Over the past year and a half, Trump has managed to awaken anew America’s racists, a phenomenon that will be to stay around past the November elections, and the impacts will be far reaching and complex. Racists have emerged out of the woodworks and from deep down in cellars due to a presidential candidate that is at ease with carrying their message to every corner of the country and making bigotry sound “patriotic” and in vogue again. The current racist wave is not new in American history since a quick look back gets to the Chinese Exclusionary Act, Japanese Internment and Civil Rights period, which taken together illustrate the constant entanglement and centrality of race in political discourses. The outcome of the presidential election is still to be decided, but what is certain is that Trump’s racist campaign will cast a deep shadow on political discourses in the country.
Trump the candidate has given birth to Trumpism, a brand of political discourse that is rooted in fear, xenophobia, mistrust of government and, at the same time, highly and bombastically racist. We can for sure say that Trump has managed to hatch a new crop of America’s racist eggs, and is comfortably cooking fascist omelets to jubilant and frenzied crowds. What does Trumpism mean for the country and how is it different than before are important questions.
Trump, the candidate, managed to infuse the 2016 elections with an ugly dose of a racist form of nativism, xenophobia and populism that attracted droves of disaffected, marginalized and stoked working-class and poor whites. Certainly, a large segment of whites who live in the middle of the country have been left behind in the rapidly changing economy, and political elites from both parties have not addressed the issues arising from this rapid transformation. Agriculture and manufacturing jobs have been obliterated across many parts of the country and no solid plans were put in place to mitigate or address the fallout. Furthermore, corporate elites who shifted blue collar jobs off-shore got rewarded by government regulations or de-regulations that allowed massive shifts of wealth upward from the poor and middle classes into the coffers of the top 1%. The rich got richer, Trump included, while the poor got dispossessed and left out on the streets many times over.
The poor- and middle-class whites have historically depended on farms, agriculture and stable blue collar manufacturing jobs, which allowed them to live and prosper for generations. Financial de-regulations, pernicious globalizations, free trade agreements and the emergence of the technology sector translated into an economic scorched earth across many parts of America and with it the structural undoing of social cohesion and stability for a sizable segment of whites and African Americans as well but they are not the focus of this article. Stable jobs left the country to never come back but the people who held these jobs got promises that were never kept or intended to be pursued from the get go.
What working-class whites faced is a transformation that they were ill-prepared for and have not been “conditioned” to accept. In reality, poor and working-class whites have joined communities of color by becoming economically, socially and politically marginalized, a condition that was never contemplated for themselves since they all along believed that they were living the American dream.
Starting in the middle of the 1970s, poor and working-class whites and communities of color have witnessed a steady decline in their real income (income adjusted for inflation), shrinking of their wealth, narrowing of opportunities and heavy levels of indebtedness. No one can dispute the damage and pain that is felt across many parts of the country and more so in the middle section of the U.S., which, on the one hand, has not benefited from the shifts in the economy and, on the other, faces a prolonged and deepening structural recession.
Who to blame for destroying America’s middle- and working-class communities and shifting of jobs abroad? This is the most important question, which gets lost in the political campaigns since each party posits itself as a friend of America’s working class in the hope of securing votes and seats of power. The blame game is an easy way to shift responsibility and score points in the ever-present electoral cycle.
Let’s be clear that both political parties bear responsibility for the carnage that once was a vibrant American middle and working class, where a person could work to support a family and look forward to good pension come retirement time. This is no longer a possibility for many across the country. Corporate elites, narrow financial interests and globalization raiders are wedded into spineless and self-absorbed political elites of both parties that pursed economic policies benefiting the top 1% and at the expense of the overwhelming majority of the population. Trickle-up economics managed to empty the pockets of the poor and the middle class and seamlessly made it flow into the coffers of the obscenely rich while not leaving behind crumbs to mitigate the wholesale institutional daylight robberies of the rest.
It is in the above context that Trumpism has been born and builds a distorted and fictitious picture of responsibility and blame for what is wrong in today’s America and offers it as a campaign theme. Yes, Trump points at Mexican immigrants, Muslims, Chinese and African Americans as the source of America’s economic problems while forgetting to include himself and all those who benefited at the top. Here we have a tax dodging, bankruptcy scheming, women groping, college debt making, worthless degrees granting, “illegals” hiring, steel importing, jobs outsourcing, in China manufacturing, Putin adoring and people of color evicting Trump is offering himself as a rescuer of America’s middle class and the poor. The joke is on all those who have drunk the Kool-Aid and accepted to blame the Mexicans, Blacks, Latinos, Muslims and China for all the ills that have been in the making for a long time.
Trump skillfully used a brand of venomous populism that, on the one hand, correctly attacked the political establishment in Washington for failures to address the concerns of the working class but, on the other, unleashed a torrent of racist attacks on immigrants, blacks, Muslims, Chinese and the doubly marginalized communities. On a daily basis and from day one, Trump unleashed one racist salvo after another in an attempt to win the Republican nomination by appealing to the most extreme, reactionary and xenophobic segments of the white working class and poor communities. The campaign stitched together a coalition that consisted of a toxic mix of conspiracy theorist, anti-immigrant and anti-minorities groups and militant whites which managed to win the Republican nomination. In the process, Trump became the flag bearer for new brand of politics, Trumpism. The Know-Nothing Party of the 19th century has a new lease on life and it has a populist demagogue that is using racism, xenophobia, islamophobia and anti-immigrant rhetoric to gain a seat of power. Even if Trump loses the election, Trumpism is far from being defeated and will need a robust political and economic program to undo its effects