The problem with Donald Trump’s racism and prejudice isn’t Donald Trump— it’s the millions of Americans who share those feelings of racism and prejudice.
Donald Trump’s incendiary language is not creating racism and prejudice in this country, it is taking advantage of the racism and prejudice that was already there. This should concern people of good will a great deal more than Donald Trump. Mr. Trump is the symptom of a disease. That disease is prejudice.
This distinction is of tremendous importance. Were Donald Trump to exit the presidential race tomorrow, no other political candidate is likely to use such bombastic and hate-filled rhetoric, yet the voters to whom such rhetoric appeals, will still be there and politicians will still seek their vote and promote their political agenda.
This is not a novel state of affairs. This is how America has always operated. Indeed, there is a weakness in two of the fundamental pillars of this American nation, capitalism and democracy, that creates this flaw that has forever been mined by the selfish, the power hungry, the materialist and the opportunist. Of greatest concern, in regards to the rise of Donald Trump, is how this plays out in the media and in politics.
There are millions of racists in this country and in a capitalist system which seeks profit maximization, large media organizations are disinclined to insult their viewers and advertisers by calling them racists, even when the term applies.
For media that may feel their viewers are okay with this, then their advertisers often are not.
In a democratic system, politics will always follow and seek to engender themselves with any large enough group of voters, and the United States of America has never lacked a large proportion of its population that is befouled by the taint of racism and prejudice. This is why the U.S. Constitution had to compromise and count enslaved Africans as three-fifths of a person. This is why the US Supreme Court ruled in Dred Scott that Black people “had no rights which the white man was bound to respect.” This is why Governor George Wallace of Alabama could say, “segregation now, segregation tomorrow and segregation forever.”
Change does come, however. Progress is made, even if ever so slowly. Many people think that kind of virulent racism ended with the successes of the civil rights movement in the 1950s and 1960s.
The truth is that while America has made significant progress with issues of race and prejudice, much of the progress we think we have made is simply because we do not speak about race openly, because we pretend to be color blind, because we have mastered the artifice of bait and switch.
So where have these racists who support Donald Trump’s campaign come from? They have been here all along. They have been part of the conservative movement in America since its inception. Let me be clear, conservatism has not always been associated with the Republican party. Indeed, the party of Lincoln started as a progressive party and for years it was the Democratic party that offered a home and legitimacy to the infestation of racists that flourish in an environment of conservatism. Why? Because promotion of racism and prejudice in America uses the mantra of traditional values that they want to hearken back to, while resisting progressive values that seek to include more Americans in the full embrace of American democracy and success.
Let us trace the unspeakable truth that the media refuses to utter of how the racism of Jim Crow managed to survive the civil rights era and arrive whole and hale, in the 2015 US Presidential campaign. It is a story of the best of us and the worst of us. It is the story of integrity and the corruption of the thirst for power. By 1960, the south had been solidly behind the Democratic party for generations. When president Kennedy, a Democrat threw his support behind the civil rights movement and proposed a Civil Rights Act that would later be signed by another Democrat, president Lyndon B. Johnson, this angered the racists throughout the country, particularly in the south who were opposed to this progress. Both Kennedy and Johnson, astute politicians knew that this was politically dangerous and would alienate some of their base of supporters. But both felt that it was the right thing to do. This took courage and integrity.
Richard Nixon would use this discontent among southern white racists with the Democratic party that they had long supported, to recruit these racists into the party. He made a simple calculation. There were a lot more white racists than Black voters. Nixon’s political strategist. Kevin Philips, explained it as follows:
“From now on, the Republicans are never going to get more than 10 to 20 percent of the Negro vote and they don’t need any more than that…but Republicans would be shortsighted if they weakened enforcement of the Voting Rights Act. The more Negroes who register as Democrats in the South, the sooner the Negrophobe whites will quit the Democrats and become Republicans. That’s where the votes are. Without that prodding from the blacks, the whites will backslide into their old comfortable arrangement with the local Democrats.”
President Ronald Reagan would go on to master this strategy to win two terms as president. This winning over of racist whites who were traditionally Democrats to vote Republican was euphemistically termed “Reagan Democrats” by the media. Nixon and Reagan demonstrated a crass and ignominious betrayal of the ideals of American values for the practical path to political and worldly power.
The Republican party and the conservative movement have had to embrace certain rhetoric to demonize people of color in their endeavor to suborn this group of American voters. Thus you saw the demonization of Blacks as criminals, crack addicts, lazy, welfare cheats, just looking for a hand out who want to live off the backs of federal benefits. These stereotypes are all too prevalent today and can be heard frequently in right-wing media.
These sentiments are easily transferred to any group that they see as the other. The other is blamed for all ills, particularly economic ones. This artifice has been used throughout our nation’s history to fool poor whites into thinking that the minority groups are the ones to blame for their lack of economic achievement. Do yourself a favor and look up Bacon’s Rebellion and the Populist Movement to learn how racism was used as a wedge to drive apart coalitions of poor whites and poor Blacks.
Today, this same sentiment is used as a rationale for the shrinking of the American middle class. Conservatives have claimed that too much money is being spent on welfare for “inner-city” people.
That immigrants from Latin America are taking our jobs and ruining this country. Now the “other” is Muslim and this same group of people is terrified of them. The irrational and misplaced fear that white Americans have been fed for generations about black criminality and violence is now being spouted upon an additional minority group, Muslims.
Donald Trump did not create this. It never went way. It has been hiding behind the policies of the war on drugs, the imprisonment of hugely disproportionate numbers of Black Americans, the political fights over government assistance to poor Americans who are disproportionately black. It’s been hiding behind the refusal to usher in meaningful immigration reform, the push to change the very definition of what it means to be an American citizen to disenfranchise natural born Americans who are the children of immigrants, the return of poll taxes and Jim Crow era anti-voting laws. These are just a few examples of how the conservative movement has found itself being redefined by this parasite of hate and prejudice that it welcomed into its midst. The conservative movement is in danger of succumbing fully to this parasite of prejudice and fear.
Stopping Donald Trump will not change the dynamic that millions of Americans are excited to have a political leader voice their feelings and sentiments loudly and unapologetically.
Verily, we may owe Donald Trump a debt of gratitude, in this context. If the overt racism and crassness of his campaign brings to light the reality of American extremism, racism, prejudice, hate and fear of the other, allowing us as a nation to exterminate this evil from our midst once and for all, then Donald Trump might find the lasting place in American history that he seems to crave, albeit not in the way he intended.
Fitzgerald Clark has worked for many years as an Educator, working with youth and young adults throughout the US and foreign countries. He is a trained facilitator and is currently a freelance writer.