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Donald Trump and the Republican Party: Both True to Form 1854-2016 (Part H)
I would like to begin by restating a quote from an article written by one of my favorite journalists/writers, Matt Taibbi. In the March 10, 2016 issue of Rolling Stone magazine he wrote:
"It has been well documented that Trump surged last summer when he openly embraced the ugly race politics that, according to the Beltway custom of 50-plus years, is supposed to stay at the dog-whistle level" (1).
What we're trying to do
What we are trying to do in this series is simply this: Identify the origin of "the ugly race politics" that Mr. Trump has "openly embraced" last summer. He did not create them, of course; he is merely channeling them.
If they did not exist, Mr. Trump could not channel them. In order to source the "ugly race politics," we have to review some American history. Our job is made easier because we do not have to think too hard about why Mr. Trump felt the moment opportune to "openly embrace" this "Southern Strategy," if you will.
Again, Matt Taibbi, incisive as ever, explains that Trump and his campaign style is, essentially, the outcome of Republican do-nothing-ness---Harry Truman style! In the June 2 edition of the aforementioned magazine Taibbi wrote:
"Then they went off to Washington and year after year did absolutely squat for their constituents. They were excellent at securing corporate tax holidays and tax cuts for the rich, but they almost never returned to voter country with jobs in hand. Instead, they brought an ever-increasing list of villains responsible for the lack of work: communists, bra-burning feminists, black 'race hustlers,' climate-change activists, Muslims, Hollywood, horned owls" (2).
Here comes the truly excellent part. It turns out that this confluence of factors left the Republican party no choice but to increasingly run against itself!
"By the Tea Party era," continues Matt Taibbi, "their candidates were forced to point fingers at their own political establishment for votes, since after so many years of bitter economic decline, that was the only story they could still believably sell" (3).
Nothing Trump has said, however, is any more explosive than Patrick Buchanan's remarks, when he sought the Republican nomination for President back in 1992. I'll just quote one of his milder outrages:
"I think God made all people good, but if we had to take a million immigrants in, say, Zulus, next year, or Englishmen and put them in Virginia, what group would be easier to assimilate and would cause less problems for the people of Virginia? There is nothing wrong with sitting down and arguing that issue, that we are a European country" (4).
Here is how law scholar and race theorist Ian Haney Lopez, in part, characterizes Buchanan's remarks:
"Buchanan argues as a matter of fact that the United States is a European country, refusing to recognize that this 'fact' is a contingent one, a product in large part of identifiable immigration and naturalization laws. Buchanan and others easily confirm their notions regarding the racial nature of the United States, as well as the naturalness of a White citizenry, by looking around and noting the predominance of White people. The physical reality evident in the features of the U.S. citizenry supports the ideological supposition that Whites exist as a race and that this is a White country. Hidden from view, indeed difficult to discern except through extended study, is that Whites do not exist as a natural group, but only as a social and legal creation" (5).
We talked a little bit about this in Part G, using slightly different terms: the creation of "whiteness" as a racial identity by severing the interracial/inter-ethnic bonds of solidarity and cooperation that previously existed between enslaved blacks, European indentured servants---and though I haven't mentioned it, also Native Americans; that is to say, seventeenth century "working class" black slaves, European indentured servants, and hunted Native Americans.
The other component to the creation of "whiteness"
For that, once again, let us turn to historian Howard Zinn, who cited another historian, Edmund Morgan. For Dr. Morgan, based on his careful study of slavery in Virginia, racism was not a naturally occurring phenomenon between the black and "white" communities, but something created by the "one percent" as a device for social control (6).
Its like this: If you were the ruler of a country that is, say, 99.5 percent "white" or "Christian," one way to determine who is for you and who is against you is to apply some kind of religious purity litmus test.
In America, under more "racially diverse" circumstances, you do not want to do that. If you do, you will be put at a strategic disadvantage as against joint solidarity of enslaved blacks, Indians, and enslaved "whites" (remember, in Part G we learned that, according to Howard Zinn, that more than half the Europeans who came over to America during the colonial period came as indentured servants).
In other words, if you continue to play the religious litmus test game---you one percenters---you might get swallowed up by the solidarity of proletariat blacks, white servants, and Indians, whose interests conflict with yours in class terms.
Therefore another social control device, according to Morgan, was the development of a white middle class of small planters, independent farmers, and city artisans, who, given small rewards for joining forces with the elite merchants and big planters, would be a solid social buffer against blacks slaves, frontier Indians, and very poor whites (7).
What do I mean by social buffer?
I mean that if someone were to challenge the economic system as fundamentally unfair, an apologist could just wave a hand across a large swath of society and say: Look! Just look at all the prosperity going on. We're a lot better off over here in "The New World" than we ever were in Europe. The streets are paved with gold over here; and if you're not scooping up some for yourself, well, that's your problem. Something is wrong with you, not the system.
It doesn't hurt, either, that during the colonial period Calvinist ideology was operative. The popular American variant of Calvinism, at least, made the lack of prosperity a sin.
This is the dominant ideology operative today, of course, and its name is rugged individualism.
The growing cities generated more skilled workers and the government gained the support of white mechanics by protecting them from economic competition from both slaves and free blacks. For instance, in 1686, the council in New York ordered that 'Noe Negro or Slave be suffered to work on the bridge as a porter about any goods either imported Exported from or into this Citty' (8).
In Southern towns, also, white craftsmen and traders were protected from black competition. In 1764 the South Carolina legislature prohibited Charleston masters from employing free blacks or slaves as mechanics or in the handicraft trades (9).
We're talking about the government protection of white labor that spans the late seventeenth century to late-middle eighteenth century. Way back in Part B of this series --- The Party of Lincoln (1854-2016?): Additional Follow-Up Discussion --- we looked at specific measures state legislatures took to protect white male workers from job competition from blacks, slave or free, across the nineteenth century.
Here's the point
For several decades in the seventeenth century, "white" slavery (indentured servitude) ran right alongside "black" slavery.
But in the late seventeenth/early eighteenth century, indentured servitude (for whites) was phased out and the primary forced labor regime focused on African slavery.
When this happened, you might say the white proletariat was snatched out of Hell, leaving the black proletariat to burn alone.
You know the movies and television shows in which a demon shows up to drag someone into Hell? But the demon agrees to let her go, if she--the condemned--can supply a substitute. In the case of successful treachery, a substitute is taken to hell, and the originally condemned is now free.
With that we now return to the period of the 1870s-1930s
This is the period in American history I continue to characterize as the re-enslavement of the white working class. I talked about why I do that in Part G. I talked about this in connection with the human tendency to build political, economic, and social institutions right on top of each other, without rethinking the premises of the institutions they are replacing.
My theory is that the political and economic owners of capital wanted to produce the same amount of stuff and profit that they had done under slavery. But now they were operating under the conditions of technically free labor. In order to continue the meet the productivity goals that slavery had taught them to expect---they had to make technical freedom as much like slavery as possible while staying within the letter of the law.
You know what? I'm going to go in a different direction than I planned. Therefore I'll call it a day for this installment and go on to Part I.
Bye for now! Thank you for reading!
1. Taibbi, M. (2016, March 10). President Trump, Seriously: He's no ordinary con man. He's way above average -- and the American political system is his easiest mark ever. Rolling Stone, (1254), 34.
2. Taibbi, M. (2016, June 2). R.I.P. GOP: Donald Trump crushed 16 GOP opponents in one of the most appalling, vicious campaigns in history. His next victim? The entire Republican Party. Rolling Stone. 34
4. Haney Lopez, Ian. White By Law: The Legal Construction of Race. New York University Press, 1996. 18
6. Zinn, Howard. A People's History of the United States. Harper Perennial Modern Classics, 2003. (paperback). 56
8. ibid, 56-57
9. ibid, 57