Tuesday, November 8th, 2016 – another day that will live in infamy – still has most Americans asking, “How could this happen?”
After eight years of hard-won progress that followed the dark, regressive Bush II Administration, we are once again being dragged backwards into what is shaping up to be Orwell’s worst nightmare. Although there are many causes for this travesty – a dysfunctional electoral system, gerrymandering, corruption of Big Money, and alleged interference from a foreign government – the major reason is something that has existed in this country practically since the first European settlers arrived: virulent racism.
Although it is something we’ve long suspected (and it hasn’t taken much for us to reach that conclusion from the empirical evidence), the most recent American National Election Study (ANES) has confirmed it. This publicly-funded survey has been regularly conducted since Truman’s 1948 upset, and puts elections into historical perspective through data gathered from interviews with individual voters.
Over the past 70 years, the study has focused on three variables that affect the outcome of elections: income, resistance to change, and racism.
The first variable, income, proved to be an anomaly in last year’s election. Generally, the GOP is the party of the rich, whereas those with lower incomes historically tend to vote Democratic. Not so this time: in fact, if anything, it was the opposite. While wealthy voters tended to shy away from Trump, moderate and low-income whites were more likely to embrace him.
The study did not go into the reasons for this unusual support of a billionaire oligarch by the lower classes, but other sources suggest that low levels of education had more to do with it than income. Think about it: why would anyone with any critical thinking skills elect a billionaire who appoints other billionaires to fix the corrupt system that made them billionaires? That takes a special kind of willful stupidity.
It should be pointed out that these are the same low-information voters who don’t even know the name of their representatives in Congress, have little understanding of how American government actually works, and only turn out to vote for Presidential elections when they turn out at all.
The second variable examined was what the study called “authoritarianism.” However, this does not necessarily equate to fascism or autocracy. Rather, it is the desire for what Thom Hartmann has described as a “stern father figure;” a strong leader who will to take care of things, make the hard decisions and – most importantly – maintain the status quo. These voters are threatened by anything that might change the social order: same-sex marriage, legalization of marijuana, equality for women, etc. They believe it is more important to follow rules imposed by an authority figure than to rely on one’s own judgment, to be “well-behaved” and polite rather than kind and considerate.
Oddly, respondents to the 2016 ANES study were actually somewhat less authoritarian than white GOP voters in past elections. That doesn’t change the fact however that authoritarianism has been on the rise throughout the world in recent years – and that many Americans – particularly white ones – are now acknowledging that they would be happy to hand power over to an autocrat, provided that power is used against those they perceive as “the enemy.”
That brings us to the issue of race. It has become apparent that Trump’s racist rhetoric has given permission for the bigots of this country to express their opinions and lash out at minorities and immigrants. The ANES survey sheds some additional light on the issue by asking respondents carefully-worded questions about whether racial inequalities have been caused by actual racism by the white power structure, or if they are due to a lack of “personal responsibility” on the part of minorities. Based on responses, the researchers found that racial attitudes played the largest part in an election since the late 1980s.
The irony here is that modern American racism is a fairly recent phenomenon within the context of world history, dating only from the early 1600s – and a carefully constructed one as well. Late historian Howard Zinn presented a lucid and graphic explanation of this issue in A People’s History of the United States. During the early days of settlement, slavery was an equal opportunity institution: slaves were imported from Africa, but also from Ireland. As these two groups lived together and were forced to work on the plantations of wealthy landowners, socialization and intermarriage between the two groups were common. This was cause for alarm among the oligarchs; the slaves far outnumbered the masters. Fearing a possible replay of the Spartacus uprising of 73-71 BCE, they came up with a classic “divide and conquer” strategy; offer the Irish slightly more privilege and convince them that they were somehow “superior” to the Africans.
This Great Lie has deeply ingrained into American culture for the past four centuries. It has been only within the past 50-60 years that many have been able to see through it for what it is: a tool used by the bourgeoisie to continue its ongoing oppression of the proletariat.
It’s never been about black and white. It’s been about green and gold – and who controls it.
Trump and his cronies are more than willing to continue promulgation of the Great Lie in order to keep the oligarchic jackboot on our collective necks while they steal us blind. Sadly, they will continue to be enabled by fearful, ignorant, low-information, easily-manipulated voters who continue to buy into it.