When Barack Obama was elected to the Presidency in 2008, there was some evidence that America had entered into a post-racial zone. But the election of Obama in 2008 and 2012 was only part of what was occurring in America. At the same time that the Democratic Party was being successful in Presidential elections, reactionary forces at the state level and in congressional districts were moving in the opposite ideological direction.
The election of Donald Trump in 2016 represents the re-racialization of American politics. We presumed that Jim Crow is in the burial ground but Jim Crow has re-surfaced in the form of Scare Crow politics. America has experienced centuries of uninterrupted democracy, but concomitantly, American democracy has forever been plagued with concoction of the bogeyman and in today’s America, it is Hispanics and Muslims.
Southern society could not envision living without having black slave labor in perpetuity. Slavery became not just an economic system but a way of life in which blacks were to be permanently kept in bondage. When the South lost the Civil War, Jim Crow was invented to institutionally deal with the omnipresent fears of black people. That manifested itself not just in the form of separate water fountains but in denying blacks the right to vote or to earn a living in
certain occupations. The segregationist system ensured that whites had a monopoly of power and white privilege resonated even with the white poor as they were psychologically comforted that there was a class of human beings that were below them in the division of labor.
The civil rights movement changed some of that relationship but even in the post civil rights era, Republicans pursued a Southern strategy that played on the fears of black people. And as the Voting Rights Act was weakened by Chief Justice Roberts and his conservative Justices, states had a much easier task of suppressing the black vote as occurred in North Carolina, Wisconsin, etc., in the 2016 elections.
The African American population is not growing. It has remained fairly constant at 13 percent of the total American population. Thus the Trump appeal was aimed not at the ancient threat of the black community but at the burgeoning increase of the Hispanic population which in sheer numbers but not yet in voter’s strength, exceed that of the black population. The forecast of the demographers is that by 2050, no racial or ethnic group will have a majority. Whites will constitute a plurality but not a majority. Asians, Hispanics and African Americans will constitute an important voting bloc. Concerning the Hispanic vote,
it is already decisive in states like Colorado, New Mexico and Nevada. And in coming years, that voting clout will become increasingly evident in states like Arizona and Texas.
This seismic shift in demographics has given rise to not just a Southern Strategy as adopted by the Republicans in 1968 but has triggered a white nationalist movement that sees themselves as the guardians of western civilization. This new form of white nationalism has incorporated the fear of Muslims vis-à-vis foreign policy and Hispanics and blacks in regards to domestic policy.
Trump played on those fears during the Presidential campaign of 2016. That school of thought has also been especially appealing to segments of the white working class who have found themselves in an existential crisis caused by stagnant wages and a decline in manufacturing jobs brought about by globalization and automation. These changes in technology have particularly affected workers in America with just a high school education or high school dropouts.
Blacks have been equally affected and the impact of those economic changes began having devastating consequences in the black inner-city
communities from the 1970s. The Harvard sociologist, William Julius Wilson, cited the debilitating effect that de-industrialization had on inner-city communities in terms of family disruption, exponential increases in crime, the drug epidemic and mass incarceration.
The effects on the white community are more belated. And the manifestation of the economic changes takes the form of decreasing mortality rates, mounting suicides, a rise in heroin and opioid overdosing and chronic alcoholism. In states like Kentucky and West Virginia where the coal industry has been in a state of decline, the overdosing on heroin has reached record heights. In the contraction of certain kinds of manufacturing in the rust belt like Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania, which served as a firewall for Democrats in Presidential elections, white workers resonated to Trump’s message that their predicament was precipitated by illegal immigrants that did not look like them. And what was needed was a doctrine of anti-globalization and the nationalist notion of America First. Trump stated recently that the nations of the world have taken advantage of America and in his administration he would circle the wagons and run full speed with protectionism.
In the first month of his Presidency, the reason why there has been so much chaos is that the Trump-Bannon-Flynn doctrine is still a hodgepodge of unrealistic ideas about the world that is colliding with realpolitik. Trump is for protectionism yet he is for bilateral trade. He has spurned multilateral trade agreements like the Trans-Pacific Partnership that was carved out by the Obama administration that encompassed 11 Asian nations. He is opposed to alliances and on the campaign trail has argued that NATO was obsolete but as an occupant of the White House has re-affirmed America’s commitment to NATO. The policy contradictions are not readily resolved.
The Executive Order temporary abandoning migration from seven Muslim countries and suspended America’s age-old commitment to refugees, further demonstrates the new Scare Crow politics. In Trump’s vision of the world, every Muslim is a terrorist. But as the experts on counter-terrorism have pointed out, the objective of defeating ISIS invariably entails establishing relationships with Muslim countries. An isolationist policy as the Muslim ban in the form of an Executive Order defeats the purpose of protecting America from terrorists and plays into the hands of ISIS and Al Qaeda. While Iraq, in alliance with American Special Forces, is expelling ISIS from Moshul, Trump is banning Iraqis from coming to America.
The Trump doctrine is crude, illegal and contradictory. The Presidential novice has surrounded himself with neophytes and is running like a high speed locomotive that may very well take America over the precipice. White nationalism and Islamic xenophobia in an age of globalization have made America look like a confused state unbecoming of the nation state that created at Bretton-Woods the extant world order. The Trump-Bannon-Flynn axis wants to skittle that old order and thus far the attempt to replace it has led the world into a state of cacophony. With the resignation of Michael Flynn as Trump’s National Security Advisor, the contradiction of traditional Republicanism and Bannon populism will still not be readily reconciled in regards to domestic policy or to foreign policy.