/10/the-initial-estimate-is-here-trumps-wall-will-cost-more-than-a-year-of-the-space-program/?utm_term=.00bf35a891d6); Trump’s initial budget allocation — for wall planning and design —  is $2.6 billion.  The other problem is that a compromise would require Democratic votes as well as Republican votes;  congressional Democrats have long indicated they would not sign an appropriations bill that includes funds for Trump’s wall.  (There’s also a complication because of funding for the recovery from Hurricane Harvey.)

Another possible outcome after a Trump veto is that Republicans would go through a face-saving process: Perhaps the House would pass an appropriations bill that includes funds for the wall.  Then the Senate would strip them out.  Trump would sign the (neutered) appropriations bill and blame Senate Republicans.

And, of course there is the possibility that Trump would stick to his guns and cause the government to shut down.

The devastation caused by Hurricane Harvey opens another possibility: Trump would tie funds for his wall to an appropriation for flood recovery in Texas and Louisiana.  This might pass the House but could flounder in the Senate because of it would require 60 votes.

In any event, September is a watershed month for Trump.  He’s running out of runway.  To increase his power he’s going to have to pull off a big deal.