So I guess I have to talk about Donald Trump. Not because there is a shortage of people talking about Trump in the news or on their blogs nowadays. But because I am really deeply disturbed by his political ascension and the possibility that he may become the President of these United States.
I think it reflects an all-time low in cultural and historical ignorance in the country, as well as mass fear, collective self-pity, and rampant narcissism.
I say this because I am convinced that Trump’s most faithful followers–and according to The Washington Post these are poor, white, relatively uneducated men–have feelings about American politics that are rooted in two huge misconceptions.
These are both erroneous beliefs that Trump is feeding with his deceptive, hateful rhetoric about the “disgrace” that blacks bring to the nation and the danger that violent “immigrants” and “terrorists” (a term he uses as loosely as his ability to self-regulate) present to the “American people,” as well as his fallacious claim that America pre-President Obama was “better” for working and middle class people than it is now.
The first is that white men in America have lost a significant amount of their political and economic power to blacks and Mexicans, and it needs to be “restored” (America made great again).
The second is that the absence of Mexicans and Muslims from American society would be no great loss.
If we look at the facts–something that so many Americans seem less and less willing to do when it comes to forming political opinions–then we see that America is no less “great” for white men than it was back in 2008.
Even after eight years with a black man in office, white men still rule America. Out of the 532 members of the 114th Congress, 380 are white men. That’s 71% of the most powerful government body in the country.
We tend to talk about Congress abstractly, but Congress has incredible power over our everyday lives. In some ways, Congress has more power than the President, so it matters who is in Congress and who these people are primarily concerned with helping.
Because the medications we take are developed through research funded by Congress. Safe drinking water is partially regulated by Congress. Electricity is provided to us through federal subsidies and regulations.
Imports come to our country through federal trade agreements negotiated by Congress. The dating on milk cartons is required and regulated by Congress. Other labeling on food, including ingredients and content warnings, is required and regulated by Congress.
The roads are kept up by the federal government in conjunction with each of the states. Congress controls the radio airwaves. Congress funds public schools. Congress funds police departments, the FBI, and the alert system for missing children. Congress funds medical research and hospital construction. Congress guards us against fraudulent advertising (to a certain extent), unsafe toys, and other dangerous consumer products.
The Civil Rights Act, Clean Air Act, Freedom of Information Act, IDEA (for children with disabilities), National Cancer Act, gun control and voting rights were all granted–they are all regulated by Congress.
Medicare, Pell Grants, Project Headstart, and Social Security are all granted and regulated by Congress.
Congress creates and changes federal tax laws. It regulates business dealings between states and between the US and other countries.
So the decisions of an elite group of 532 people–380 of which are white men–essentially control the safety and overall quality of our lives as Americans.
Out of the 50 US governors, 43 are white men.
Whether we realize it or not, the effects of the decisions made by governors are also ubiquitous in our daily lives.
States fund teacher salaries. They certify teachers as qualified to teach. They set the academic standards for public education. They regulate alcohol sales. They maintain parks and recreation centers. They insure that gas pumps are running efficiently–giving us full gallons.
States levy taxes, too. They issue driver and marriage licenses. They control and conduct voting practices. They work in conjunction with the Fed on setting up courts, building highways, and chartering banks.
In sum, white men have almost all of the meaningful political power in the US.
Now, let’s talk money.
Though Asian men earn more weekly on average than their white, black, and Hispanic/Latino counterparts, white men still earn more weekly on average than black men, Hispanic/Latino men, Asian women, white women, black women, and Hispanic/Latino women.
This means they still hold an overwhelming majority of this country’s economic power.
This is especially true since roughly 76% of millionaires (there are about 3.1 millionaires total) in America are white, and 63% of millionaires in America are male.
The confluence in race and gender there encompasses trillions of dollars.
Need more numbers?
In police departments across the country, the percentage of white officers is more than 30 percentage points higher than the percentage of whites in the actual communities they serve, meaning more white cops police minority areas than minority cops (very reminiscent of the plantation system in the antebellum South with its overseers).
Also, 75% of all police officers in America are white, according to the most recent comprehensive data available.
In the state courts, the majority of judges are white in all but Hawaii.
The Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, John G. Roberts, is also a white man, as are three of the associate justices, so that’s half of the court at this time.
The Vice President of the United States is a white man. The head of the FBI is a white man. The director of the CIA is a white man. The head of the US Treasury is a white man.
Roughly 75% of Fortune 500 CEOs are white men (13% are white women).
White men comprise about 60% of American gun owners.
About 70% of active duty military personnel are white; 78% of military officers are white; and 75% of the Reserves are white (80% of the officers in the Reserves are white).
Now, this makes mathematical sense, since roughly 223 million Americans are white, more whites turn out to vote than blacks, Asians, and Hispanics/Latinos, and ingroup advantage (the tendency of people to evaluate and judge members of their own group as being better and fairer than members of other groups) and social cognition (the tendency of people to think more categorically about members of other groups, or to stereotype, and to think more individually about members of their own group) are proven psychological phenomena.
The regrettable downside is white people’s majority status doesn’t translate into fair and equal distribution of resources or fair and equal treatment for all people under the law.
Barack Obama might have changed the “face” of the American Presidency, but his effect on the actual power structure in America has been, sadly, just that superficial.
White men are still in charge in America, just like they were in 2008. In 1998. In 1898. In 1798. In 1698. They haven’t been disempowered in the least. White hegemony has not been displaced.
So when Trump tells his followers that he will “make American great again,” he is propagating a lie that white men have lost power when in fact they haven’t.
He is exploiting their fear and capitalizing on their incidental and in a lot of cases overt racism–their fear of white genetic annihilation and retributive disenfranchisement (the fear that minorities will oppress whites in the same way that whites have oppressed minorities if they come into hegemonic power).
Trump is promising his followers that the myth of the American meritocracy will remain a myth–that they can continue to trade on white privilege, nepotism, and cronyism to get and stay ahead rather than having to compete in a true sense–on an even playing field–with black people, indigenous people, Asians, and Hispanics/Latinos.
And when he titillates them with his claims that he will keep Mexicans and Muslims out, he is not only selling them pie in the sky–he’s oversimplifying the roles that Mexicans and Muslims play in American society in order to scapegoat them.
According to research, there are more than 11 million illegal immigrants in the US. Only about 49% of these illegal immigrants are Mexican. Over 8% of these illegal immigrants are employed.
This means they’re a part of our labor force. In fact, they make up 5% of our labor force. They are so crucial to the gross product of some states that if all of the illegal immigrants in Texas were deported, the state would lose 2% of all the money generated within it every year.
Too, half of the hired workers in US agriculture are illegal immigrants, and the majority of them come from Mexico. Without them, the US fruit and vegetable industry would suffer. Milk prices would go up 61%. All Americans would be affected.
“But what about Trumps’s claims that immigrants drain the economy and bring crime to the US?”
Not surprisingly, both of these claims are wrong, too.
According to the Congressional Budget Office, tax revenues generated by immigrants over the last 20 years equal more the cost of the services they’ve used.
In fact, the average American’s wealth has increased 1% because of illegal immigration. Because remember–they’re not just workers, they’re also buyers. They spend money here, too.
The Social Security Administration says that illegal immigrants also contribute to the so-called greater good, to the tune of $300 billion in the Social Security Trust Fund (10% of its total).
A 2014 study in Justice Quarterly demonstrates, too, that foreign-born (first generation) immigrants are less likely than native-born Americans (this includes second generation immigrants) to engage in criminal activity throughout the course of their lives.
You see a similar correlation when you look closely at Muslims living in US and the prejudicial fear that they are or will become terrorists.
Data compiled by the New America think tank on nearly 500 extremists indicted or killed in the US since 9/11–314 militant Islamists and 140 right-wing (white) extremists (including anti-abortion extremists) shows that just 7% of the Islamists were involved in an incident that “came to fruition”–a legitimate act of terrorism–versus 48% of the right-wingers. That’s 21 Islamists compared with 67 right-wingers.
The Islamists could have been less violent because they were being monitored more closely by authorities, who were profiling them because of their religion, ethnicity, and citizenship status; they were stopped in the planning phases of an attack; or they weren’t actually extremists at all, and they were being profiled by the authorities.
Because out of the 3.3 million Muslims living in America today, 77% are citizens of the US. Around 65% of the foreign Muslims in America have been naturalized. They’ve undergone the formal process to become citizens. They’ve deliberately put themselves on the government’s radar.
Also, even though too many Americans think being a Muslim is synonymous with being Arab, and being Arab is synonymous with being a terrorist, two-thirds of the Arabs living in America are Christian. And the Muslim community in America includes Turks, Bosnians, Malays, Indonesians, Nigerians, Somali, Liberians, Kenyans, and Senegalese.
So if we block Muslims from coming into America, we’re not necessarily lessening the threat of ISIS. We’re not automatically protecting ourselves from mass violence. All Muslims are not extremists, and some of the most dangerous, and effective, extremists in America are not Muslim.
They’re young white men.
And this is where the two misconceptions converge.
Poor, working, and middle class white men are mad because they think minorities and immigrants are taking their jobs and government resources, soaking up their tax revenue and victimizing their women and children.
Rich white men (greedy politicians and heads of corporations) are telling them this because in truth, they–the rich white men–are taking their jobs (outsourcing) and government resources (subsidies, loans, and bailouts).
Both groups are scapegoating minorities and immigrants because neither want to admit the truth of what they are doing–either suffering at the hands of their so-called “brothers” or exploiting the shit out of them.
Donald Trump may sound like an idiot, but he’s strategic as hell. He points poor, working, and middle class whites in the direction of minorities and immigrants, so they can’t see just how stratified he is in the oppressive class structure of the US.
He pretends that minorities and immigrants are the enemy when he knows full-well that he is. That the members of the millionaire class are the true enemies of poor, working, and middle class people.
And Trump’s followers fall for this okey-doke because they’re operating at their basest level–on fear–and trying to color-code their problems and solutions–to make them simpler.
The truth is always more complicated than we want it to be, but it’s the truth, and we can only run so far from it. We can only hide so long from it.
Rich white men are the ones hurting America the most. Hoarding their wealth and whipping up the masses against each other by covertly fueling divisive partisan politics.
The sooner we all accept this–and do something constructive about it–then the better off we’ll all be.
Black or white. Immigrant or native. Democrat or Republican.