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Required Reading: The First White President

Here’s the link to Ta-Nehisi Coates article.

Here are a few excerpts, but you should read the whole thing. I’m not adding a lot of commentary, since Ta-Nehisi says it best!

He starts off:

To Trump, whiteness is neither notional nor symbolic but is the very core of his power. In this, Trump is not singular. But whereas his forebears carried whiteness like an ancestral talisman, Trump cracked the glowing amulet open, releasing its eldritch energies. The repercussions are striking: Trump is the first president to have served in no public capacity before ascending to his perch. But more telling, Trump is also the first president to have publicly affirmed that his daughter is a “piece of ass.” The mind seizes trying to imagine a black man extolling the virtues of sexual assault on tape (“When you’re a star, they let you do it”), fending off multiple accusations of such assaults, immersed in multiple lawsuits for allegedly fraudulent business dealings, exhorting his followers to violence, and then strolling into the White House. But that is the point of white supremacy—to ensure that that which all others achieve with maximal effort, white people (particularly white men) achieve with minimal qualification. Barack Obama delivered to black people the hoary message that if they work twice as hard as white people, anything is possible. But Trump’s counter is persuasive: Work half as hard as black people, and even more is possible.

Concerning the white working class:

The indictment continues: To their neoliberal economics, Democrats and liberals have married a condescending elitist affect that sneers at blue-collar culture and mocks the white man as history’s greatest monster and prime-time television’s biggest doofus. In this rendition, Donald Trump is not the product of white supremacy so much as the product of a backlash against contempt for white working-class people.

“We so obviously despise them, we so obviously condescend to them,” the conservative social scientist Charles Murray, who co-wrote The Bell Curve, recently told The New Yorker, speaking of the white working class. “The only slur you can use at a dinner party and get away with is to call somebody a redneck—that won’t give you any problems in Manhattan.”

[…]

That black people, who have lived for centuries under such derision and condescension, have not yet been driven into the arms of Trump does not trouble these theoreticians. After all, in this analysis, Trump’s racism and the racism of his supporters are incidental to his rise.

I’ve never understood how people could focus so strongly on the white working class (WWC) while ignoring every other working class member.

And, to top it off, Trump’s support wasn’t based solely on the WWC – despite what pundits and opinion writers keep claiming. Nope, it was based on white people across the board.

An analysis of exit polls conducted during the presidential primaries estimated the median household income of Trump supporters to be about $72,000. But even this lower number is almost double the median household income of African Americans, and $15,000 above the American median. Trump’s white support was not determined by income. According to Edison Research, Trump won whites making less than $50,000 by 20 points, whites making $50,000 to $99,999 by 28 points, and whites making $100,000 or more by 14 points. This shows that Trump assembled a broad white coalition that ran the gamut from Joe the Dishwasher to Joe the Plumber to Joe the Banker. So when white pundits cast the elevation of Trump as the handiwork of an inscrutable white working class, they are being too modest, declining to claim credit for their own economic class. Trump’s dominance among whites across class lines is of a piece with his larger dominance across nearly every white demographic.

The focus on one subsector of Trump voters—the white working class—is puzzling, given the breadth of his white coalition. Indeed, there is a kind of theater at work in which Trump’s presidency is pawned off as a product of the white working class as opposed to a product of an entire whiteness that includes the very authors doing the pawning.

I really can’t read one more article on the white working class. They always struck me as grossly incomplete and deceptive.

“Identity politics … is largely expressive, not persuasive,” Lilla claims. “Which is why it never wins elections—but can lose them.” That Trump ran and won on identity politics is beyond Lilla’s powers of conception. What appeals to the white working class is ennobled. What appeals to black workers, and all others outside the tribe, is dastardly identitarianism. All politics are identity politics—except the politics of white people, the politics of the bloody heirloom.

Exactly.

I worry about fair use, so go read the article.

 

39 comments on “Required Reading: The First White President

  1. Thank you for posting this; I hadn’t hit The Atlantic yet today.

    For me, this was the killer paragraph about the core issue:

    “The left would much rather have a discussion about class struggles, which might entice the white working masses, instead of about the racist struggles that those same masses have historically been the agents and beneficiaries of. Moreover, to accept that whiteness brought us Donald Trump is to accept whiteness as an existential danger to the country and the world. But if the broad and remarkable white support for Donald Trump can be reduced to the righteous anger of a noble class of smallville firefighters and evangelicals, mocked by Brooklyn hipsters and womanist professors into voting against their interests, then the threat of racism and whiteness, the threat of the heirloom, can be dismissed. Consciences can be eased; no deeper existential reckoning is required.”

    Yeah, guilty as charged.

    But a broad brush always gives you spotty coverage. My contention isn’t that class struggles are more important than racial ones, but that class struggles are more effective as campaign instruments.

    The fact that white America is racist is the reason NOT to campaign on lifting up minorities. Why remind racists of race? You can’t change decades of social conditioning in the span of a political campaign. Therefore, try to avoid it.

    • cassandram

      This early white working class “expressed soaring desires to be rid of the age-old inequalities of Europe and of any hint of slavery,” according to David R. Roediger, a professor of American studies at the University of Kansas. “They also expressed the rather more pedestrian goal of simply not being mistaken for slaves, or ‘negers’ or ‘negurs.’ ”

      Which is still true. And was key to the Trump campaign. He promised to his voters that they would not have to be lumped in or compete for government resources with the “niggers.”

      The social conditioning wasn’t the point of the HRC campaign. Hers was more about expanding the fabric of civil rights to more people. It was Trump’s campaign that was about specifically reinforcing that social conditioning and telling people it was AOK to exert the “natural” order.

      White slavery is sin. Nigger slavery is natural. This dynamic serves a very real purpose: the consistent awarding of grievance and moral high ground to that class of workers which, by the bonds of whiteness, stands closest to America’s aristocratic class.

    • “The fact that white America is racist is the reason NOT to campaign on lifting up minorities. Why remind racists of race? You can’t change decades of social conditioning in the span of a political campaign. Therefore, try to avoid it.”

      Impossible, sadly. The GOP runs on identity politics every single time – they even put certain issues on the ballot in certain states. How do we avoid DACA? The closing of yet another PP? Police brutality? Discrimination? All of these things, and many more, impact people’s economies and yet we label them “social issues” (which, when I think about it, really means issues that don’t affect white men). How do we avoid these issues when it’s all the GOP runs on (besides tax cuts)?

      • cassandram

        This is exactly right. This toxic identity politics has been staple for the GOP at least since Lee Atwater. Funny how the “identity politics” that is about expanding the civil rights board is meant to step back while the perpetual GOP effort at identity politics is not only successful, but is given a pass.

        • Not at all. The point is that in identity politics, the whites have more votes. So you don’t want to be on that playing field DURING AN ELECTION. This is not a difficult concept yet I still sense a failure to grasp it.

          When we talk about equality, too many whites hear “They want to take something away from me.” Why else does the public reject all talk of economic equality, which polling shows they do? People want to make more money, but they don’t want their neighbors making more, too. These are basic psychological principles that you seem to be utterly unaware of.

          This is not an argument about what the party stands for. It’s about what it says during elections. Y’all apparently can’t get your head around the fact that these people are motivated by the exact opposite of what motivates you. Talk about equality and they’ll react with white power. Talk about jobs and what’s their answer?

          • Not sure how that works. Are you saying that whenever immigration, LGBTQ, PP, police killings, Muslim bans, Nazis, etc., etc., etc. comes up the Dems refuse to answer the question??? Seriously, show me how this is accomplished – without losing our base.

            It isn’t as simple as you think it is. And I’m quite aware of the basic psychological principles. What I’m not aware of is how you execute your plan in reality – a reality in which politicians will be asked these questions. Do they ignore them? Yeah, that will go over really well. Flesh this out for me.

            It isn’t Dems who run on social issues. It’s the Republicans.

            • I think, other than the exception of marriage equality.. which dems totally (and rightfully) ran on, Republicans are running on them from a place of attack, Dems just defend them. I wish democrats would, as i mentioned before, take the stance of “let’s not re-fight old battles, Americans want to move on”. They still defend these necessary rights and steps of progress, but can make the case that they have “bigger fish to fry”. It isnt discounting or minimizing social fights, btw… it can, however, make the GOP look (even more) petty. It is a sick optics game that one has to play if they want to win.

              • an example
                (current political climate)
                GOP nutsack: we should define marriage as one man and one woman! Abortions are terrible, let’s reverse Roe V Wade
                Dem: No we should fight for equality and a woman’s right to choose!
                GOP nutsack: The democrats only care about these Hollywood elite issues, we will fight for the American worker
                American: Yeah! whatabout my job!?”

                OR

                (ben’s stupid Utopian political climate)
                GOP nutsack: we should define marriage as one man and one woman! Abortions are terrible, let’s reverse Roe V Wade
                Dem: When will the GOP move on from these settled issues? We will fight for income equality across all woks of life and fight for the American worker!

            • Funny, but Elizabeth Warren has no trouble answering these questions without anyone ever questioning where she stands on Wall Street or corporations.

              • I believe she does it properly. But the DNC snubbed her and other progressives like her because she’s a racist berniecrat, or whatever the party-line is. although I think Chuck’s objections to Keith Ellison were his religion.

          • cassandram

            This is asking for Dems to center their argument to voters in white supremacy:
            Y’all apparently can’t get your head around the fact that these people are motivated by the exact opposite of what motivates you. Talk about equality and they’ll react with white power. Talk about jobs and what’s their answer?

            And it forgets the last 60 or so years of history. They may have the votes now, but that won’t always be true. And outside of Mike Pence, I wonder if there will be another GOP candidate who will so explicitly cater to white grievance. Still, there would not have been a Civil Rights Act, or Women’s Sufferage, or the elimination of DADT or any number of advancements in equality if those pushing for it had taken your advice. Once again I will remind you that LBJ understood exactly what he was doing to his party by signing the Civil Rights Act.

            Polling, as always, depends upon what you ask. Polls that ask about “income inequality” show that this is not a high priority for Americans. Ask about whether the wealthy should pay more in taxes or if the distribution of money here is fair, and you get very different answers. This is just about finding a more artful way of talking about it. “Prioritizing work over wealth”, say.

            Still, it won’t do to tell People of Color, women, LGBTQ folks that they need to set aside their concerns for justice so that white folks can get back to the head of the line. Because at this point in history, the only people buying white supremacy is white people.

            • “There never would have been”….

              I’m not calling for retroactive application of this approach. And your praise of LBJ ignores the fact that he never ran for election touting his support of civil rights, illustrating my point, not yours.

              My reasoning is based on the evident fact that your approach lost us the last election.

              Your response is what the Democratic Party believes: “They may have the votes now, but that won’t always be true.”

              By the time they don’t have the votes, I’m dead. If you look at the numbers in Coates’ article, it’s not the oldest folks who went hard est for Trump — it’s the Reagan generation of young people, those in their 40s and 50s now, who grew up buying the Atwater-coded white supremacy. By the time they’re dead, you’re in your dotage.

              And even then, all you will have gained is an equal share of a shit sandwich.

              • cassandram

                It’s not the evident fact. There’s tons of data that I have posted that supports that. Coates also notes that. Your reasoning is that minorities need to sit the fuck down so that white people can determine your fate.

                Not gonna happen. Asking for a whites only centered politics is just not going to happen. My entire point is that there is an entire history of expanded civil rights for minorities in my lifetime. And LBJ didn’t need to campaign on civil rights to know that his expansion of them would lose Southern Democrats. The real narrative here is that expansive views of civil rights win in the long run. So does a real focus on jobs. But some of us with jobs will be held back by those whites you want to be centered in this argument. So No Thanks to your supremacy argument.

                • And no thanks to your politics of resentment.

                  • I’m not seeing this “politics of resentment”. I’m seeing civil rights issues – and I get why that turns off white voters who are being asked to share a piece of the pie. Because that’s all that’s really going on here.

                    And if the plan to win the WWC is to cater to their concerns – much of which actually is the politics of resentment you reference – well, good luck with that since the GOP does that better.

                    • Your inability to see things isn’t my problem. When a call for an economic message is met with charges of white supremacy — read her response again — I’m calling it out for the resentment that it is.

                      That response fairly dripped with resentment of whites. Good luck with that approach, since whites still outnumber minorities, which is all I had pointed out that engendered Cassandra’s resentful response.

                  • And you demonstrate how you view things through the white male perspective. Which is fine. I view things through the white woman perspective.

                    And the idea that we can win these WWC voters without being a little bit racist, sexist, bigoted doesn’t fly.

                    • Since your outlook consigns people to their silos, and you’re not a member of the white working class, I’m going to ignore your idea of how to woo them, or rather, how to turn them into enemies. I simply note that Barack Obama wooed them just fine, while also attracting record numbers of black voters.

                      The idea isn’t to appeal to all of them, just enough to win. If one party offers all those things, and we offer them nothing, they pick the GOP. If we offer them something — “hope and change” worked at one point, until the lack of change made everyone feel hopeless again — we at least give them a choice.

                      The last thing you should want to do is declare political war on white people, at least until whites are no longer a majority. That was Cassandra’s suggestion. So come the 2040s Democrats should have an easier time. Sadly, for me at least, I won’t be around to vote for them.

                    • You’re pretty good at silo building.

                      That said, it would be great if your focus extended beyond the WWC since this strategy is currently losing us minority voters. Maybe we should also be having the discussion as to why the WWC/income inequality message didn’t resonate in black communities. We are in danger of catering solely to one group while losing another. That’s a problem.

                      And the idea that WWC voters voted for Obama due to being wooed is overly simplistic and completely ignores what was happening to the economy in 2008, not to mention all the other Bush disasters. I’d also toss in that, in 2016, Republicans finally found the candidate that met their definition of “conservative enough.”

                    • The only silo that counted was the one that consisted of self-pitying white people. You have no data that would support this idea that people who were specifically targeted based on their racial resentments would have abandoned that because of a better jobs message. And you can’t. Because the only thing in evidence here is the need on your part to be really blind to the toxic identity politics that has been part of the GOP brand since forever and that Trump made explicit. This doesn’t get fixed by asking the people whose civil rights ARE being trampled on to step back and give the people insistent on doing the trampling a little space. There is nothing about American history that provides this strategy ANY credence whatsoever. But what we do get is one more white guy trying to provide some space for his boys to work out their worst instincts. If WWC voters ever come back it will be because they have discovered that the propaganda they get fed doesn’t employ them, doesn’t feed their families but does help the 1% to keep more of their shit. So you are free to help these people hang on to their destructive behavior. And I will be hanging out with the people trying to create a better place for all of us.

                  • Whatever you mean by that. Please define the “politics of resentment,” giving a a few specific examples. At least then I will have a clearer idea of what you are talking about. Put some meat on the bone that can be chewed and digested — or vomited…please!

  2. “I’ve never understood how people could focus so strongly on the white working class (WWC)…” – pandora

    The WWC used to vote Democrat, then the Clintons and the D-party turned their backs on the working class; white, black, brown and center with anti-labor policies such as NAFTA and serving on the boards of rabidly anti-labor corporations(Walmart, Hillary). Obomba and Hillary pushing for NAFTA II (aka the TPP) during the election season was sheer political seppuku.

    Anyway, hope that helps with your understanding. You’re welcome.

    • >Obomba

      A good indication that this comment has about as much thought put into it as your uncle’s drunken Facebook posts.

    • “The WWC used to vote Democrat, then the Clintons and the D-party turned their backs on the working class”

      Bullshit. They defected with Reagan and never came back. Clinton has nothing to do with it, except he peeled away a few racists by playing one on TV.

      • “They [the WWC] defected with Reagan and never came back.’ – Alby

        They “defected” after Carter deregulated the airline, trucking and rail industries costing thousands of union member jobs. What’s more, Carter never spent any capital fighting for Humphrey-Hawkins Full Employment bill, as originally drafted, provided a federal guarantee of full employment, unlike the watered down version that passed. Then there was Carter’s “AID FOR RUNAWAY SHOPS”,

        https://nacla.org/article/immigration-carters-anti-labor-plan

        described as “the Carter program promoting an “open-door” for U.S. runaway shops and U.S. capital in general.”

        If the WWC “defected”, it was not without reason.

        • First, you claimed it was Clinton. Now it’s Carter. So it’s always a Democrat.

          Most of the WWC defected to Reagan, for whatever reason, and never went back. If these Carter decisions had all the impact you imply, why didn’t these sensitive folks defect from Reagan after he fired the air traffic controllers? Simple: you’re wrong.

          You’re a Democrat, you claim? I see no evidence of it.

          • “Most of the WWC defected to Reagan, for whatever reason, and never went back.” – Alby

            If the WWC “never went back” to the D-party, there would have never been a Clinton or Obomba presidency. Like an abused spouse, abused voters can and do return to their abusers.

            But you’re incensed with the abused, not the abusive D-Party apparatus.

            • You are wrong again. I’m mostly incensed with liars. You are one.

              • I only mention that because, yet again, you offer no indication you are actually a Democrat. Feel free to start proving me wrong.

                More substantively, there’s this, from Rolling Stone, right after the election:

                “According to the exit polls, Clinton underperformed Barack Obama’s 2012 results among not only non-college educated whites, but also white men; black men and women; Hispanic men and women; Asian men and women; men and women of other races; every age group except voters over 65; liberals, moderates and conservatives; Protestants, Catholics, adherents of other religions and those who claim no religious affiliation; married men and unmarried men and women; union and non-union households; self-identified Democrats; straight people; people who think undocumented immigrants should be given legal status; and people who think the country is going in the right direction.”

                But by all means let’s dwell on the defection of the white working class, rather than the quality of the Democratic nominee.

                • ““According to the exit polls, Clinton underperformed Barack Obama’s 2012 results among not only non-college educated whites,” and just about every other demographic.

                  Yes, Clinton sucked b/c she was a D version of every other corporate primary opponent that Trump trounced. But that’s on her, not the WWC.

              • You say I am wrong but can’t say why I am wrong is a hardly an argument worthy outside of a grade school playground.

                • I can find no support of your claim that the WWC “went back” to Clinton and Obama. Please supply the evidence if you want me to dispute it with something specific.

                  The real point here is that you are full of shit. You’re not a Democrat. I’ve never seen you say a single thing that indicates you are. I don’t bother arguing with trolls.

                  • Alby
                    September 11, 2017
                    “I can find no support of your claim that the WWC “went back” to Clinton and Obama. Please supply the evidence if you want me to dispute it with something specific.”

                    Well, In your response to pandora, you are apparently of the opinion that obomba “wooed” the WWC “just fine”.

                    Alby
                    September 11, 2017
                    “Since your outlook consigns people to their silos, and you’re not a member of the white working class, I’m going to ignore your idea of how to woo them, or rather, how to turn them into enemies. I simply note that Barack Obama wooed them just fine,”

                    Do tell us how you intend to resolve your cognitive dissonance.

    • cassandram

      Josh has done a good job here — I would add that the whole idea of white working class anxiety ignores the economic instability that ALOT of Americans feel. The details of which can change depending upon where you are on the economic ladder, but it is pretty plain that the kind of work and paycheck stability our parents had is largely gone for most of us and it is in managing that you find the anxiety. Add to that parents of kids who may have done everything they were supposed to and are not employed well enough to live without parental help. Working people at quite a few levels have been screwed over by the folks who own it all. And the people who own it all have convinced a fair number of the people who are at some risk that they have to live with that risk because business has a greater need for stability and growth.

      • What a crock of crap!! Wha-wha-wha. Oh wo is me. Keep having that attitude, that will surely get you out of the rut or to a better place. Typical, I should have what everybody else has. You sure can, WORK YOUR TAIL OFF! That is what people did, who started their own business, they took the chance, took a second mortgage on their house. They worked nights and weekends! AND they keep working hard to keep people employed!!

        BELIEVE IT OR NOT THERE ARE EMPLOYERS, WHO CARE ABOUT THEIR EMPLOYEES!

    • George Will mocking anyone for being offended by something is the height of hypocrisy. Will a bad hairpiece.

      • That should be “with” a bad hairpiece. The point being, this is a guy who has made his living being offended that anyone questions his towering wisdom.

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