Since the 1960s, many Americans have done the necessary work of pointing out past (and current) moral failures when it comes to race and gender. Yet, too few of us have taken seriously the psychical harm done to many voters by a half-century of (mostly) positive social changes in the country. Democrats have fetishized diversity to the extent many white Americans do not see themselves represented in the party, while the Republican playbook’s worst-kept secret is that they have carefully stoked racial animus among white voters. For decades, Washington told white Americans: “you don’t deserve to be angry” or “stay angry.” One result has meant a growing percentage of white Americans feel resentment that their voices, concerns, and pain do not matter. Progressives have acted as if white folks feel no pain, which is tragically ironic considering many white folks have thought the same thing about black folks. Whether phantom or hidden, pain is still pain, right?
Trump, Milo, Jones, Richard Spencer, and others from the “alt-right” are scratching an existential itch a lot of folks feel. But they aren’t offering anything akin to civic engagement. Trump is the latest name for an old white card played when it feels tougher to be heard. Historically, white Americans have made very bad decisions in these moments. Lynching, the KKK, Jim and Jane Crow Laws (segregation laws), and the incarceration epidemic all began in moments where rich white businessmen tapped into racial resentment and turned white anger into a special interest. Look up the Louisiana Gubernatorial race of 1872. Is this what Trump means by “Making America Great, Again?”
Our political failure to take white frustrations seriously has seen them fall prey to chicken hawks and us become hawks, as well; too smug (as Democrats) to show compassion to hurting white folks; or, too ashamed (as Republicans) that the party of Lincoln went the way of the Southern Strategy virtually assuring that race would end up the proxy war over far more fundamental American values. How difficult would it be for Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell to actually speak out against racism? And doesn’t Clinton’s ‘deplorables’ comment amount to building a wall of her own? All voters would appreciate moral leadership and leaders with morals.
Regardless of who wins or loses the election, when will Americans decide to stop playing a political game rooted in the rejection of others? White pain has been pimped out before, and many are being pimped again by Trump’s abuses — some of his biggest victims are his supporters. At best, rejecting these “deplorables” makes us their enablers. At worst, we have been their groomers.
My dad used to say that when people talk about the good ole days, don’t trust them, but don’t forget to love them, either. What Trump offers, by his admission, is a return to the past where rejections based on race and gender were rampant. He may soon be out of the news cycle, but his “deplorables” are not going anywhere. We might do well to greet them with the same toleration we expect so much from them. If we’re so certain American democracy is truly great, then let’s trust it is strong enough to hear all of its voices.