Photo: Gage Skidmore
White men, and apparently white women, want to be free. They want to be free of an establishment and a culture that has caged them in a box of ‘political correctness,’ an overuse of the ‘race card,’ immigrants that threaten their safety, a global market that’s outsourced their jobs, and, worst of all, the loss of their white identity. On June 16th, 2015, in floated Donald J. Trump on a gold-trimmed escalator to the tune of “Rockin’ in the Free World” by Neil Young, dangling the promise of a wall along America’s southern border to keep Mexican ‘rapists’ out. White America took the bait.
Seventeen months later 63% of white men and 53% of white women (according to CNN exit polls) cast their votes for Donald Trump, making him the soon-to-be 45th president of the United States of America.
The idea of President Trump is still sinking in. However, the pundits have already spent hours analyzing how this happened. The current narrative is that Trump got the kick he needed from the working class, a class of Americans with a growing distrust for government, who felt forgotten and disenfranchised. To them, Trump’s campaign was a change campaign. While we, the so-called liberal elites, didn’t see it as such because the bigotry, xenophobia, misogyny, etc. coming out of the campaign, made it look nothing like Obama’s 2008 campaign, despite the two both promising to bring a different brand of politics to the table.
Obama’s promise of change, whether he liked it or not, was set against the backdrop of America’s history of racial discrimination and its identity as a melting pot, a nation of immigrants where a Kenyan-American man can become president. While Trump’s promise of change is really more a promise to resist change.
Losing the White Way of Life
Even though we still have our problems, the world has become smaller, our communities and markets global. Technology is rendering some jobs obsolete. Trade is moving job opportunities abroad where labor is cheaper. People are not only preaching a doctrine of inclusivity and tolerance, more and more they’re starting to practice it. The world has changed quite drastically and over a short amount of time. It looks very different than it did in just the 1940s, the 60s or even the Gay 80s. And not everyone is happy about that.
As reported by the New York Times, Poland’s foreign minister, Witold Waszczykowski, “says the world must not move in a single direction…‘toward a new mix of cultures and races, a world of cyclists and vegetarians.’” This sentiment has been echoed through a growing right wing across Europe, and most notably through the United Kingdom’s vote to leave the European Union. Immigration was at the heart of Brexit, and it’s been a pillar of Trump’s campaign. But being anti-immigration is really a proxy for fear of losing your way of life. And by Trump promising to build a wall or to ‘slap a 45% tariff on imports from China’ he’s essentially promising working class Americans that he’ll preserve their way of life, that he’ll make them great again.
Whiteness is not just skin color but also means being part of the group whose appearance, traditions, religion and even food are the default norm
Another article on the New York Times shed light on the ‘crises of whiteness’ that exists in America. It explains that whiteness is not just skin color but also means “being part of the group whose appearance, traditions, religion and even food are the default norm.” And believe it or not, that group in America feels threatened. The article goes on to share that “the formal rejection of racial discrimination in [the West] has, by extension, constructed a new, broader national identity. …But that broadening can, to some, feel like a painful loss.” And can lead to “feelings of insecurity, defensiveness, even threat.” Furthermore, “the struggle for white identity is not just a political problem; it is about the ‘deep story’ of feeling stuck while others move forward.”
Donald J. Trump tapped into that anxiety and it won him the election despite his severe shortcomings.
Trump’s win came as a shock. But it shouldn’t have and it wouldn’t have if we held an accurate view of who we really are as Americans and what this country really is. The land of the free, home of the brave is not what we think it is. It’s not a land brimming with opportunity, it’s not post-racial, it’s not a melting pot or even a salad bowl. It’s a land of biased policing, a place where women earn less than men, where people of Arabic heritage aren’t welcome, where 20% of the population owns 80% of it’s wealth; it’s a country where white people, despite their centuries-long status of privilege, feel displaced; where segregation in our communities still persists both physically and digitally. We’re all living very insulated American lives, so we don’t have a clear picture of who America really is as a whole. But this election is holding a mirror up to our face and is forcing us to take a good hard look. As we plot our path for the future and keep on fighting for what we believe in, we need to do so with this reality in mind.