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The Only Possible Way to Understand White Trump Voters

It’s a coming-out party, but let’s not call it racism.

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Photo by Jose M. on Unsplash

This Labor Day weekend, many of us observed what appeared to be a nationwide pride parade devoted to worshipping the first aspiring American dictator, He of the Golden Manhattan Penthouse, President Donald Trump.

You’ve probably seen the photos of pick-up trucks and other vehicles with “Trump 2020” banners streaming down main streets and highways across America.

Meanwhile, in my seaside hometown in Massachusetts, wealthy boat owners took things a step further and held a maritime parade for their dear leader — although with none of the disastrous consequences of the parade on Lake Travis, Texas.

For many around the world, the blind support so many functional American adults continue to show for President Trump even now — four years into a presidency that has been disastrous by almost every measure — is completely and totally mysterious.

For example, why does it seem like no amount of logic, evidence, or factual information about Trump has any impact on the support of a typical white Trump voter?

Why aren’t conservative and “family values” Republicans concerned by Trump’s numerous affairs, profligate lifestyle, or his infamous endorsement of sexual assault caught on video tape?

Why do some Trump supporters seem to delight in hatefully trolling the left with intentionally “triggering” statements and memes while Trump’s political appointees seem dead-set on making cruel and unnecessary roll-backs of Obama-era policies even when they’re doomed to fail in the courts?

Why do so many Trump voters vehemently and earnestly reject the notion that they’re racist for supporting the President even in the face of his clearly racist comments and actions?

With images of raucous white Americans on parade freshly troubling me, I kept turning that word — parade, parade — over in my head until it suddenly hit me like a ton of mailbags dumped in a California parking lot: the whole Trump brand, and by extension his 2020 campaign, is nothing more than a white coming-out party.

After decades of watching LGBT supporters celebrate pride month, Black people marching to demand equal rights and justice, Native Americans trashing the legacy of Christopher Columbus, and leftists staging radical and shocking performance art — and, perhaps just as importantly, seeing these movements validated by the mainstream media — only to have it all topped off with eight years under Barack Obama, the first Black President in American history, millions of alienated white voters have come to idolize President Trump for supposedly giving them “their turn” to show pride and assert their white identity in a way they’ve either never felt or else haven’t been able to feel in a long time.

It turns out that millions of white people have been desperately wanting an excuse to do the equivalent of holding a pride march and chanting “I’m here, I’m white, get over it.”

Using social media as a canvas, they wanted to do the equivalent of the obscene in-your-face chalk messages and radical performance art that the left pioneered in the 1960s.

Of course this will strike many Americans, including other white Americans, as incredibly juvenile: minority identities had to risk shame, fear, and physical injury in order to acquire the still-unsatisfactory rights and recognitions they have today, and so for millions of white people to imagine that they deserve the same sort of attention without having to take on any of the risk is both offensive and cowardly.

White people are not oppressed.

White people have not been deprived of their identity.

The existence of white people is not being threatened.

What’s important to recognize about all this, however, is that many white people have been manipulated to feel that this is true and these feelings have been channeled politically by the Republican Party into mobilization efforts.

Although a portion of Trump voters are self-identified racists and proud of it, many of them will vehemently claim that they’re not racist — and they’re probably right, at least in the same way that many white Democrats are not cognitively aware of being racist even though they use structural racism to their advantage and exhibit an unconscious bias toward nonwhites.

The left claims Trump supporters are white nationalists and some of them eagerly accept this label, but most Trump supporters probably have no concept of the negative connotations of “nationalism” and mistakenly believe the left is telling them they shouldn’t fly an American flag.

These are really critical nuances that shouldn’t be ignored.

Trump supporters feel alienated, and this feeling is compounded when the left dismisses their complex feelings as pure racism and/or unvarnished white nationalism.

By denying and failing to validate the existence of “white pride” — not in the white supremacist sense, but in a more basic sense of alienation and disenfranchisement — the Democrats have handed Trump and the Republican Party a powerful tool of emotional persuasion similar to Hitler’s power over alienated Germans in the wake of World War I, a power that pulls at the core identity of voters and takes logic and factual persuasion totally off the table.

If Democratic leadership understands what’s going on, they haven’t yet figured out how to successfully address “white pride” and empower a significant number of Trump supporters to vote Democrat without also having to fight a rear-guard action against others on the left who accuse them of not being anti-racist enough.

Although the selection of Joe Biden, an older white man, as the Democrat’s candidate for President seems to have been in many ways a gesture toward assuring Independent and Republican voters that the Democrats care about white identity, whether this choice in and of itself proves to be enough to overpower the persuasion of Trump’s rhetoric remains to be seen.

Don’t get me wrong — I’m not suggesting the Democratic Party appeal to (or accept) actual self-identified racists and white nationalists. They are strictly Republican garbage.

What I’m saying is that millions of white Americans understand themselves as neither racist nor nationalist, and right now they’re voting for President Trump despite his significant failures and shortcomings simply because Democrats haven’t figured out how to connect with them emotionally.

Democrats might dismiss the need to appeal to “white pride” because they believe they can win the election without it, and maybe they’re right.

But any Democrat who has crunched the demographic numbers and the polling data and come to the happy conclusion that Biden can eke out a victory at the ballot box is completely missing the point.

It’s not just that the Democrats need to win in 2020, it’s that to avoid a cycle of civil unrest and violence that could plunge the United States into a second civil war, they really need to hit Election 2020 out of the park.

The red flags warning of civil war couldn’t be waving any higher.

Whether it’s Trump himself equivocating on whether he’ll accept the results of the election or progressive groups gearing up for physical combat post-election day, basically every scenario that doesn’t involve a complete Democratic landslide is an extremely frightening one we’ve seen play out over and over again in developing countries, never believing it could actually happen here.

This is where those caravans and flotillas that we saw this past Labor Day weekend hover and haunt the edges of my imagination.

As they should haunt the Democrats.

As they should haunt you.

There’s no doubt in my mind: the caravans and flotillas we saw this weekend were not “just” a display of white pride, but were intended to form the operational core of any call-to-arms tweeted out by an unpopular president whether or not he loses at the ballot box.

That’s right — these weren’t just pride parades, they were nascent paramilitary exercises.

Trump, having been rebuffed in his attempts to control the U.S. military, now seeks to create and control his own paramilitary to serve him in both victory and defeat.

To what extent these Labor Day paraders were also members of the “Trump Army,” which in June sent a fundraising email urging supporters to donate $35 to the Trump campaign in order to receive a camouflaged MAGA hat marking them as “the President’s first line of defense” against “the liberal MOB,” is not entirely clear.

(Only in Donald Trump’s head, of course, where an Army is made up of “suckers,” do the soldiers pay for the privilege of carrying the banner of their commander.)

At any rate, a paramilitary force is actually the last remaining step on America’s road to a Nazi-type future, as the ceaseless parades and provocations of Nazi brownshirts were the key means that Hitler consolidated his control over Weimar Germany — an aspect of fascism I’ve been watching carefully for and which, until now, has been largely absent from the American scene.

Can Trump actually create his own paramilitary force from scratch?

It’s not entirely clear.

Most things Trump touched even before becoming President ended in failure, and so attempting to create a viable paramilitary force right before the election is probably going to be no different.

Although I’m tempted to declare that Trump supporters were simply playing a childish Army/Navy game this past Labor Day weekend, what we’ve learned — if we’ve been paying attention — is that Trump’s moves are so bold and transparent that our heads are often left spinning about whether he’s serious. But Trump is always serious: if Trump acts like he’s trying to recruit and train a private army, he really is.

And win or lose at the ballot box in November, this private Army is not going away. It’s on a collision course with the left. No amount of logic or rational data is going to persuade them to stand down, which is why Democrats need to understand the true appeal of “white pride” and find ways to re-frame and co-opt it before it’s too late.

If Democrats would consider the use of emotional appeals — what students of rhetoric refer to as pathos as opposed to logos— to defuse the persuasive power of Trump’s single-issue promise that, if re-elected, he will keep the white coming-out party going, great progress could be made toward bringing the nation back from the brink.

It’s a pretty simple thing, actually.

But to make this emotional appeal, Democrats are going to need the fervent anti-racists among them to simmer down a moment and allow Biden to pass a simple and basically true message to tens of millions of disenfranchised, alienated white voters:

Nobody should be made to feel ashamed of being a white American. I’m not ashamed. And if ashamed is what you feel, you’ve been listening to people who don’t understand the values of the Democratic Party — because we stand for liberty and justice for all, including millions of honest, hardworking, white Americans like yourself.

There are probably other ways to prevent a spiraling cycle of violence and retribution that leads, ultimately, to civil war.

A resounding, crushing Democratic landslide that obliterates the Republican Party and forces them to rebrand themselves is one way, but it’s also very unlikely.

For the sake of the country and to increase their chances of winning the election decisively, Democrats need to emotionally connect with white voters and convince them that President Trump is not the only person in American politics who can help them feel proud of themselves and their heritage.

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