Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Picking Sides

It’s not even clear whether he truly harbors animosity toward the people he tagets or if he really knows much about them, but it’s undeniable that Trump knows exactly what these attacks do for him.
Vann R. Newkirk II, "Donald Trump’s Eternal Feud With Blackness"
Ah, a cynic after my own heart. But I think that Mr. Newkirk is on to something. President Trump heads to Twitter to open fire on people because being seen doing so shore him up with his base of voters. And while that base of voters is fairly large - they tend to keep his approval ratings from dropping below 35%, they're still a minority of the overall electorate. And the President likely understands the utility of keeping them fired up until the mid-term elections.

The article as a whole focuses on the fact that many of President Trump's targets are Black. This fairly visible fact had lead many to label him a racist, but I think that we can borrow Mr. Newkirk's sentence again and point out that it’s not even clear whether he truly harbors animosity toward Black people or if he really knows much about them, but it’s undeniable that Trump knows exactly what these attacks do for him. And I think that the President realized this, and decided to hop on the "Birther" train, because he understood that it would play well with a group of people he needed to support him, and seemed open to doing so.

While the amount that President Obama did for the Black community specifically is debatable, it's fairly clear that there was a large segment of Conservatives/Republicans who believed that he was deliberately screwing them over to give handouts to the undeserving, Black, urban poor. He was, in effect, openly buying their votes, with goods wrested from the desperate hands of hardworking White Americans who'd never done anything wrong in their lives, but were now being made to pay for past injustices that not only were they not complicit in, but that they surely would have vigorously opposed, had they been around for them. And I understand that I sound like I'm exaggerating their understanding of their innocence to sneer at them, but it's worth keeping in mind that when I graduated high school, less than twenty years had passed since the Loving v. Virginia verdict had been decided. Yet many of my White classmates swore up and down that racism was dead and buried, as if the courts had managed to repeal it in the same stroke that had done in miscegenation laws.

This is in part due to the monstrous caricature of a human that we often make racists out to be. When your understanding of the bad guy is someone who would as soon murder someone of a different color as look at them, it's difficult to see even rather unusually open day-to-day prejudices as qualifying. But it's also in large part due to a national self-image that equates haven obtained something you didn't earn with dependency and morally culpable weakness. It's difficult to push someone into realizing that they benefited from the sins of their grandfathers, when their self-image relies on them believing that they started with nothing and built everything they hard with their own hard work and grit.

And that's the conflict between large groups of White and Black Americans that President Trump has openly taken a side in. And it's unsurprising. After all, it works, and one could have predicted that it would work to one degree or another. Mainly because President Trump mainly appears to avoid the sort of open, snarling, racism that would prompt his backers to feel is if they were supporting a monster. Instead, he simply agrees with their assessment that their woes are caused by the machinations of nasty people who sought to put themselves in positions of power by bribing people who lacked the moral backbone to refuse ill-gotten gains, or to be appreciative of what they have.

Every so often, I run into someone who tells me that even if every nasty thing that "they" say that White people do to Black people is fact, I should be grateful to be an American because I'd be worse off everywhere else, and they can become incensed when I decline to treat them as if they're doing me a favor by allowing me to stay. President Trump speaks their language, and he does so easily, if not always eloquently. And even though I may roll my eyes at their irritation with my ingratitude, I understand (at least in part, I think) where they are coming from. They don't want to see themselves as bad people any more than anyone else does. And they find themselves in a world where there is no shortage of people willing to line up and call them out for thieves and cheaters.

A lot of this, I suspect stems from the simple fact that many people see the world as a zero-sum game, and when they're losing, someone else has to be winning and vice versa. And President Trump, much moreso than more establishment Republicans, told them that they'd earned the right to be winning. And in that, he doesn't need to have an active animosity towards anyone else. An intense enough focus on the self crowds out consideration for others, and left to go long enough, it creates a world in which when others are losing, then you must be winning. The two simply become indistinguishable.

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