Today’s is going to be a more reflective and abstract article than most. The other day I was reading about how Franklin Delano Roosevelt thought about how Abraham Lincoln would handle a situation when deciding what to do. I thought how strange considering the 70 odd years that separated their times in the White House. Then I remembered that Harry Truman is one of my political models. With the idea that the more things change, the more they stay the same in mind, let’s explore.
I watched some network interviews of people exiting a Trump rally in Minnesota the other day and was perplexed by just how loyal so many of them were to a dreadfully incompetent and unsuccessful President. Then I remembered that all the people were white and most were a bit older. Trump successfully tapped into something that has been used by despots for years; the fear of the “different”.
Too many (especially unsuccessful) white Americans have bought into the myth that somehow they are superior by having been born white. The white superiority myth dates back to the earliest colonists’ arrival. For the most part the white colonists took the land from the Indians and felt they were morally entitled to it because they were superior to those “savages” with red skin.
When they found they were incapable of doing much of the work that needed to be done especially in the hotter climates in the south they imported slaves mainly from Africa. These slaves were easily identifiable because they had black skin. Their culture was different (and in the minds of their white masters inferior) therefore they were somewhat less human.
In the west, particularly to build the railroad, Chinese were imported and treated little better than slaves. Again a different culture and skin color. In the minds of their white bosses they were lesser humans.
The Indians were driven off their land with many dying in the process. The perils of the black slaves which included many deaths are legend (unless you are a white supremacist who doesn’t believe them). Being from the east coast, where even today the Asian-American population is still relatively small, I know less about their fate but I know they weren’t welcomed with open arms and accepted as equals. In fact yellow skinned Japanese-Americans were interned in camps during World War II while white skinned German-Americans were not.
After 9/11 Arabs became a major target. They were somewhat easily identifiable because they have brown skin. Many Americans who trace their ancestry to places like India (a very different country and culture) suffered because too many white supremacist Americans couldn’t tell them apart from Middle Eastern people.
Starting with his announcement speech in 2015, Trump made brown skinned Mexicans (and by extension any denizens of Central America – Bubba just knows it ain’t Kentucky) targets. This was and remains to be little more than a dog whistle variation on the Jesse Helms’ “Black hand” commercial. Those people are different and therefore lesser; perhaps not even really human.
Discrimination has also had religious roots. One of America’s often forgotten original sins was that this was a nation not founded on religious freedom but religious discrimination. If you were a Catholic in colonial America you had best live in Maryland; a Quaker Pennsylvania, and the list goes on. The largely Catholic Irish immigrants were faced with “No Irish need apply” signs. The almost exclusively Catholic Italians were all considered to be mob members. Jews were never truly accepted in early America. In Germany Hitler built much of his rise on anti-Semitism. Not that long ago America’s Ku Klux Klan was a powerhouse politically and culturally. To this day its membership (as demonstrated in Charlottesville) still hates Jews almost as much as African-Americans.
The key to all these is the different. It is easy to get desperate people that won’t accept personal shortcomings and/or simply being innocent victims of a rapidly changing economy to believing that if it weren’t for the different taking their jobs and using their resources they would be just fine. It is hidden well beneath the surface but I see that in today’s American south. If only we still had slavery they would be living well and the slaves would be doing all the work. I saw it in the Rust Belt. If all those people hadn’t taken their jobs the plants would still be here and the white guys would be making good money.
To a lesser degree the different applies to women, even white women. If they hadn’t entered the work force there would be plenty of good paying jobs for all the white men. Of course totally disregard that without the women in the defense factories we would have lost World War II. Closer to the present, many of those women were the mothers of the baby boomers and made many of our advantages affordable. Today those women are our wives, sisters and daughters who give our families a much higher standard of living then most lone white guys can provide.
If you don’t care about the different you will when all those groups are defeated and you become the different. Trump is screwing most of his supporters; they just haven’t realized it yet.
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