In these last days before the 2018 elections, the escalation of rhetoric and violence is no random coincidence. Whether it is conspiratorial rants about opponents, unilateral decrees on the definition of citizenship or the loss of safety at worship or in the arrival of the day’s mail, each incident is a natural and predictable extension of Republican governance and President Donald Trump’s unhinged fearmongering.
We live in a society saturated with propaganda, conspiratorial thinking, scapegoating and delegitimization, all of it disproportionately deployed to suit the needs of the GOP and its overwhelmingly white constituency. In our political sphere, this constant stream of misinformation stems from a philosophy so invested in the desires and needs of white men that it demands the extraction of the lives and humanity of everyone else.
This philosophy accounts for garish partisan rallies, when unimaginable tragedy would normally call for empathy and connection. It allows for attacking political opponents ― fellow citizens ― on the basis of ethnicity and to also question their loyalty to the United States and promote lies about their families. It sees no shame in marching with torches, threatening violence and fulfilling that same dark promise. It offers little when bombs are sent to the political opposition, and open support when colleagues are interrogated about their racism.
They do not pretend to have a list of meaningful policies that they will pass to the benefit of every citizen.
These are the effects of white supremacy.
The white-dominated polity has denied this, euphemized it, diminished it, made it abstract. It has told those vulnerable to its effects that they are misguided or confused. It invests a tremendous amount of empathy for those who practice it and preach it, and little at all in those who are its victims. In turn, our white-dominated press has sympathized and simpered, gilded and glamorized white supremacists, and chastised those who question their coverage.
But the reality of white supremacy is as undeniable as it is terrible. It is in the fear of practicing your faith and meeting as a community because the government will do nothing to protect you from violence. It is in allowing unchecked lies to whittle away at the concept of shared truth, allowing truth to be whatever an individual wants it to be. It is in knowing that your voice has been silenced by a map that you can never hope to overturn. It is in having your citizenship ― and by extension, humanity ― defined out of existence.
White supremacy will not diminish over time or come to a natural halt. It will not give ground quietly or respect institutions. Those institutions are conveniently cast as foundational when they promote the interests of white supremacy and meaningless when they do not. Negotiation is futile because white supremacy does not negotiate in good faith. The violence is part of the attraction, and it views entire classes of people as unworthy of mourning. It will not bend to hear other voices, because the entire point of the philosophy is that only one group of people has voices worth hearing.
This is what the GOP has offered the country as we approach one of the most consequential midterm elections in American history. Republicans do not pretend to have a list of meaningful policies that they will pass to the benefit of every citizen. They do not campaign on their supposed accomplishments during the past two years. They do not tender olive branches or seek compromise with citizens who disagree with their vision. Instead, the GOP promises an escalation of white supremacy and support for Trump’s every depravity, no matter how unlawful.
At the moment, many Republicans are endorsing or defending the president’s decision to send troops to the southern border to prevent unarmed refugees from claiming their human right to asylum. Others in the GOP are still hoping to undermine the Mueller investigation and the Department of Justice. More Republicans still are spreading conspiratorial lies about their local opponents and about national Democrats, even after several prominent Democrats were targets of a terrorist assassination attempt.
The Republican Party has abandoned a closing argument for a primal scream. But it does not have to work.
Though white supremacy cannot be diminished, reasoned with or loved into submission, it can be pushed out. It can be rebuked and repudiated. It can be tethered to an extraordinary electoral loss, a removal from power that would shame the ideology’s ancestors. If Republicans have chosen to epitomize white supremacy then we can choose to reject them at the polls.
In this white voters are uniquely situated. Diverse voters have already chosen our alignment, but white voters are typically split. It will be the task of enough white voters to mobilize against this poisonous atmosphere and attack on democracy. It has to be made clear that our polity is prepared ― white dominated though it is ― to begin exiling white supremacy from American political life and to demonstrate that no one willing to espouse, promote or ally with these politics should wield the power of government.
The violence and fear ahead of these elections is a tragedy and a portent. With continued Republican rule, we could have a society in which these sacrifices of lives and communities are common and apologies are rare; in which the costs of violence are downplayed and the effects on many uninterrogated; in which truth is defined by what you choose to believe.
Or we could use our last peaceful recourse ― the ballot ― to reject white supremacy in favor of a government, and a nation, of equals.
Kaitlin Byrd is a writer and political activist based in her hometown of Brooklyn. She tweets at @GothamGirlBlue.