Donald Trump’s Cultural Terrorism
Why hating on Trump voters is exactly the wrong move…
Donald Trump’s philosophy of racial resentment and latent white supremacy is more than just a political point of view, it is a kind of cultural terrorism: an extreme ideology designed to draw people into a dialectic that pits two sides against each other. In this case: uneducated vs. educated, rural vs. urban and white vs. black. Like terrorism, its goal is to disrupt norms in a society by spreading fear, thus radicalizing both sides.
Like Islamic terrorism, which seeks to pit East vs. West, it is based on a lie. Namely that the two sides are so very different, that they have different interests or values. Across broad swaths of culture and politics, they simply do not. Most American want affordable healthcare, peace, and a strong economy. Most Americans, even Trump voters, believe in equal opportunity.
In the absence of the racial rancor of this election, for example, factory workers in the Upper Midwest, lifelong union Democrats, voted for fifty years for higher wages, better healthcare, family leave — the kind of lunch-bucket issues that have been the heart and soul of the Democratic Party for decades. This year they, by and large, voted for Trump.
So what changed? Did these people suddenly become so overcome with racial hatred they decided to forget about healthcare or wages?
Some argue that the Left spent too much time on the identity politics of the urban elite: trans rights, representation for people of color — and thus these mostly white, mostly working class voters felt outside the bubble. There is little truth to this. It’s a convenient scapegoat.
Clinton ran on a lunchbucket issues for the white working class in the midwest. It’s in the platfrom, in every policy paper she published. Pro-union, pro-labor, pro-wage, pro-family positions that could not have been more tailored to rural working class families.
It was the Right that chose identity politics. The right-wing propaganda machine in places like Breitbart, Fox News and Infowars (not to mention the hundreds of fake news sites) spent years stoking resentment towards the coasts, framing civil rights for people of color, the LGBT community, and immigrants as a zero-sum game in which any gain must come at price of a loss for rural, white Americans. Nothing could be further from the truth. Freedom for all has always meant greater opportunity for all in this country.
But that’s only part of the story.
Because into their midst walked a terrorist. A bloviating, hate-filled, scapegoating, billionaire terrorist with a divisive message about immigrants and “elites.” This terrorist was backed by an army of alt-right (read: white supremacist) propagandists spreading fake news stories which functioned as a kind of cultural verification of Trump’s hateful message against immigrants, muslims and others.
“I read it on the news,” people would say about an article shared on Facebook of dodgy origin. As has been shown again and again, many of these stories were the product of fake news factories, trolling for clicks and — far worse — an army of paid Russian propagandists whose entire job was to troll Westerners on social media.
The thing is, it was a great big lie. Net immigration to Mexico in the past five years is negative one million. Crime in immigrant communites is one fourth that of non-immigrant communities. Immigrant labor is the backbone of many state economies.
Terrorist attacks are relatively infrequent and, on a list of deadly threats, rank somewhere between shark attacks and lightning strikes.
Hating Trump voters for falling for this lie is akin to over-reacting to terrorism by, say, going to war with a country that harbors terrorists. It’s self-defeating. It allows the terrorist message to prevail. It gives in to the narrative that we are at war with each other which is the entire goal of terrorism.
In other words, Donald Trump wants urban elites and people of color to hate his voters. He wants pundits from the big city Left to attack people in the center of the country, to call them stupid, racist, uninformed rednecks. This kind of descent into hatred, shaming, shouting and scapegoating allows him to drive home his divisive message, to stand on a stage and say, “See. I was right. They hate you.”
That’s the entire plan.
It’s nobody’s job to empathize with racists, particularly people of color who are the victims of constant racism in this country. Any white person who stands up and says “Yeah well my uncle is racist but this or that black pundit/celebrity/friend thinks he’s bad person for it,” needs to take a long hard look at the condescension of that point of view, the privilege it represents. To not be racked by fear of racial profiling (by police and others) or the anger of disempowerment that people of color face is a privilege.
Empathy goes both ways. You start by empathizing with the powerless, the victims of oppression hiding in the shadows of a society that ignores them. Those stories need to be told. Those perspectives need to be heard. But you don’t end there.
Martin Luther King used to say “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”
That is a very high standard for any of us to live up to in this divided world of disinformation and twitter trolls. But just because everybody can’t be Martin Luther King doesn’t mean he wasn’t right. The answer to Trump’s cultural terrorism is the same as the answer to any sort of barbarism: a steadfast belief in equality, a love of your fellow man and a society based on justice and fairness. That is the only message that has ever defeated racism.
In the absence of a just executive branch, we need courts to hold fast to consitutional principles. In the absence of an executive branch determined to protect the rights of minority groups, we need to contribute and partipate in organizations who’s purpose is to defend the ideals of justice, fairness and equality for all.
It’s a long road. It’s a difficult road. Nothing about this is easy. That doesn’t mean it’s wrong.
It is thus self-defeating and unproductive to hate Trump voters, to condescend to them about their vote. They’ve been swindled. That is becoming clearer every day as he appoints Wall Street cronies — the very people responsible for the financial crisis — into positions of authority in his cabinet; as he threatens to take away Medicare and even Social Security.
It’s clear that his intent was never to drain the swamp, it was to sell it.
When I say we need dialog across the Left/Right divide what I mean is we need a way around the misinformation spreading on social media and we need engagement between the different parts of this country. The big question is not: How do we live in a country that is so obviously racist? How do we shout them down or tell them how much we don’t like their point of view? All that does is feed Trump’s narrative that only he speaks for them and only racial resentment should motivate their actions.
The big question is: How do we inform voters who have been lied to by fake news, Russian propaganda and a President-elect bent on deceiving them?
President Obama likes to say that the arc of history bends towards justice. Yeah well it also snaps back towards darkness from time to time. It just did. This is going to be a long fight and for those of us who thought we’d won already on the ideas of equality, acceptance, and justice for all, it’s dispiriting. We will regroup. But we must remember that the fight is not against Trump voters or even “racists.”
It’s against the cultural terrorism that tells us to hate each other.