By Horus Alas
Shortly after the publication of Ta-Nehisi Coates’ essay for the Oct. 2017 issue of The Atlantic, “The First White President,” I received a text asking, “Did you read the new tanehisi [sic] Coates essay? Bruh white people can’t handle it.”
I had read the essay. I haven’t yet responded to that text, but I doubt your life is immaculate either, my esteemed reader.
Quips aside, it was a formidable piece of writing. Coates’ gifts for cogent analysis haven’t abandoned him as he transitioned from upstart national correspondent for The Atlantic to one of our country’s premier public intellectuals.
For those who’ve been following our output here at The Bloc, you might recall us running a now eight-story series chronicling the Trump campaign, and now, presidency. I’ve been writing those analysis pieces since early 2016.
Like many commentators, I’d bought into the commonly-circulated myth that Trump’s ascendancy to the White House was largely the result of mass support from the “white working class.” In any number of instances, numerous analysts on the left and I were all but guilty of single-handedly blaming non-college-educated whites for Trump’s success.
Just after election day, in “The Sinister Saga of Donald Trump: Part Five,” I brooded, “Let it not be any secret that Trump has ridden white, working class support to the White House, on a platform explicitly positioned against the interests of women, people of color, immigrants (documented or otherwise), the international community, etc.”
What many commentators and I had overlooked, however, was that it wasn’t just non-college whites who had fervently cast their votes for Trump. Across the board, white Americans found Trump’s message of traditional values and cultural mores urgent in the face of movements like Black Lives Matter and intersectional feminism.
At one moment in his piece, Coates reproduces a quote from celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain, who remarked on today’s political climate, “The utter contempt with which privileged Eastern liberals such as myself discuss red-state, gun-country, working-class America as ridiculous and morons and rubes is largely responsible for the upswell of rage and contempt and desire to pull down the temple that we’re seeing now.”
To some degree, reading this quote was like looking at myself in the mirror. I was born and raised in Maryland. I write for this publication, which says enough about my stance on contemporary liberalism. I speak four languages; English wasn’t my first, and I have no bones about demonstrating my capabilities in English vis á vis ‘red-state, gun-country, working-class’ Americans.
Again, my rhetorical fire was focused on this rustic, uneducated constituency—the white working class. I imagined that only they could have been susceptible to Trump’s nefarious race baiting and demagoguery.
“Only someone without a collegiate education,” my rationale coaxed me to sleep at night, “could ever fall for this clear and demonstrable shit show that intends to call itself politics.”
As Coates noted in what was for me, the most visceral take away from his piece:
“Trump’s dominance among whites across class lines is of a piece with his larger dominance across nearly every white demographic. Trump won white women (+9) and white men (+31). He won white people with college degrees (+3) and white people without them (+37). He won whites ages 18–29 (+4), 30–44 (+17), 45–64 (+28), and 65 and older (+19). Trump won whites in midwestern Illinois (+11), whites in mid-Atlantic New Jersey (+12), and whites in the Sun Belt’s New Mexico (+5). In no state that Edison polled did Trump’s white support dip below 40 percent.”
The secret to Trump’s success was not just his masterful command of animus and xenophobia for people of other races among the white working class. It was the assembly of a broad coalition of white people across socioeconomic strata who could feel some type of cultural grievance at the ever-increasing diversity in the United States.
The Obama years had in many ways been an embrace and celebration of that diversity.
The Obama administration heralded DACA, which effectively granted temporary legal status for young, undocumented students. It oversaw the Supreme Court’s decision to legalize gay marriage, and in spite of blistering conservative outcry, it refused to qualify our ongoing battles with the Islamic State as a black-and-white conflict pitting western Christianity against barbaric Islam.
The United States is now a more diverse country than it has ever been. As I wrote in a recent essay, “According to the United States Census Bureau, white Americans now inhabit a land where 13 percent of the population is African-American; nearly 18 percent is Latino; 6 percent is of Asian descent, etc.”
White Americans have long been the de facto exclusive constituency to exercise political power in this country. And in the wake of Black Lives Matter and widespread immigrants’ rights protests, it’s not hard to see why they might feel their position of power to be eroding.
As one of my colleagues wrote today, “White supremacists don’t just live in Charlottesville. They live in College Park too.”
The focal point of Trump’s politics, from his campaign launch to his administration, has been a restoration of unsurpassed white prestige and influence in this country. He recognized a growing resentment within white America to return to days when they alone wielded political sovereignty. In 2016, they didn’t want another Abraham Lincoln; they wanted another Andrew Johnson.
In 2017, that’s effectively what they’ve got. They’ve obtained a racist crusader ready to undo this country’s progress and restore the mantle of white supremacy to immaculate status in our society and politics.
In 2017, they have us writers and analysts too. We stand ready to combat their efforts with no shortages of ink and rage.
Featured Photo Credit: Rosalie Schissler wears star-spangled boots near the Washington Monument after participating in the ‘MAGA March’ on Saturday, March 27, 2017. Rosalie, along with other attendees, gathered in near the White House to show their support for President Trump. (Josh Loock/Bloc Photographer)
Horus Alas is a freelance writer and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.