You chose party over country and family. You poisoned yourselves heart, mind, and soul with grievance, supremacy, the Southern Strategy, and the Confederate Catechism. You are too scared to climb out of ignorance and see, for the first time truly see, your own family–we generations that succeed you.
Instead, you keep company with the craven and the vile, with the propagandists in your TV, with those who engineered and share your bitter meagerness of soul. You are not really here with us. You are unmoored from principle, adrift in a sad nowhere, hurling condemnations at fiction.
You have brought idiocracy upon us with your willful, malevolent, and petulant ignorance. Scared, sheltered, and coddled, you yearn for a safe space in a stunted past where your mediocrity was enough. You seek to drag us back to that morally impoverished yesterday at the expense of our lives and identities.
They act as if love can protect the most vulnerable members of their family from the repercussions of their political choices. It cannot.
Instead of rising with the times, you miseducated yourself with an authoritarian diet of paranoia, conspiracy, grievance, and hate. You are so terrified of everyone and everything that you stand with white supremacy and authoritarian kleptocracy while your country and family suffer. You are traitors to both.
You are beyond moral rehabilitation and beneath respect. Your minds are immobilized, ambered in fear and hate.
Turn off the TV and interrogate the disposition and direction of your souls.
I will state flatly that the bulk of this country’s white population impresses me, and has so impressed me for a very long time, as being beyond any conceivable hope of moral rehabilitation. They have been white, if I may so put it, too long; they have been married to the lie of white supremacy too long; the effect in their personalities, their lives, their grasp of reality, has been as devastating as the lava which so memorably immobilized the citizens of Pompeii. They are unable to conceive that their version of reality, which they want me to accept, is an insult to my history and a parody of theirs and an intolerable violation of myself.
If you can convince the lowest white man he’s better than the best colored man, he won’t notice you’re picking his pocket. Hell, give him somebody to look down on, and he’ll empty his pockets for you.
–President Lyndon B. Johnson
That is because Trump is man-as-message, man-as-messiah. Trump support isn’t philosophical but theological.
Trumpism is a religion founded on patriarchy and white supremacy.
In a way, Donald Trump represents white people’s right to be wrong and still be right. He is the embodiment of the unassailability of white power and white privilege.
To abandon him is to give up on the pact that America has made with its white citizens from the beginning: The government will help to underwrite white safety and success, even at the expense of other people in this country, whether they be Native Americans, African-Americans or new immigrants.
But this idea of elevating the lowest white man over those more qualified or deserving didn’t begin with Johnson’s articulation and won’t end with Trump’s manifestation. This is woven into the fabric of the flag.
For white supremacy to be made perfect, the lowest white man must be exalted above those who are black.
No matter how much of an embarrassment and a failure Trump proves to be, his exploits must be judged a success. He must be deemed a correction to Barack Obama and a superior choice to Hillary Clinton. White supremacy demands it. Patriarchy demands it. Trump’s supporters demand it.
A country with such vast wealth inequality cannot survive without a scapegoat – black people. The majority of the population would not let the top one percent gorge themselves on our riches unless they had distracted us with something.
Everything you say is rooted in the narratives of white resentment, grievance, and oppression. This is ahistorical myth-making. You, dear family, are not oppressed and do not understand oppression. You make a mockery of it by claiming it. You are easy marks, useful idiots, and Good Germans allowing yourselves to be manipulated by the politics of resentment. You are wind-up automatons for the Southern Strategy.
I know that this won’t change your mind because nothing changes your mind when it comes to your imagined oppression. Nothing penetrates your deflection, false equivalence, fear-based socialization, projection, and defensive fetishes. Like Archie Bunker, you believe every negative stereotype you encounter, albeit without his occasional moments of empathy and introspection. Those moments make for good TV. You are not good TV. You are distillations of decidedly bad TV.
I’m not speaking to change your mind. I am speaking to let you know we see you. We see who you are. We see your racial hatred, your indifference to suffering, and your refusal to examine systemic causes. We see your hypocrisy, your inconsistency, your incredibly selective mercy, and your thinly veiled supremacy. We see what you are made of, and we reject it all. You are the family bigots. That is your legacy. That is how you will be remembered.
Needless to say, racists don’t spend a lot of time hunting down reliable data to train their twisted models. And once their model morphs into a belief, it becomes hardwired. It generates poisonous assumptions, yet rarely tests them, settling instead for data that seems to confirm and fortify them. Consequently, racism is the most slovenly of predictive models. It is powered by haphazard data gathering and spurious correlations, reinforced by institutional inequities, and polluted by confirmation bias. In this way, oddly enough, racism operates like many of the WMDs I’ll be describing in this book.
It’s On Us
#ItsOnUs. It’s on those of us with bigots in our families to confront white resentment and the myth of white oppression. It’s on us to dismantle white supremacy. It’s on us to ask family to decide what side they are on. Are they on the side of swastikas and torches? Are they on the side of bigotry and hate? It’s on us to ask and confront.
White supremacy survives because it benefits all white people, even those not carrying torches or invoking Nazi slogans. It’s on us to break the chain. Our parents and grandparents may be lost to supremacy, but our children must and will know better.
Not everyone can confront their family. Don’t feel guilty if you can’t call out those closest to you, especially if you’re marginalized within the family. Some families are dangerous and abusive and will use their leverage over you. Do what you can while staying safe.
Image source: Oppression
Know Thyself, Own Thyself
Speaking to people’s values is a good place to start when you’re trying to persuade someone of something, but conservative Evangelicals (who are a type of Christian fundamentalist) are masters of deflection and false equivalence. As a result of their fear-based socialization, they are given to succumbing to intense manifestations of psychological defense mechanisms such as projection and defensive fetishes. Fundamentalism is a totalizing ideology that goes to the very core of a person’s identity. In a healthy democratic society, fundamentalists would be politically marginalized, as their dangerous rejection of pluralism and concomitant illiberal tendencies are essentially incompatible with democracy.
They will know we are evangelicals by our racial hatred. By indifference to suffering. By our refusal to examine systemic causes. By our fragility and constant projection.
You put your ignorance on full display with your insistence that your knowledge of race relations, most of which originates from movies, oral tradition, and talk radio, and none of which originates from actual experiences with black people in black spaces away from your airtight white bubble, is more valuable than people who have lived the very experiences you condemn.
Americans act with the understanding that Trump’s nationalism promises to restore traditional boundaries of race, gender, and sexuality. The nature of that same nationalism is to deny its essence, the better to salve the conscience and spare the soul.
The nature of racism in America means that when the rich exploit everyone else, there is always an easier and more vulnerable target to punish.
Bush singling out West’s criticism as the worst moment of his presidency may seem strange. But his visceral reaction to the implication that he was racist reflects a peculiarly white American cognitive dissonance—that most worry far more about being seen as racist than about the consequences of racism for their fellow citizens. That dissonance spans the ideological spectrum, resulting in blanket explanations for Trump that ignore the plainly obvious.
From a different vantage point, what Trump’s supporters refer to as political correctness is largely the result of marginalized communities gaining sufficient political power to project their prerogatives onto society at large. What a society finds offensive is not a function of fact or truth, but of power. It is why unpunished murders of black Americans by agents of the state draw less outrage than black football players’ kneeling for the National Anthem in protest against them. It is no coincidence that Trump himself frequently uses the term to belittle what he sees as unnecessary restrictions on state force.
But even as once-acceptable forms of bigotry have become unacceptable to express overtly, white Americans remain politically dominant enough to shape media coverage in a manner that minimizes obvious manifestations of prejudice, such as backing a racist candidate, as something else entirely.
Half a century after Senator Barry Goldwater of Arizona rose to prominence by opposing civil-rights legislation designed to dismantle Jim Crow, the Republican Party’s shift toward nativism foreclosed another path not just to ethnic diversity, but to the moderation and tolerance that sharing power with those unlike you requires.
Birtherism is rightly remembered as a racist conspiracy theory, born of an inability to accept the legitimacy of the first black president. But it is more than that, and the insistence that it was a fringe belief undersells the fact that it was one of the most important political developments of the past decade.
Birtherism is a synthesis of the prejudice toward blacks, immigrants, and Muslims that swelled on the right during the Obama era: Obama was not merely black but also a foreigner, not just black and foreign but also a secret Muslim. Birtherism was not simply racism, but nationalism—a statement of values and a definition of who belongs in America. By embracing the conspiracy theory of Obama’s faith and foreign birth, Trump was also endorsing a definition of being American that excluded the first black president. Birtherism, and then Trumpism, united all three rising strains of prejudice on the right in opposition to the man who had become the sum of their fears.
The Lost Cause provided white Southerners—and white Americans in general—with a misunderstanding of the Civil War that allowed them to spare themselves the shame of their own history.
Stephens’s denial of what the Confederacy fought for—a purpose he himself had articulated for the eternity of human memory—is a manifestation of a delusion essential to nationalism in almost all of its American permutations: American history as glorious idealism unpolluted by base tribalism. If a man who helped lead a nation founded to preserve the right to own black people as slaves could believe this lie, it is folly to think that anyone who has done anything short of that would have difficulty doing the same.
The formulation is surely familiar: She attested to her intimate and friendly interpersonal relationships with black people as a defense of a violent, kleptocratic system that denied them the same fundamental rights that she enjoyed. In fact, it was the subordinate position of black people that made peaceful relations possible.
Trumpism emerged from a haze of delusion, denial, pride, and cruelty—not as a historical anomaly, but as a profoundly American phenomenon. This explains both how tens of millions of white Americans could pull the lever for a candidate running on a racist platform and justify doing so, and why a predominantly white political class would search so desperately for an alternative explanation for what it had just seen. To acknowledge the centrality of racial inequality to American democracy is to question its legitimacy—so it must be denied.
Both came to realize that the question of black rights in America is not mere identity politics—not a peripheral matter, but the central, existential question of the republic. Nothing is inevitable, people can change. No one is irredeemable. But recognition precedes enlightenment.
Nevertheless, a majority of white voters backed a candidate who assured them that they will never have to share this country with people of color as equals. That is the reality that all Americans will have to deal with, and one that most of the country has yet to confront.
Yet at its core, white nationalism has and always will be a hustle, a con, a fraud that cannot deliver the broad-based prosperity it promises, not even to most white people. Perhaps the most persuasive argument against Trumpist nationalism is not one its opponents can make in a way that his supporters will believe. But the failure of Trump’s promises to white America may yet show that both the fruit and the tree are poison.