Tag Archives: Le Pen

Trump, Le Pen and Racism

On “Last Week Tonight,” his brilliant take on the world we inhabit, John Oliver spent considerable time discussing the upcoming French elections. The entire segment is worth watching–it’s informative as well as hilarious (if depressing can be hilarious)–but one quote really struck home.

“One of the frustrating things about watching this unfold from America, is this feels a little like deja vu,” Oliver warns, “A potentially destabilizing populist campaigning on anti-immigrant rhetoric who rages against the elites despite having a powerful father and inherited wealth, even as experts reassure us that there is no way that this can possibly happen.”

Anyone who has watched the “evolution” of Le Pen’s movement over the years, from her father’s forthright Nazi-ism to her smoother delivery of White Supremacist bigotry, understands the extent to which the upcoming election is a referendum on the extent of French racist sentiment.

Deny it as we might, Americans watching the French political drama unfold have just held a similar referendum.

Media pundits and “serious” political commentators have resisted attributing Trump’s electoral college victory to racism, offering a number of alternative explanations: economic distress in the heartland, Hillary hatred, authoritarian tendencies. Recent research, however, confirms what many of us saw during the campaign–the unsettling resonance of barely veiled racist appeals.

In an article for the Washington Post, Thomas Wood, a political science professor at Ohio State, mined newly available data.

Last week, the widely respected 2016 American National Election Study was released, sending political scientists into a flurry of data modeling and chart making.

The ANES has been conducted since 1948, at first through in-person surveys, and now also online, with about 1,200 nationally representative respondents answering some questions for about 80 minutes. This incredibly rich, publicly funded data source allows us to put elections into historical perspective, examining how much each factor affected the vote in 2016 compared with other recent elections.

Wood evaluated the evidence for the income and authoritarian hypotheses, and found them insufficiently predictive. He then looked at the data measuring racial resentment.

Many observers debated how important Trump’s racial appeals were to his voters. During the campaign, Trump made overt racial comments, with seemingly little electoral penalty. Could the unusual 2016 race have further affected Americans’ racial attitudes?…

Since 1988, we’ve never seen such a clear correspondence between vote choice and racial perceptions. The biggest movement was among those who voted for the Democrat, who were far less likely to agree with attitudes coded as more racially biased.

The statistics told the story.

Finally, the statistical tool of regression can tease apart which had more influence on the 2016 vote: authoritarianism or symbolic racism, after controlling for education, race, ideology, and age. Moving from the 50th to the 75th percentile in the authoritarian scale made someone about 3 percent more likely to vote for Trump. The same jump on the SRS scale made someone 20 percent more likely to vote for Trump.

The unexpected results of the Brexit vote in England have been widely attributed to anti-immigrant bias. Le Pen’s appeal is explicitly racist and nationalist, and she is expected to easily make the run-off in France’s upcoming election. In the United States–long considered a beacon of inclusivity, despite our frequent lapses–the electorate ignored the terrifying personal and intellectual deficiencies of a candidate who appealed to their tribalism and racial resentments.

Are these events– and others, like the Turkish election– evidence of the decline of cosmopolitanism, and a global triumph of tribalism? If so, what happens next?

 

What This Campaign Has Unleashed…

Over the past few months, I have seen increasing numbers of news reports like this one about a man who stabbed an interracial couple after seeing them kiss in a bar.

“He tells them, ‘Yeah, I stabbed them. I’m a white supremacist,’” Lower said. “He begins talking about Donald Trump rallies and attacking people at the Black Lives Matter protest.”

And this one:

Wichita State University student body president Khondoker Usama, a 23-year-old Muslim student from Bangladesh, and a Hispanic friend stopped at a local Kwik Shop late on a Friday in March. In an interview with the Washington Post, Usama says he noticed a white motorcyclist verbally harassing a black man, “calling him a lazy ass, saying, ‘You guys don’t work.’ He was using racial slurs.”

He says when the man took note of Usama and his friend, he began shouting, “Hey, you brown trash, you better go home.” Usama’s friend insisted, “It’s my country. Who the hell are you to tell me, ‘Go home?’”

“He seemed to be looking for a fight,” Usama told the Post. “The man started punching my friend. My friend dodged the first punch. I got in the middle of them—I told my friend to get back in the car. [The man] pushed me and he hit me over.” He began “kicking [my friend] in the stomach, indiscriminately punching him.”

Usama called the cops and the motorcyclist took off, but not before endorsing Trump.

“He was chanting, ‘Trump! Trump! Trump!’” Usama told the Post. “‘Make America great again! You guys are the losers! You guys, we’ll throw you over the wall!’”

And stories like this one.

Tracey Iglehart, a teacher at Rosa Parks elementary school in Berkeley, California, did not expect Donald Trump to show up on the playground.

This was, after all, a school named after a civil rights hero in a progressive California enclave, with a melting pot of white, African American, Latino and Muslim students.

That has not stopped some children from channeling and adopting the Republican presumptive nominee’s xenophobic rhetoric in playground spats and classroom exchanges.

“They said things like ‘you’ll get deported’, ‘you weren’t born here’ and ‘you were born in a Taco Bell’,” said Iglehart, 49. “They may not know exactly what it means, but they know it’s powerful language.”

As Nicholas Kristof recently wrote in the New York Times

This community of Forest Grove, near the farm where I grew up in western Oregon, has historically been a charming, friendly and welcoming community. But in the middle of a physics class at the high school one day this spring, a group of white students suddenly began jeering at their Latino classmates and chanting: “Build a wall! Build a wall!”

The same white students had earlier chanted “Trump! Trump! Trump!” Soon afterward, a student hung a homemade banner in the school reading, “Build a Wall,” prompting Latinos at area schools to stage a walkout.

Hillary Clinton recently accused Trump’s campaign of taking racism mainstream. Given the daily drumbeat of articles like those referenced above, Trump’s continued rhetoric, and his clear reluctance to distance himself from the white nationalists who enthusiastically support him, it’s hard to argue with that accusation.

Most political observers expect Trump to lose the election, and many expect the margin to be substantial. That’s well and good–but this is a genie that will be very hard to put back in the bottle.

I believe that most Americans–including most Republicans–reject the racism, misogyny  and xenophobia that have formed the basis of Trump’s campaign, but the sudden prominance of a politically significant white nationalist movement in the U.S. will challenge us for the foreseeable future.

Americans who have shuddered when considering Le Pen’s National Front in France and similar hard right movements elsewhere in Europe can no longer comfort ourselves with the fiction that we are less susceptible to that particular kind of ugliness.

For that disquieting epiphany, we have Trump to thank.