The fundamental organizing belief of modern GOP can be boiled down to “You’re on your own, hot shot.”
This is, of course, is posturing more than actual conviction.
Libertarians are happy to use public rail to build up their anti-statist train conglomerates. And conservatives are happy to use the government to build speed bumps in your uterus.
But the belief that one can pull themselves by the bootstraps with just a little help — say a “small million dollar loan” — is central to Republican ethos.
The tail side of the GOP coin is “Everyone is out to get you.”
It’s a fear inherent in the authoritarian personalities attracted to the right and can be fed and grown by absurdities like the Twin Towers falling down or a couple finding a baby sitter and then shooting up a holiday party.
Donald Trump has emphasized the ass end of the right’s thinking. His campaign was born on slurring immigrants and identifying Muslims — all of them, the whole religion — as problem.
Because of this, his birther past and his history of racism and xenophobia, it’s easy to call him a racist or someone who doesn’t mind playing one on TV — even if Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders won’t.
But applying that label to the millions — yes, millions — of Americans who voted for him is more troubling, even after repeated violence against African-Americans at Trump rallies.
Thomas Frank — author of What’s a Matter with Kansas? and a fierce critic of liberalism’s betrayal of the working class — studied the Trump phenomenon and found more than nativist chum that supporters are either drooling over or willing to put up with to get to the good stuff:
A map of his support may coordinate with racist Google searches, but it coordinates even better with deindustrialization and despair, with the zones of economic misery that 30 years of Washington’s free-market consensus have brought the rest of America.
What this suggests is that he’s telling a tale as much about economic outrage as it is tale of racism on the march. Many of Trump’s followers are bigots, no doubt, but many more are probably excited by the prospect of a president who seems to mean it when he denounces our trade agreements and promises to bring the hammer down on the CEO that fired you and wrecked your town, unlike Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.
The great Connie Schultz picks up Frank’s defense of the working supporters of Trump against liberal commentators:
I wonder how many of my fellow liberals in the pundit class have ever stepped foot in a union hall. We all talk about the importance of organized labor, but how many of us union kids are left? It matters, I think, in telling this story. If you don’t know any working-class voters, then it’s much easier to portray them as angry, racist and xenophobic — lemmings slogging their way toward the cliff’s edge, dragging their expired lives behind them.
Schultz’s grounding in the lives of workers and willingness to tear apart anyone — right, left or lefter — who trash talks the working class is fierce and admirable. (And her decision to spend her life in marriage to Senator Sherrod Brown is just one excellent testimony to why any Democratic presidential nominee would be wise to pick him as a running mate.)
Labor leaders fear the appeal of Trump and see the allure of his simple solutions and chest-beating. They’re preparing a massive campaign to expose his anti-worker and wage-shrinking policies.
Here at Eclectablog our most popular post for months has been this one by Chris Savage, in which the billion-dollar baby explains how he’d gut the wages of autoworkers.
But there is a larger argument about race and how racism hurts everyone that has never been easier to expose than it is in the politics of Donald Trump. Trump’s strategy is so apparent, his lies so bold and dumb and his appeal so infectious that ignoring it would be self-destructive to a progressive movement that has watched racist tropes destroy the middle class.
Frank thinks race only plays a minor-to-middling role in the “backlash” politics, which he defines as largely cultural and fed by economic anxiety.
To me, it’s a major weakness in his argument — and not because I think Trump supporters are racists. They’ve been lied to for decades by right-wing tropes to disregard the suicide for the middle class at the heart of conservative economics.
Kevin Phillips — the conservative wunderkind who “analyzed” the GOP’s “Southern Strategy in the 1969 book The Emerging Republican Majority — unpacked how the right turned the left’s best economic argument into a way to undo the greatest expansion of the middle class ever.
“For a long time the liberal-conservative split was on economic issues,” he wrote. “That favored the Democrats until the focus shifted from programs which taxed the few for the many, to things like ‘welfare’ that taxed the many for the few.”
The original Great Society only transferred pennies on the budgetary dollar to help poor minorities, spending far more to help poor whites. But the sense that whites were been forced to help the “few” helped feed the great con of the twentieth century which began in 1980 — a massive transfer of wealth to the richest.
That’s a con Trump — despite some rhetoric about hedge fund managers — would continue by cutting taxes for the richest .01 percent by $1.3 million dollars a year, at a time we’re in an inequality spiral that’s destined for a small number of families dominating our economy in perpetuity. He’s proposing this even though 56 percent of Republicans think families earning over $250,000 a year should be paying more not less.
There’s a reason we avoid talking about race in politics like it’s a wet toilet seat. It’s almost impossible to do without conservatives repeating the one thing Martin Luther King Jr. spoke that they’ve memorized and praising themselves as color blind, which implies even acknowledging racial disparities is racism against white people. It’s even harder to address why surrendering to strategic racism actually makes a lot of sense for the working class.
Most importantly, we always risk degrading the experience of minorities who have suffered and suffer misery and plunder by pointing out that, while they are the victims of racism most in need of our resources and concern, their abuse hurts and degrades all of us.
But if Trump’s unabashed hate doesn’t give us permission to talk about how the racism is being used to wreck the middle class, nothing will.
Please read “How Populists Like Bernie Sanders Should Talk About Racism” by Ian Haney-López and Heather McGhee as well as Haney-López’s book Dog Whistle Politics and share them with everyone.
[CC image credit: Gage Skidmore | Flickr]