Monday, May 23, 2016

The Sociological Imagination, Racism, and Donald Trump

The sociological imagination is the connection between personal experience and the broader social and political world. This concept is one of the most powerful frameworks for understanding the human experience and how we locate it within a given society and/or cultural milieu.

As such, the sociological imagination has been invaluable in my efforts to make sense of politics in the Age of Obama, the rise of “Trumpmania,” and the radical rightward move of the Republican Party and movement conservatism. Because such interactions are both disturbing and fascinating, I routinely take “human safaris” to overt white supremacist websites and the comment sections of Fox News and similar right-wing entertainment disinformation media. I also respond to conservatives via social media who are made enraged, hurt, and angry by the topics and themes explored by my essays and other work.

While the right-wing media exists in a state of epistemic closure—where the logic, reasoning, and rationales of the troglodytes stuck within are bizarre and exist outside of empirical reality—it remains essential that we pull back the veil and look inside: The machinations that are produced therein are a threat to the Common Good.

One of the repeated narratives which I have encountered from Donald Trump supporters online (and in person) is that they are not “racists,” are the “real victims” of “political correctness,” and how there is no “evidence” or “proof” that the ascendance of Donald Trump’s pro-fascist, right-wing producerist, Herrenvolk movement is driven by racial animus or bigotry.

Much of these responses—beyond trolling, deflection, and evasion—are standard right-wing talking points for the post-civil rights era and the Age of Obama. An unwarranted sense of victimhood as well as grievance mongering is a perpetual state of affairs for conservatives, from the civil rights era to the present.

Other Trump supporters and Republicans are befuddled by the claim that their party’s present state and its presumed nominee are the result of decades of the “Southern Strategy” and the politics of white racial resentment. Some of them are ignorant of their own political party’s history and present. Others lack critical thinking skills, and a good many are propagandized by the right-wing disinformation machine. Systems-level thinking is a skill conservatives find very challenging, and the majority are simply exhibiting the binary thinking, fear-dominated heuristics and cognition, as well as authoritarian tendencies that are common to their brain structures and political personalities.

Ultimately, in my conversations with Donald Trump supporters (and conservatives too), I often arrive where the journey began. Racism is not an opinion. It is a fact. The power of the color line and how it influences almost every dimension of American (and global) social and political life is not an “unknown unknown.” The fact that historically, white supremacy and white privilege overdetermine the positive life outcomes and life chances of white folks relative to black and brown people is one of the most consistent and repeated findings in all of the social sciences.

New work by Jason McDaniel and Sean McElwee examines the relationship between white animus and support for Donald Trump. Their findings are one more data point in a long and well-documented story about the relationship between racism and conservatism.

Writing at Salon, they have examined the preliminary findings of the 2016 American National Election Studies. McDaniel and McElwee came to the following conclusion:
Research suggests that right-wing views are strongly correlated with negative feelings towards groups considered as “others.” Trump clearly draws on these attitudes: his supporters have negative feelings towards most of the groups we examined, with the exception of the police and whites. We also find that white identity leads Trump supporters to have more negative feelings about Latinos and Muslims, and this effect isn’t true among whites who support other Republican candidates…As Marc Hetherington and Drew Engelhardt have shown, the parties have increasingly polarized across racial lines (with more racially conservative whites joining the Republicans, and racially sympathetic whites joining in the Democrats). This is due to an intentional strategy on the right to manipulate racial animus for political gains.
McDaniel and McElwee also show that:
The Trump phenomenon may be the last gasp of the old world order, in which white men ruled and anyone who didn’t conform would be ostracized. Trump supporters appear to resemble the supporters of Wallace and Nixon, with their support for the police and whites, and their disdain for those who don’t conform to the “Silent Majority.” The work above suggests that Trump supporters might be motivated less by positive feelings about Trump and more by negative feelings about groups they dislike that are motivated by the perception of threats to their identity as white people in America. If Trump stands for anything, it is the restoration of his supporters threatened racial identity by standing against gays, lesbians and other groups his supporters dislike.
Racism, nativism, authoritarianism, white racial identity, and grievance mongering are central to support for Donald Trump:
The results are pretty clear: compared to supporters of other Republican candidates in the primary, Trump supporters really dislike many groups in America. For these voters, Trump’s blend of casual racism and muscular nativism is the core of his appeal.
Again. Racism is not an opinion.

As they have done with other research about the relationship between white racial animus, overt racism, Donald Trump, and conservatism, the Trump supporters I shared this work with online were incredulous. Of course, they believe that there is a “conspiracy” by “liberal professors” to “make people like them look bad.” But this defensiveness and rage also show both the progress that has been made along the color line, and how much work remains to be done.

Racism and white supremacy are now civic sins to be publicly shamed by polite society. This is a type of forward movement. Of course, the election of Barack Obama—twice—was monumental, even while he also actively avoided creating specific and targeted programs to help ameliorate the damage caused to African Americans by institutional as well as interpersonal white racism.

Many white Americans actually believe that they are victims of “racism.” This fallacy is a sign of a profound disconnect between the world as it is compared to the one conjured up by the White Gaze. It also signals a feeling that white privilege and white majority group status are imperiled because of the “browning of America.” First: In the United States the categories of “whiteness” and who is considered “white” have always expanded to include new members. There is no reason to believe that such a centuries-long process will somehow suddenly stop. Second, even allowing for exaggerated readings of America’s changing demographics, “white” people will still be the single largest group, as well as control a vast and overwhelming amount of the country’s wealth, income, and other resources for the foreseeable future.

Forward-thinking and progressive-minded people also have much work to do in educating white Americans (and some others) that racism is not just the extreme of Neo Nazis, Kluxers, or other white bigots. Rather, it is a system of social, economic, and political practices that white folks benefit from—whether they intend to or not. Racism need not be conscious and intentional to cause great harm. In fact, some of the most dangerous types of racist and white supremacist practices are committed on a subconscious level and in a quotidian way because said behavior(s) is just “normal” or a “habit”… one that remains unchallenged or critically reflected upon.

As I have written here and elsewhere, support for Donald Trump’s 2016 Republican presidential campaign is not a buffet. His racism, nativism, and bigotry are not coincidental to his supposed platform of rebuilding the United States’ infrastructure or economic protectionism: White identity politics are central to his political strategy and appeal.

The mainstream corporate news media dances around and evades speaking plainly and truthfully about this fact. Instead, Trump’s people are given euphemisms such as “angry” or “white working class” voters who feel “abandoned” by “elites” and “the system.” This may very well be true. These voters are also part of a racist, nativist, and bigoted political movement that even by the horribly low bar set by the Republican Party on these matters is quite noxious and dangerous to the health of the American body politic.

It’s important to use appropriate and accurate language to describe Donald Trump’s supporters and the political cult leader himself.

These people are Trump-thug-licans.

Donald Trump has bathed, in a manner akin to that of Elizabeth Bathory, in the metaphorical blood of racism, white supremacy, nativism, and bigotry to become the GOP’s presumptive 2016 presidential nominee.

As anti-racism activist and humanitarian freedom fighter Jane Elliot has said, “Racism is not pretty or nice. It is ugly.” Like her, I do not talk gently or in a way that is overly concerned with white folks’ feelings—be they Trump supporters or not—about the reality of the color line in America and the world.

“Trumpmania” is a racist, white supremacist movement. The so-called “liberal” news media should stop pretending otherwise.

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