Issac Bailey: Trump poses test for whites -- will open bigotry once again become part of U.S. discourse?
Bailey: Trump attracts aggrieved whites by inciting racial conflict, distracting from issue of his competence
Editor’s Note: Issac Bailey has been a journalist in South Carolina for two decades and was most recently the primary columnist for The Sun News in Myrtle Beach. He was a 2014 Harvard University Nieman fellow. Follow him on Twitter: @ijbailey. The views expressed are his own.
Donald Trump is offering the ultimate test to white people. Will they allow open bigotry once again to become an acceptable element of mainstream American discourse?
Perhaps without even realizing it, in a recent column for Business Insider, Josh Barro made the best argument for this mind-boggling idea.
He suggested that the reason Trump deliberately stokes racial flames – such as in his recent bigoted attacks on the Hispanic judge presiding over the Trump University fraud case – is to deflect attention away from a stronger case against his own candidacy: that he is too dangerous a man to be in charge of the world’s greatest military.
That danger is something that would affect all voters and, if they focused their attention on it, would cause a cause a large coalition – one that crosses all demographics – against Trump to grow. On the other hand, outrage over his bigotry will mostly arouse the passions of people of color.
Barro writes: “If the campaign becomes a lot about Trump’s treatment of non-whites and Hispanics, then Trump is likely to benefit to some degree from a backlash among white voters. Remember: Half of whites think that racism against whites is as big a problem in America as racism against non-whites, according to a 2015 study from the Public Religion Research Institute.”
Think about that idea: Trump wants to be known as a bigot because he believes that’s the best way to attract enough white voters to help him win in November.
Barro’s conclusion is not unimaginable, and it should offend and sober up every white American with a brain – and a soul.
In the 21st century, eight years after Americans elected (and then re-elected) America’s first black President, one of the final few people vying to become the nation’s next president might get there by brazenly playing to white people’s fears and racial angst.
With his constant drumbeat of racially charged, us vs. them rhetoric, it seems clear that Trump wants white people to buy into the myth that the deck is stacked against them. This is despite the fact that almost all of the racial gaps concerning wealth, income, education, personal well-being, health, representation in the criminal justice system and as the heads of industry – including the media and Fortune 500 companies – continue breaking in whites’ favor.
People of color have at times unfairly maligned white people for off-color comments that weren’t meant to be racist; sometimes gone overboard while protesting police brutality; underestimated their own faults; painted the Republican Party with too broad a racist brush; too frequently ignored the struggles of middle-class and poor white Americans; and made it difficult for white people to express honest differences for fear of being targeted by those who don’t tolerate any racial opinions that don’t dovetail with their own.
Upon that fertile ground, Trump appears to be trying to build an almost-all-white coalition in a country that’s fast becoming majority minority.
Firmly in his corner are many white people who believe long overdue changes in this country – changes that reflect this majority minority demographic shift – are a personal attack on their identity, rather than a truer fulfilment of the country’s founding principles. Also in his corner are Republicans such as Sen. Mitch McConnell and Rep. Paul Ryan who simply are convinced a Democrat should never be allowed in the White House, even if the alternative is someone they find personally reprehensible.
The only question is how many other white people, including those willfully ignorant of Trump’s bigotry, will join them.
Don’t be fooled by those claiming they are choosing Trump because Hillary Clinton is just as bad. She’s a flawed political candidate – like every one before her. But Trump is a threat of a whole other magnitude.
And don’t buy into the “it’s the economy, stupid” claims, either. There has never been a period in American history in which every person who wanted a job could get one, but this never stopped white Americans from proclaiming America’s greatness – until a black man took over the presidency.
Had it been a “President Romney” who presided over a 4.7% unemployment rate, the longest job creation streak in history and a return to the peak of median household income seen during the Clinton-era boom – while shaving the national deficit by about $1 trillion – many of those speaking poorly of the economy today would instead have been singing the praises of a white man with an extensive business background.
That’s why Trump’s presence on the national stage is a kind of national service, for it exposes how much bigotry people will tolerate.
People of color have spoken in one clear voice, pronouncing that they abhor what Trump represents, that they don’t want to return to the days when open bigotry was an accepted form of currency. How white people perform on this test will go a long way in determining how rocky the road ahead will be as our long demographic shift continues to unfold.
Issac Bailey has been a journalist in South Carolina for two decades and was most recently the primary columnist for The Sun News in Myrtle Beach. He was a 2014 Harvard University Nieman fellow. Follow him on Twitter: @ijbailey. The views expressed are his own.