Among the myths cherished by white supremacists, few are daffier than the notion that a white person who doesn’t believe his or her race superior to all others must be a self-loathing liberal, a delusional milquetoast, or both.
In fact, in the eyes of most racialist deadenders, whites ― and especially white Christians ― who reject the concept of “supremacy” are not merely pathetic. They’re turncoats. Traitors to the tribe.
That human beings still embrace such claptrap won’t surprise anyone over the age of, say, nine. The racist bile directed at President Obama and his extraordinary family over the past eight years is, in and of itself, ample proof that we are far from living in a post-racial landscape.
That said, the realization that many Americans ― Klansmen, white nationalists, anti-Semites and other zealots ― are still clinging to the bankrupt promises of white supremacy provided a nasty post-election shock to even the most clear-eyed among us. It’s one thing to assume that a good number of one’s compatriots harbor sickening beliefs; it’s another thing entirely to see and hear American men and women proclaiming those beliefs in public.
So, here we are ― in a country where the next president has not only failed to shake the assorted bigots bellowing his praises, but barely seems to notice or care that alt-right nincompoops and white nationalists are giddily riding his coattails into what, at this point, passes for the mainstream.
The bleak truth, of course, is that supremacist ideology is nothing new: for hundreds of years it has been deeply enmeshed in American politics and culture. The crude power of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign came, in large part, from the reality TV star’s willingness to play upon the craving for superiority that has poisoned the spirits and narrowed the horizons of generations of white Americans.
Now, no reasonable person believes that every one of the millions of Americans who voted for Donald Trump is a diehard racist. But it does bear repeating, and repeating often, that every single Trump voter actively backed a man who made racial divisiveness a central, if clumsily camouflaged, pillar of his campaign. More than a few of Trump’s friends and allies, meanwhile ― including, most recently, a right-wing fistula named Carl Paladino ― spew offensive rhetoric as naturally as they draw breath.
History will note that in 2016, one party opted for a message of inclusion, fellowship and shared sacrifice while the other rode to victory on a flood of bitterness, inchoate rage and racially charged xenophobia.
The challenge ahead for Americans of good will, across the political spectrum, is clear: to remind those whose lives have been stunted by supremacist fables that treason to the idea of a superior race is not a crime. It’s a concerted act of personal liberation and of patriotism.
We can begin by making it plain to the haters and the doubters that Americans who reject the asinine tenets of white supremacy love our varied backgrounds as surely as any Confederate flag-waving Trump fan loves hers. An abiding pride in my own Celtic heritage, for example, hardly eclipses my fondness and respect for untold numbers of other cultures.
We can acknowledge that the corrosive effect of white privilege on the social contract is real, even as bellyachers on the Right desperately try to defend and prop up that archaic birthright.
We can wholeheartedly embrace the myriad ethnicities ― from the Caribbean, Central America, South Asia, North Africa, the Middle East, you get the picture ― that, in concert with so many others, have always shaped the truest expression of American exceptionalism: namely, our diversity.
We can recommit ourselves to the fight against the undead theory of “supply side” economics that has seduced right-wing legislators and their mouthpieces in the media for decades. On paper and in practice, the GOP’s fiscal policies comprise a mutant strain of capitalism that endlessly enriches the one percent of the one percent at the expense of everyone else, regardless of race or creed. In that light, one would be hard-pressed to find a more perfect example of political divide-and-conquer: those at the very top live large; a good number of working families are barely making do; and a significant majority, often splintered along sectarian lines, fights for scraps.
Economic justice might not guarantee racial harmony ― but it’s a damn good start.
Finally, men and women of good faith can illustrate in our daily lives, our relationships and perhaps especially in our workplaces how enlarging and economically uplifting pluralism truly is ― and how self-defeating, fiscally idiotic and (crime of crimes) how utterly boring it is to denigrate and isolate races and heritages other than our own.
Naïve solutions to lethal problems? Maybe. But unless we’re prepared to engage in violent conflict with people who clearly don’t share our faith in a multicultural future, those of us who reject Trump’s toxic vision had better get used to fighting for our beliefs with the weapons at hand: our words, our deeds and our unapologetic example.
Does any of this mean that the Steve Bannons of the world are suddenly going to “get it” and embrace a positive vision of a multiracial America? Of course not. But let’s not forget: we are the majority in this country. Not Carl Paladino’s dozens of fans. Not backers of conspiracy-addled weenies like Louie Gohmert or Steve King. Not the alt-right. There are far more centrists, liberals and leftists in the U.S. ― and even a handful of old-school moderate Republicans willing to confront the kooks who have hijacked their party ― than there are white nationalists and Putinistas. There’s no reason for us to back down.
Throughout his cynical, unscrupulous campaign, Donald Trump openly courted the worst angels of our nature, and no thinking person can believe he is adroit enough or leader enough to rein in the hateful energies he helped unleash. Only the American people ― including millions of Mr. Trump’s saner supporters ― can do that.
Whether those supporters have the will or the desire to help tackle that messy task remains, for all of us, a haunting, unsettled question.