Coates: “Trump’s Ideology is White Supremacy”

For your must-read list this week: Ta Nehisi Coates’ new piece at The Atlantic, entitled “The First White President.” Here is a taste:

It is often said that Trump has no real ideology, which is not true—his ideology is white supremacy, in all its truculent and sanctimonious power. Trump inaugurated his campaign by casting himself as the defender of white maidenhood against Mexican “rapists,” only to be later alleged by multiple accusers, and by his own proud words, to be a sexual violator himself. White supremacy has always had a perverse sexual tint. Trump’s rise was shepherded by Steve Bannon, a man who mocks his white male critics as “cucks.” The word, derived from cuckold, is specifically meant to debase by fear and fantasy—the target is so weak that he would submit to the humiliation of having his white wife lie with black men. That the slur cuck casts white men as victims aligns with the dicta of whiteness, which seek to alchemize one’s profligate sins into virtue. So it was with Virginia slaveholders claiming that Britain sought to make slaves of them. So it was with marauding Klansmen organized against alleged rapes and other outrages. So it was with a candidate who called for a foreign power to hack his opponent’s email and who now, as president, is claiming to be the victim of “the single greatest witch hunt of a politician in American history.”

In Trump, white supremacists see one of their own. Only grudgingly did Trump denounce the Ku Klux Klan and David Duke, one of its former grand wizards—and after the clashes between white supremacists and counterprotesters in Charlottesville, Virginia, in August, Duke in turn praised Trump’s contentious claim that “both sides” were responsible for the violence.

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.

Really, if you aren’t reading everything Coates writes, you are missing out. He is the preeminent public voice in the United States.

Read the whole piece here.


The Teacher, The Ruler of Men, and The Little Children: A Parable

A wise Teacher was walking with a Ruler of men through the land he ruled one day. The Ruler was showing all the great and fabulous things he had built in the land, huge monuments to himself, and ingenious ways of making money, and power structures that ensured the good life for those who deserved it, and great weapons that could kill a hundred men in a single shot. All the glories of the greatest and most powerful kingdom of all!

The Ruler was getting frustrated, because he noticed that the Teacher wasn’t impressed by all these great things. What was there not to be impressed by? All this amazing stuff, buildings and statues and shiny things and bright lights; it was enough to dazzle even the most cynical! But yet the Teacher wasn’t ooo-ing and aaa-ing; instead, he seemed to be looking around for something.

The Ruler, being so caught up in these thoughts, was no longer paying any attention to where they were walking. Before he knew it, they had rounded a corner to one of the last places he wanted to take the Teacher. But here they were, and the Ruler decided to do his best to make even this place seem just great, to make it another symbol of his own power and might.

Before them was a prison. In it was housed children, of all ages and races and backgrounds. The Teacher walked up to the nearest holding cell, and gently asked the children inside, “Who are you?”

The Ruler stepped in. “These are lawbreakers! Their names hardly matter; they all sound alike anyways. All you need to know is that they broke my law, and so they are where they belong.” The Teacher was a smart guy, thought the Ruler. He knows and understands what happens to lawbreakers. Law and order must be preserved.

The Teacher knelt close to the bars. “Why are you in jail?” he asked them.

The Ruler answered again. “These criminals had the gall to live in my land without asking me! They didn’t even try to get the right paperwork. They thought they could just waltz on in and take from those who make. They wanted a free ride!” The Ruler’s anger was rising; he glared at a little girl in the cell. What a thug, he thought.

The Teacher gripped the hand of a small child through the bars. “Where are you from?”

The Ruler shoved his way in between the Teacher and the cell. “The only thing that matters about where they are from is that it isn’t here! And everyone knows this is the biggest and best and most remarkable kingdom in all the world, and anyone from anywhere else wishes they were us. But they can’t be! Not unless they pass my test and prove they can contribute to the glory of my kingdom! Not unless they earn the papers I give them that allows them to stay, out of the goodness of my heart.” Surely, the Teacher would see the logic and worldly wisdom in this. You can’t let just anyone in a kingdom, after all!

The Teacher looked kindly at an older child. “What did you do, before you were brought here?”

What a ridiculous question to ask, thought the Ruler, his patience waning. “These illegals claim to be students and workers and friends and sons and daughters. But it’s a lie! A criminal is a criminal. Nothing else matters in this case.” Case closed. This Teacher couldn’t get around such a black-and-white case as that.

The Teacher looked with great compassion at the smallest child, a girl of no more than two. “Where are you parents?” he asked her quietly.

That was it. The Ruler had had it. “Their parents? As if these hooligans aren’t bad enough! Their parents are even worse criminals than they are! They actually thought they could escape the mess they made in their own kingdoms by bringing their kids here to grow up. What a stupid plan! I’ve already shipped them back to their forsaken lands. And the only thing stopping me from doing that with these monsters is the pointy-headed intellectuals and journalists and judges who won’t let me do what I want in MY kingdom!”

At this point, the Ruler was stamping his feet and shaking so badly with anger that his hair looked like it was going to fall off his head. The little girl, watching the Ruler rage, felt compassion for him. She had once thrown a fit like this too, when she didn’t get what she wanted. She understood. She reached her little hand out between the bars and touched the Ruler’s little balled-up fists.

The Ruler jumped straight up in the air and screamed like he had been bitten by a snake. In that moment, his fear of all that was different, and his intense self-doubt that fed that fear, was laid bare for all to see. He wasn’t as angry at these kids, as he was terrified of them, and their language, and their culture, and their skin, and their humanity.

But quickly, he covered that up again with great anger and hatred, rekindled now as never before.

“Out!” He screamed at the Teacher. “You get out of my kingdom too! I thought you came here to confirm my rule, to show the people of the world how great I am! I thought your purpose was to make sure the people knew I was the best and greatest leader ever! But no, I see now, you only care about trash like these stupid kids. So you get out too! I don’t need them and I don’t need you to help me rule my kingdom. I have my towers and my statues and my money!”

The Teacher seemed sad at this. But he understood. So he shook the dust off his feet, and turned his face towards the world. Before he began walking, however, he looked at the Ruler one last time. “I can solve a problem for you. Let the little children come to me. I will take them when I go. For the kingdom I come from belongs to them.”

The Ruler was flabbergasted. A kingdom run by little criminals? What a bunch of horse manure! That could only be the most unsuccessful and poorest kingdom ever! “Fine!” he shouted. “Take them with you. And good riddance to the lot of you! And don’t expect to get back in to my kingdom once you leave! I am going to build a huge wall on the border between us, the most fabulous wall anyone has ever seen!” That’ll show them, he thought. After all, walls make the best neighbors, the kind you don’t have to see or hear or care about. No one in, and no one out. He’d be safe from those kids, with such a big wall.

The children filed out of the jail and gathered around the Teacher. “What about our parents?” the little girl asked him. “Oh, don’t worry. We will find them. They are probably already in my kingdom.” So the Teacher and the children set off on the road, leaving the Ruler standing in their wake. He watched them go, still flabbergasted and angry and scared, all at once.

But he was also curious about one more thing. This was a strange feeling to him, because he had never been curious about something before. So he ran and caught up to the Teacher. “One more thing, before you go back to your trash heap. What in the world would make you want these children and their outlaw families? And why would you turn over your kingdom to them? It doesn’t make any sense! You can’t win with them. Don’t you want to win? What gives you these crazy, backward ideas?”

The Teacher looked at the Ruler for a moment, again in pity. Finally, he said, “The tradition of our people does. I thought you came from that tradition too, but it seems you have forgotten it. Our tradition tells us to loose the bonds of injustice, undo the thongs of the yoke, let the oppressed go free. It says to bring good news to the oppressed, bind up the brokenhearted, proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners. Our tradition says to feed the hungry, sate the thirsty, welcome the stranger, clothe the naked. It says that the poor and the meek and the merciful and the peacemakers are blessed. And it says the first,” and here he put his finger on the Ruler’s chest, “will be last.”

And off again he and the children walked, leaving the stunned and confused and angry and scared and impotent and sad little Ruler of men standing on his great road, surrounded by his great monuments and statues and money and towers and weapons, completely and utterly alone.

Trump Voters: This Is On You

There is a point I keep trying to make, that I’m not sure I’ve made very clear yet. It has to do with President Trump, and it popped in my head again last week during his morally (and intellectually) vapid response to the Nazis in Charlottesville. Here it is:

Brought to you by President Trump. Just like we predicted.
If you voted for Donald Trump last year, then everything crazy that’s happening in our country right now is on your shoulders.

All of it – Neo-Nazis and white supremacists marching in the streets, the brink of nuclear war with North Korea, Russia buying an American election, and most of all, the emotionally stunted man child in the White House who has the approximate attention span, moral compass, and anger management skills of a 2-year old- that’s all on you, folks.

Now, I know what you are saying: “But this isn’t what I voted for!” Baloney. This is exactly what you voted for; stop acting all surprised that Donald Trump continues to act like Donald Trump in office. This isn’t a big shock; we (those of us who opposed him) predicted every last thing about him. The temper tantrums. The appalling lack of moral direction. The non-existent attention span. The failure to grasp even the most rudimentary policy ideas. The disregard for any and all American institutions and governing norms. The intense self-absorption. The tweeting. (Oh god, the tweeting.) The war mongering. The coddling of racists, extremists, Nazis, and criminals. The skin so thin you can see the overbearing insecurity cower beneath. The overall failure of this presidency. We saw it all coming, and honestly, we spent the better part of two years yelling about it. And now you want to act all surprised? Nope.

And how, might you ask, did we know? Because we had eyes and ears to see and hear! The way the president acts today? It’s the exact same person he was throughout his campaign! All this bullshit about how if elected, he would become more presidential? We saw it for the bullshit it was, and we warned you.

But you didn’t care. Because you were convinced that his opponent was somehow worse. I’m not sure in what way. I guess abortion?

And maybe you still believe the long-discredited and absolutely nuts Clinton conspiracy theories, about murder in Arkansas? It’s insane. During the course of the 2016 election cycle, you allowed yourself be hoodwinked, by a life-long scam artist, into thinking that a well-known woman politician – probably the best known and most transparent (thanks to the intense media scrutiny over the last 30 years) politician in America- was somehow unfit to hold the office of the President of the United States because of what server she saved her emails on. And, not only that, but you believed this to disqualify her despite the fact that he opponent was the kind of guy who openly bragged about sexually assaulting numerous women!

I mean, can you wrap your mind around that for a second? You made the calculus last year that a private email server was worse than sexual assault and blatant ignorance and racism.

Again, all because of, mostly, abortion.

Because you wagered that pinching your nose and voting for Trump would bring an end to legalized abortion in America. The same long right-wing con you’ve been falling for since Reagan. “Supreme Court justices!” you screamed.

And you’re right, Trump did appoint a right wing justice in Neil Gorsuch. But guess what? You still don’t have the Supreme Court votes. There are still four liberals and Anthony Kennedy standing in the way, and if you think Kennedy or Ginsburg are gonna let themselves be outlasted in office by President Cheeto – if you really think they are gonna let their legacy be overwritten by an in-over-his-head reality show hack- well, you’re gonna be surprised. I know the Notorious RBG is 84 years old, but I guarantee she has the force of will to keep on going until at least 2020.

To act like there was some kind of moral equivalency between Trump and Clinton – to continue to insist that, yeah, Trump is bad, but Clinton would have been bad, too – is to engage in willful ignorance. It’s like equating Neo-Nazis with those protesting Neo-Nazis. I mean, what kind of monster would do such a thing?

Anyways, back to my original point. Trump voters – strong Trump voters, reluctant Trump voters, bargaining Trump voters, GOP-loyal Trump voters – this is all on you. You don’t get to wash your hands of this presidency. You don’t get to act surprised and shocked by what is happening. Because we warned you. And, apparently, you just didn’t care enough about your fellow citizens to care.

Why am I insisting on this? Because it’s important that you realize that your vote has consequences for the lives of other people. It’s not a game. It’s not all about you. When you go and vote for someone like Trump, you have to own up to the consequences of that vote, you have to realize it matters, and you have to learn from it, so that we can avoid this kind of thing happening again in the future. Want to make America great again, like for real? Then realize you have blame in this, and that you have a responsibility to your fellow citizens to help make it right by making sure it doesn’t happen again.

So understand: everything that is happening right now, all the craziness and anger and insanity: this is the fruit of Trump support. Even if this isn’t “What you voted for,” it’s what you voted for. Own it. And next time, when you enter that ballot box, do better. You owe the rest of us that now.