Via commentor LAMH, Toni Morrison, in the New Yorker, on “Making America White Again“:
This is a serious project. All immigrants to the United States know (and knew) that if they want to become real, authentic Americans they must reduce their fealty to their native country and regard it as secondary, subordinate, in order to emphasize their whiteness. Unlike any nation in Europe, the United States holds whiteness as the unifying force. Here, for many people, the definition of “Americanness” is color.
Under slave laws, the necessity for color rankings was obvious, but in America today, post-civil-rights legislation, white people’s conviction of their natural superiority is being lost. Rapidly lost. There are “people of color” everywhere, threatening to erase this long-understood definition of America. And what then? Another black President? A predominantly black Senate? Three black Supreme Court Justices? The threat is frightening.
In order to limit the possibility of this untenable change, and restore whiteness to its former status as a marker of national identity, a number of white Americans are sacrificing themselves. They have begun to do things they clearly don’t really want to be doing, and, to do so, they are (1) abandoning their sense of human dignity and (2) risking the appearance of cowardice. Much as they may hate their behavior, and know full well how craven it is, they are willing to kill small children attending Sunday school and slaughter churchgoers who invite a white boy to pray. Embarrassing as the obvious display of cowardice must be, they are willing to set fire to churches, and to start firing in them while the members are at prayer. And, shameful as such demonstrations of weakness are, they are willing to shoot black children in the street….
It may be hard to feel pity for the men who are making these bizarre sacrifices in the name of white power and supremacy. Personal debasement is not easy for white people (especially for white men), but to retain the conviction of their superiority to others—especially to black people—they are willing to risk contempt, and to be reviled by the mature, the sophisticated, and the strong. If it weren’t so ignorant and pitiful, one could mourn this collapse of dignity in service to an evil cause…
British visitor Bim Adewunmi, at Buzzfeed, “What Is America So Afraid Of?“:
… I’ve travelled in a few states in America this year, and helped by a British accent, have been able to strike up conversations with strangers with increased ease. I’ve spoken to immigrants and the children of immigrants, taxi drivers and waiters, undocumented people, middle class people, wealthy ones, and the working poor. I have eavesdropped on too many conversations to count, taking notes as rapidly as my fingers would go, and I have pressed people to explain themselves and their way of life more fully to me.
And they have opened up and told me. Immigration was a problem for a good number: They were worried America would be hit by a deluge of needy, open hands, and that those hands would also be criminal (that came up even when I was talking about the death of Prince in Minneapolis). In Las Vegas, I spoke to a Hungarian-American who told me that African-Americans would likely never receive a fair shake in their country, because their country was simply incapable of it. He also said America was going the way of all empires (hint: the direction ain’t “up”). In Cleveland, two separate middle-aged white men joshed with me about Brexit (they thought we had fucked up), and fretted about a Trump presidency, and what that might mean for women and racial minorities. A day after those conversations, I watched a man carrying a gun almost as tall as he was walk in ever tighter circles around a public square in Cleveland, chin jutting forward, practically asking to be challenged. In New Orleans, I spoke to a young black woman, a hotel worker, who told me her hometown was a “working poor” city, before telling me about her health benefits. In our freewheeling conversation, we touched on Black Lives Matter and the gutting of the Voting Rights Act. In Philadelphia, a young black man told me he was Bernie or bust, and he was tired of compromising. In Queens, a Cypriot American laughed as he explained to me and my friends how certain European identities are tangled in ways that are not easy to unravel. People were scared, and that manifested as either a widening of their arms, or a defensive shutdown. The fight-or-flight urge had been flattened to just “fight”. And sometimes, it just looked like lashing out…
Rembert Browne, in NYMag, on “How Trump Made Hate Intersectional“:
… Barack Obama faced incessant bigotry for the duration of his two landmark terms, but the focus on his blackness (and his perceived ties to Islam) masked an additional threat he posed — one that is steeped in racism but isn’t just about skin color. Barack Obama is the embodiment of two things: what happens when a maligned group successfully plays catch-up, and what happens when a space that’s always been whites-only suddenly has its party crashed.
These two realities may help explain the support of Trump’s truest base of working-class rural/exurban whites, which he won by a huge margin, according to exit polls; and also the portion of the traditionally Republican white upper class whose support he managed to hold on to, outperforming predictions that Hillary would win that group.
The reason this election makes it inaccurate to simply blame “white people” is because there are white people who are not part of either of those groups. But more important, it allows the white people who rallied behind Trump to remain an amorphous part of the whole, instead of treating them for what they are: a massive, like-minded sect.
In recent elections, these two groups have voted Republican, but Trump was able to turn them out in record numbers with two strategies. He rearmed the white working class with a confidence that both an ignorance about and intimidation of others was a sign of patriotism. And he weaponized that ignorance: His base of voters, egged on by foul statements in rooms across the country, did not have a single target. For over a year, their hatred was a revolving door. The did not discriminate: They hated black people, they hated women, they hated immigrants, they hated Muslims, they hated Jews, they hated gay people, they hated Hispanic people — and if you could be white and any of those things, they hated you, too…
The story of America for many is a seemingly never-ending process of playing catch-up. The perspective of those at the back of the line has been a tunnel-vision reality of knowing who is holding you down. Black people focus on white racists, gay people are consumed with protecting themselves from homophobes, women struggle to exist freely in a man’s world, Muslims and Mexican immigrants feel the weight of the world against them from “true” Americans. This created a complicated ecosystem for the historically abused — a shared understanding of what it means to be discriminated against, but also a quiet resentment over who has it worse. Because if you’re the worst off, you’re at the bottom, but you have a reason to scream the loudest, avoiding perhaps the most frustrating status: invisibility.
Now we’re faced with a clear reality: one group that hates us all…
Jelani Cobb, just before the election, in the New Yorker — “Donald Trump and the Death of American Exceptionalism“:
… Trump represents a unique danger in American politics. Trumpism does not seek simply to make a point and pass on its genes to more politically palatable heirs, nor is it readily apparent why he would need to settle for this. When George Will announced his departure from the G.O.P., last summer, he offered a modified version of Ronald Reagan’s quote about leaving the Democrats—“I didn’t leave the Party; the Party left me.” But a kind of converse narrative applies to Trump; he didn’t join the Republican Party so much as its most febrile elements joined him. Trump is partly a product of forces that the G.O.P. created by pandering to a base whose dilated pupils the Party mistook for gullibility, not abject, irrational fear that would send those voters scurrying to the nearest authoritarian savior they could find. The error was in thinking that this populace, mainlining Glenn Beck and Alex Jones theories and pondering how the Minutemen would have fought Sharia law, could be controlled. (For evidence to the contrary, the Party needed look no further than the premature political demise of Eric Cantor.) The old adage warns that one should beware of puppets that begin pulling their own strings.
In this light, Trump represents a kind of return to the old-time religion, a fundamentalism that rejects the effete nature of dog-whistle politics the way the religious right defined itself by rejecting the watery tenets of liberal Christianity. Implicit within dog-whistling is enough respect for democratic norms and those outside one’s base to speak to that base in terms that the mass populace can’t readily decipher. Here, plausible deniability is at least a recognition that there are people with interests different from one’s own and that their influence, if not their interests or humanity, warrants a certain degree of respect. Trump is doing the opposite of this. He is an exhorter in a midsummer tent revival: direct, literal, and speaking at a decibel that makes it impossible to misunderstand his intentions. The end result of Trump’s evangelism is that a xenophobic, racist, misogynistic, serially mendacious narcissist is poised to pull in somewhere north of fifty million votes in the midst of the most bitterly contentious election in modern American history. The easy analysis holds that Trump’s jihad against decency has wrecked the Republican Party, but the damage is far more extensive than this…
In the broader context, Trumpism represents the demise of American exceptionalism, or at least the refutation of the most cogent arguments for it ever having existed in the first place. An exceptional nation would have better reflexes than this, would recognize the communicable nature of fear more quickly, would rally its immune defense more efficiently than the United States has in the past sixteen months. At a quaint moment in the recent past, it was possible to think that a decisive Clinton victory would exorcise Trumpism from public life. But, on the verge of the election, that idea increasingly seems like an indulgent delusion. The problem of Trump is not simply that his opinions far exceed his knowledge; it’s that what he does know is so hostile to democracy, not only in the Republican Party or the United States but in the world. Whatever happens on November 8th, we are at the outset of a much longer reckoning.