It became very clear to anyone who was watching that in the lead-up to the Nov. 6 elections, Trump and his allies focused on two things: putting their hands on your wallets and, in order to do that, reinforce the idea that the USA is a White republic (and keep White people thinking about that and only that). To put it another way, they want to restore the Confederacy.
Trump had many tactical options in the weeks prior to the election as a way of inspiring his base. He could have played to the economy which has continued to grow, largely as a result of decisions made during the Obama era but claimed by Trump. The problem is that the results of the economic improvements have been very uneven and working-class people have largely stagnated. Despite that, he could have made the argument. Trump regularly fudges the truth.
Trump and his Republican acolytes chose a different route, one with a long history in U.S. politics. They first used the Justice Kavanaugh hearings to reaffirm male supremacy, making it appear that men are under attack in the USA and that women’s concerns about sexual assault are misplaced. This “rally the White men” challenge was followed by an equally nefarious tactic: a call for an all-out mobilization against a mythical, so-called immigrant invasion coming from Central America. Facts to the contrary, Trump — and repeated by some of his key allies — argued that the several thousand refugees in Central America were threatening the U.S. way of life.
The response was truly remarkable and clarified that Trump’s messages are not for the U.S. electorate but for the White American electorate. When he and his followers suggest that their way of life is being threatened, they mean that the privileged status of Whites and men — compared with people of color and women, respectively—has been called into question by those of us who believe in democracy and justice. Thus, Trump plays not to an abstract fear but a specific fear among large numbers of Whites: a fear of the future.
What do Trump and his supporters want? The critical image that is now materializing is that of the Confederate States of America. Right-wing populists have for decades seen in the Confederacy the iconic moment when White supremacy and male supremacy held sway and when forces of dissent — forces for justice — were literally and figuratively chained.
The right-wing fear of the future is a fear of not only the demographic changes in the USA, which will render White majority rule moot by the middle of the 21st century, but there is a broader fear that successes on the road toward a consistent democracy will mean a change in the relations between men and women, but also changes in the economy as wealth polarization along with the environmental catastrophe will necessitate a different set of economic priorities.
Trump and his allies have played to fears that have existed in the White electorate since the 19th century. He achieved considerable success via this demagoguery. But the results of the election showed that millions more see no future in the past but believe that another way forward is not only possible, but essential.
Fletcher is the former president of TransAfrica Forum. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook and at www.billfletcherjr.com.