This Is Our Challenge

Charles Blow is one of the very few columnists who almost always cuts to the very heart of an issue.  His clarity was particularly pronounced in his January 11th column, “The Lowest White Man.”

He began with a description of Donald Trump that mirrored what most sentient Americans already know:

I guess Donald Trump was eager to counter the impression in Michael Wolff’s book that he is irascible, mentally small and possibly insane. On Tuesday, he allowed a bipartisan session in the White House about immigration to be televised for nearly an hour.

Surely, he thought that he would be able to demonstrate to the world his lucidity and acumen, his grasp of the issues and his relish for rapprochement with his political adversaries.

But instead what came through was the image of a man who had absolutely no idea what he was talking about; a man who says things that are 180 degrees from the things he has said before; a man who has no clear line of reasoning; a man who is clearly out of his depth and willing to do and say anything to please the people in front of him.

Blow acknowleged Trump’s antipathy  to people who are not white, but refused to attribute his intransigence about the wall to anything as coherent as bigotry, reminding readers that the original idea of building a wall and making Mexico pay for it was just a cheap campaign stunt. (Trump doesn’t have actual policy positions; that would require reading more than the chyron running on the screen beneath Fox and Friends.)

The column then asks and answers the real question, the one I’ve heard a million times–from family, from friends, from colleagues: why can’t his base see what we all see? How can anyone still support this pathetic buffoon?

That is because Trump is man-as-message, man-as-messiah. Trump support isn’t philosophical but theological.

Trumpism is a religion founded on patriarchy and white supremacy.

It is the belief that even the least qualified man is a better choice than the most qualified woman and a belief that the most vile, anti-intellectual, scandal-plagued simpleton of a white man is sufficient to follow in the presidential footsteps of the best educated, most eloquent, most affable black man.

As President Lyndon B. Johnson saidin the 1960s to a young Bill Moyers: “If you can convince the lowest white man he’s better than the best colored man, he won’t notice you’re picking his pocket. Hell, give him somebody to look down on, and he’ll empty his pockets for you.”

Trump’s supporters are saying to us, screaming to us, that although he may be the “lowest white man,” he is still better than Barack Obama, the “best colored man.”

There is, of course, a copious history that prompted Johnson’s observation. Poor whites in the post Civil War South were kept compliant by reassurances that–no matter how wretched they were–they were better than those black people, and entitled to their superior status.

There are too many white guys, north and south, who still cling to the comforting belief that their skin color and male genitals make them better than those “others”–women, Jews, gays, immigrants, and even (as we have recently seen) Native Americans. But consistently and especially, black people.

They found Obama’s Presidency intolerable, and they are Trump’s committed base.

No matter how much of an embarrassment and a failure Trump proves to be, his exploits must be judged a success. He must be deemed a correction to Barack Obama and a superior choice to Hillary Clinton. White supremacy demands it. Patriarchy demands it. Trump’s supporters demand it.

That belief, ultimately, is what the resistance is about. That is the worldview that absolutely must be left in the dustbin of history.

31 thoughts on “This Is Our Challenge

  1. Yes. Thank you Prof K.
    The empty headed racism of Comrade Donny and the Rev Pence (and Mitch too)
    is on display for all to see.
    AND
    The entire Republican Party is holding hands with these jack asses as our nation goes down the drain.
    Do the Russians have dirt on the entire Republican Party?
    Are they ALL compromised?
    What on earth is going on?

  2. You have nailed the underlying problem. Now sociology can join economics and political science as disciplines to explain where we stand as a nation of supposedly like-minded citizens with common interests, including but not limited to a passion for the preservation and expansion of our small d values and institutions.

    Trump, of course, employs bottom of the barrel tactics in his quest for power that are at odds with such values and institutions, tactics that include racism, prevarication, personal immorality and other such socially destructive means to attain his ends, including the introduction of chaos and Bannon’s admittedly Leninist “deconstruction of the administrative state” in governing designed to provide a setting for his wannabe dictatorship to take hold and which, coincidentally, divert our attention from his incredible ignorance of history and our place on a world stage where he befriends dictators, insults our allies, threatens to withdraw from alliances critical to our national security etc. etc. etc.

    What to do? Let’s do metaphor. When a cancer in or on one’s body is discovered, it is wise to excise it as early as possible in order to survive, and if you have a cancer on the body politic (as we do now), it (he) should also be excised as soon as possible if our nation state is to survive. How important is it to proceed in timely fashion with the tools (Mueller, impeachment, indictment) we have available for the excision? Very, if what democracy we have left is to be preserved and expanded, since without democracy we have no body for cancerous growth to attach since all of such body is a cancer destined for the junk heap of history.

    As I often write here and elsewhere, democracy is our most important asset held in common, and one of the last few things left worth dying for.

  3. I have asked before and received no response so I will ask again…is there any LEGAL basis for Trump’s demand for billions of our tax dollars to build HIS wall? Does he have any legal, moral or rational basis for HIS current government shutdown…other than under the full Republican legislature, whose responsibility it is to control such as Trump…supported him only days prior to the swearing in of new Democratic House members?

    The full Republican legislature controlled President Obama, whether for racist or partisan reasoning, by stopping much of his attempts at progressive changes in government and in the diplomatic area. Their legislative positions, as described in the Constitution, are full responsibility to protect this country from such as Trump and from his current destruction and “deconstruction” of democracy, Rule of Law and ignoring the Constitution at all levels.

    I have also asked before and received no response; why did the Republican party dump 16 viable WHITE Republican candidates and force Donald Trump, white but NOT an actual Republican, on this country as their nominee for president? And as with George W., they succeeded in their plan to “appoint” Trump to the presidency? The answer to this question will never be found in future history books; there is more than the color of his skin to account for their actions and their continued support for him. The only conclusion I can reach is FOLLOW THE MONEY.

  4. I read the same article, Sheila. I grew up in West Texas among so many described by Blow. I trained with them in the Army in the swamps of Louisiana. I marveled at LBJ’s capacity to campaign when needed and then govern when elected. He learned from Sam Rayburn the art of compromise and bi-partisan politics both on camera and behind shut doors. The problem today is that WE elected (whether you voted for the incumbent or not) a man who fails to understand the art of governance goes far beyond the horizon of building a high rise with laundered money from afar. WE as Taxpayers are underwriting an actor who enjoys the consumate campaign and the lights of cameras. He does not know he does not know how to govern once elected. His base does not care one bit about 800,000 federal workers on furlough without pay. As far as they are concerned, the incumbent is doing exactly what they voted him for. The base did not elect him to be a President. They caste a vote for him as the best chance to deconstruct, not to govern.

    In the anticipated general election, are we willing to get behind a candidate with sufficient enthusiasm who has the best chance to GOVERN once the campaign is over and a new incumbent is elected. To be successful, the new incumbent will not appeal entirely to the far right or far left, but sufficiently appealing to a margin that makes them electable in the reality of the Electoral College.

  5. Or; can there be a deeper, darker much uglier reasoning in the Republican legislature; can it be even remotely possible that they support Trump’s self-proclaimed admiration and support for Vladimar Putin, also a racist, and his rule of Russia and its satellite countries? They rush forward to support his countless petty or major dramatic distractions from those Russian connections. Now we must ask; is Rudy Giuliani friend or foe — to Trump or to his detractors? A scorecard would be of no help in this administration because the players change almost daily then the player’s agendas change almost as often as they change their jockies.

  6. JoAnn,

    No, there is no legal basis for anything related to the wall. The manufactured crisis is pure demagoguery and has no basis in law.

    The Republican party chose Trump, because the primary races exposed those very creatures mentioned in Blow’s article above. THEY voted for him to be the nominee. That “base” became the lightning rod for the RNC, and like McConnell today, they attached themselves to the Trump phenomenon in order to ride his coattails to victory. They NEVER considered anything other than the mindless bluster that they said “spoke for me.” If that’s who they are, then they got what they deserved.

    I wonder how many of the MAGA hats you’ll see at the soup kitchens and food banks for the furloughed Federal workers. I wonder how many Trump T-shirts will attend the funerals for the people killed when airplanes start falling out of the sky. Blaming the Democrats will just make the cult smaller and dumber.

    I like Gerald’s analogy about excising a cancerous tumor from our body politic. If only….

  7. As is normally the case, Charles Blow hits another one way, way out of the park. What a very sad and disturbing portrait of America he paints, the one that lies just under the surface and one most of us know about but don’t want to admit. Trump is merely just another lightning rod for it. It hangs on to us like mud on the bottom of our shoes yet a mud we can never seem to rub off.

    Somehow we must find a way to get past it if it’s even possible to do so.

  8. This is the best and most complete answer that I have seen that explains the trump supporters’ reasons for continuing to support him.

    Thanks Sheila.

  9. ML wrote yesterday about Brooks truth avoiding tactics (might add Krugman to this as well): “The answer is David Brooks would not be published in the New York Times or welcomed in any other McMega-Media corporation outlet.”

    Democratic loyalists support their views but they’re both sellouts.

    For AgingGirl, search for “Why Socialism” by Einstein. He takes a scientific view of economic systems as well as human instincts.

    Let’s see, wasn’t LBJ the POTUS when our government killed Martin Luther King, Jr.?

    What did those poor Southern whites think of MLK?

    The Oligarchs who controlled the government didn’t mind that MLK was preaching about civil rights…this country had suppressed African Americans since before our inception as a country.

    However, MLK spoke out about economic equality and ending the Vietnam War. Forget about how the poor white trash who believe themselves to be superior over blacks–what about the rich white oligarchs who own this country? Can you imagine how a well articulated black man condemning capitalism in the 1960s went over with rich white men in boardrooms and penthouses?

    As I’ve mentioned before, the oligarchs and their politicians manipulate the masses, including democratic loyalists, into believing the problem is the other party. This way, the masses won’t realize their being oppressed. It’s a con game.

    Every single worker in this country should be screaming for Bernie Sanders to run for POTUS because they all will benefit. Every single media outlet who considers themselves part of the press should be pointing out how Bernie’s platform will benefit 98% of Americans.

    The mere fact that even self-ascribed democrats back away from Bernie tell us there is serious propaganda imposed on Americans. Divide and conquer.

    The DNC wants us to focus on Trump’s racism so minorities will support their weak candidates who will not offer them anything other than being anti-racist.

    More later as the DNC waters down the field with bland candidates who aren’t even approaching economic inequality or universal healthcare. It’s embarrassing to watch…

  10. Getting rid of Trump will not get rid of racism. It predated him and will outlive him, ingrained as it is and re-taught from one generation to another. I don’t think there is a magic potion we can take which will end race as a flash point in destruction of our society composed of so many disparate parts, but I do think if we survive Trump that it can and will be finally ended when we “tan out,” and we are on that road to Brazil at present.

    Unfortunately, as I have written elsewhere, when racism is conquered because the color line has evaporated, I fear that new flashpoints will rear their ugly heads, like class, like gender, like any other line of social and economic difference that can be exploited by politicians and preachers in the environment of that future day.

    All of this, I think, springs from some innate notion that one must be superior to something and/or somebody (per LBJ), and we must find something or somebody to socially disembowel to fit our rationale of manufactured superiority. Since discussion of where all this leads is far beyond my pay grade, I will leave such (I think) baked in need for superior status to the sociologists and retreat to more familiar academic terrain, like Citizens United and Republican abandonment of all fiscal responsibility etc.

  11. We’re now dealing with the first stages of FASCISM, plain and simple. It’s much more than about $$$. We better create an effective FRONT against it, before it’s too late.

  12. Perhaps we need to look to psychologists and psychiatrists for answers as to why some people are so invested in racism and other forms of prejudice.
    Marv, I fear you are right about these times being the first stage of fascism. And history teaches us little on how to combat it once it takes hold… except for war.

  13. Theresa,

    “And history teaches us little on how to combat it once it takes hold… except for war.”

    You’re absolutely right. That’s why you have to confront it, once it is out in the open, as quickly as you can. The Germans didn’t have the advantage of hindsight, but we do. The knowledge is there. And we better use it now.

  14. I believe you hit on the basic argument: Our only real enemy in this matter is – ignorance.
    Now to defeat THAT enemy – we have to begin with our selves. Perhaps there IS a chance that we can retrieve our souls from this hell that is our government’s ‘administration’…

  15. As a licensed mental health counselor, I believe that bigotry is based in ignorance and fear. Many people see the “other” as an existential threat. People of color will soon outnumber white people. And so, many white people (including white women) feel threatened by the changing demographic. The election of Trump is a symptom of that fear.

    Martin Luther King died just before the Poor People’s march. He included the so called “white trash” in his marches. The election of Trump is also an indicator that many people in rural communities now feel they have no voice. They are watching their towns , their way of life, their communities that have supported them, slowly but surely disintegrate. They have seen huge franchises and Monsanto undermine the economic health of family farms. They have watched corporate America abandon their communities and take their jobs to foreign companies where labor is cheaper and there are fewer regulations. They have even lost their county hospitals or watched as larger health franchises ie IU health have taken over their hospitals. So, of course, they feel existentially threatened. Desperate people voted for Trump because they believed that Hilary Clinton would ignore the demise of their communities. And in the mean time, many suburbanites stereotype rural people as uneducated and frankly, as stupid. They don’t honor the skills that rural people have which do not rely on technology and creature comforts. I grew up in rural communities here in Indiana. One of my grandfathers had a 3rd grade education but was a very successful farmer. I have not forgotten where I came from. Without the support of my grandparents and the people in my home town, I would not have succeeded in obtaining a BS in nursing and later my master’s degree.

    We so quickly forget that Martin Luther King confronted militarism and the rigidity of class systems.

    The suicide rate amongst white men in rural communities has markedly escalated. They see no hope for their future.

    If the democratic party wishes to succeed in 2020, they cannot just rely on identity politics. They will have to offer more support to those communities which have been left behind. They will have to have ideas that will allow them to thrive in a global economy, that will allow them to become gainfully employed. If they fail to convince these small communities that they are committed to ensuring a brighter future for them, they will again lose the electoral college and hence the election, even though they won the popular vote.

  16. Robin,

    I’m just now reading Kamala Harris’ new book, “The Truths We Hold”. In it, she describes her actions as California’s AG with the emphasis you make about inclusion vs. identity politics. Very impressive. MLK certainly was one of the authors of the roadmap we need to read in order to become “a more perfect union”.

  17. Robin sayeth the truth…the “other” has been here for so loooong – see the “scapegoat” from the Bible. No easy fix here.

    I would modestly suggest that restoring some trust in government via some servant leaders will help us turn the Titanic. Yes, there are 20% far right and 20% far left who will rabidly vote in the primaries, slanting those results and the candidate selection. If only the 60% would vote…

  18. Robin — I think you left out the impact of religion on the rural community. I live in a small city surrounded by rural communities in South Carolina and was a licensed mental health counselor for 13 years. I worked with children and went into the homes of many of these people you speak of. The economic impact of job loss due to corporate “raiding” hit the African American community just as hard as the white community. Everyone suffered economic setbacks. However, a majority of rural white & black people are devoted to their churches and take political advice from their pastors. White pastors & priests preach against abortion and homosexuality. I had a 13 year old girl tell me they weren’t voting for Obama because he was “for abortion.” Black pastors preach against homosexuality. When you combine fear of “the other” with religious dogma you get an out of control GOP and Trump. Remember, Trump is getting a “Mulligan” for numerous sexual transgressions because of the perception he is advancing the Christian agenda. Follow the Big 3 — Money, Racism & Religion — it all works together.

  19. Thanks, if you have the unfortunate experience of talking with the working class everyday as i do, then this article screams at you. this what i hear, thier bigotry, jeering,every little slant,slam, finger, they can muster. it doesnt matter, our consitution,our bill of rights, thier economic prosperity. it doesnt matter. all they spew continuosly bigotry.its a one way conversation. few if any, take stock as i remind them, maybe your future is at stake,like your own personal freedom to enjoy America,and what it really is..
    imagine a news media that only targeted white people,, all of them..eh?

  20. I don’t think that the problem we have to solve requires a great deal more diagnostics. We can of course describe it in any number of ways but curing it is impossible save waiting for death to take those in its grip and that is slow. Excising it would be satisfying but illegal unfortunately.

    Fortunately our founders gave us a way to isolate it and that is what we should focus on. Isolate, starve and wait for it to die a natural death.

    This of course is 2019. 2018 was a victory for the cause but one victory is what they call a good start. Many more are necessary.

    Time to stop talking about Republicans and start talking about Democrats despite Trumps frenetic actions to grab all headlines. Let’s join Nancy Pelosi in ignoring him.

    The Democrat field for next year is taking shape and the choices are both encouraging and tough. The biggest question is who can and will we unite behind?

    I see the job of the 2020 wining team as no less than rebuilding the entire country. How’s that for dramatic but honestly not much of an overstatement. We have to rebuild us, our government, our position in the world, our infrastructure, our education system, our economy our entire energy supply and distribution system. That’s for starters.

    Never has the need for talent at the top been greater except possibly for the Big Ones. World and Civil Wars.

    Who is capable of such a miracle?

  21. Sheila did the world a big favor with this blog! Charles Blow nailed it! Theresa Bowers and Marv Kramer confirmed it, both without rambling on needlessly. It’s a pity that those who need it most are nowhere in sight.

  22. The “lowest white man” or “poor whites”.

    Hmm, thought stereotypes were wildly inaccurate and pernicious?

  23. While I agree on the premise of this essay, especially as one raised in the segregated south during the fifties and sixties, surely there is more than just racism and bigotry. I mean, good heavens! Sixty-three millions voters pushed the button for this ignorant, malignant narcissist! Trump has always been “out there” for all to see, the quintessential “What you see is what you get” clown. Sixty-three million US citizens are racists? I think there is a fundamental underpinning that runs deep – nativism, religion (especially religion!) and just plain, abject, willful ignorance. The issue is, how do we get out of (survive) this morass? I’ve never been so discouraged in my life – and that includes service in Vietnam.

  24. If Barack Obama is the best black man in our country is in Jeopardy.. Nancy Pelosi called him brilliant. What really gets me is that these qualifications about a person or stated simply because they are Democrat or Republican and not whether or not this person is actually running the country well. The unions basically bailed on Barack Obama After he destroyed her Cadillac health plans that they had fought for for decades. There are several black people I know at work that are union workers that simply despised him for doing this. We also forget that he told Putin “ wait till I get reelected then we can make some real changes.“ Putin realized that I could make some real changes and he promptly invaded the Crimea. Also under Barack Obama’s watch. Russia began minding our uranium. This happened after Bill Clinton received $500,000 from a speech at Moscow state university.
    Most people don’t understand that during the revolutionary war blacks and whites fucked side-by-side to defeat the British. Most people don’t understand that the systematic problems that we see in our country and progress towards the problems of racism Was largely historically carried by the Democrat party. President Woodrow Wilson a democrat even showed a film recruiting people into the Ku Klux Klan in the White House. He also rewrote history leaving many of the black heroes of the revolutionary war out of our history books.
    LBJ however turn the tide of blacks being affiliated with the Republican Party with a few Republicans who wanted to win elections without the help of blacks. LBJ made a historical statement from the White House. “i’ll have those ‘N——s voting Democrat for the next 200 years “. This is where the race war began viParty political affiliation . Stereotyping Republicans or Democrats according to race instead of looking at candidates according to their policies.
    So many people are watching white males be demonized, Maybe it’s not because Trump is a good person it is simply that they have nowhere to turn. The problem is there are plenty black man you are now turning towards the republican party. All that is needed is to clearly state that the Democrat party is now becoming a socialist party. All that is needed is to state that they almost need to celebrate Pelosi and Schumer for their stand against the new socialist idea for they have absolutely no idea about how their freedoms and finances are going to be surrendered. Just wait till 825% consumption tax it’s our country. This tax will hurt the poorest of the poor to enable these socialist politicians their policies to be rendered real just like it is done in Sweden. The lowest white man and the lowest a black man will be hurt The lowest white man and the lowest a black man will be hurt.
    Divide and conquer politics waste so much time. Well we could be better educating our kids and our schools marching hand-in-hand as Republicans and Democrats we simply fine a way to hang on the party affiliation And power.

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