A lot of people have suggested that Donald Trump’s candidacy this year is heir to the Pat Buchanan campaigns of the 1990’s – including Buchanan himself. The former candidate provided his explanation of Trump’s appeal in an appropriately titled article: The Great White Hope.
Buchanan starts off by referring to the much-discussed (and little-understood) research by Angus Deaton and Anne Case about the rising mortality rates of middle-aged white people and their economic woes. He attempts to explain it all by saying that it is a result of cultural changes. To illustrate, he points to his own view of history in which our heroes were all white men and then says this:
The world has been turned upside-down for white children. In our schools the history books have been rewritten and old heroes blotted out, as their statues are taken down and their flags are put away.
Children are being taught that America was “discovered” by genocidal white racists, who murdered the native peoples of color, enslaved Africans to do the labor they refused to do, then went out and brutalized and colonized indigenous peoples all over the world…
“Angry white male” is now an acceptable slur in culture and politics. So it is that people of that derided ethnicity, race, and gender see in Donald Trump someone who unapologetically berates and mocks the elites who have dispossessed them, and who despise them.
Is it any surprise that militant anti-government groups attract white males? Is it so surprising that the Donald today, like Jess Willard a century ago, is seen by millions as “The Great White Hope”?
The sentence about statues and flags is clearly a reference to the recent reactions to confederate symbols after the shooting of nine black people in South Carolina. A card-carrying member of the KKK couldn’t have said it any better. Compare Buchanan’s words to those of Richard Spencer – who the Southern Poverty Law Center calls, “a suit-and-tie version of the white supremacists of old.”
“Trump, on a gut level, kind of senses that this is about demographics, ultimately. We’re moving into a new America.” He said, “I don’t think Trump is a white nationalist,” but he did believe that Trump reflected “an unconscious vision that white people have – that their grandchildren might be a hated minority in their own country. I think that scares us. They probably aren’t able to articulate it. I think it’s there. I think that, to a great degree, explains the Trump phenomenon.”
In some ways it is helpful to have the fore-runner to the Trump candidacy lay this all out so blatantly. For years we’ve been subjected to dog whistle racism from conservatives. Buchanan is articulating what has been brewing under the surface for a while now and has reached its peak as a confederate insurgency during the Obama years.
An assumption that equality for people of color is somehow a threat to white people is at the heart of white supremacy. It has always been about a zero sum game.
Although some have heralded recent political and cultural developments as signaling the arrival of a postracial era in America, several legal and social controversies regarding ‘‘reverse racism’’ highlight Whites’ increasing concern about anti-White bias. We show that this emerging belief reflects Whites’ view of racism as a zero-sum game, such that decreases in perceived bias against Blacks over the past six decades are associated with increases in perceived bias against Whites.
It is possible to understand – from a social science perspective – what is driving this insurgency, as well as to get angry at the ignorance that fuels it all. But the real challenge is: what do we do about the Pat Buchanan’s and Donald Trump’s of the world (and their supporters)? As Buchanan demonstrates in the quote above, challenging their racism is viewed as an attempt to “dispossess” them. I agree with Connie Schultz that racism’s ugly counterpart is the “trash-talking” we sometimes see against white working class people. But to the extent that anyone, like Buchanan, sees Donald Trump’s divisive ugly candidacy as “the great white hope,” – yeah…I’m going to call it out for what it is. There is a lot at stake in this 2016 election. Most notably, how we are going to respond to the ongoing confederate insurgency of people like Pat Buchanan?