In the midst of all this, I can’t help but recall that just four years ago, those of us who were panicked and petrified about the lethality of the Trump presidency were being dismissed as hysterics. A chorus of white New York Times milquetoast-liberal opinion writers suggested we “stop shaming Trump supporters”; announced that hysteria, not Trump, was the real threat to democracy; and advised us to suspend all rational disbelief and give “President-elect Trump a chance.”
Political writers including Will Marshall, John B. Judis and Mark Lilla, among many others, actually used the moment to chastise progressives with the taunt that identity politics “never wins elections”—as if white male identity hasn’t always been the centerpiece of American politics, and hadn’t won the damn presidency just days before. Everyone from Tom Hanks to Dave Chapelle to outgoing President Barack Obama proposed that we just take it down a thousand, wait and see, everything would be probably fine.
As it turns out, those of us predicting the absolute worst—just based on, you know, observable reality—were right. Donald Trump has been a cruel, crude, unethical conman of a president whose ineptitude, narcissism and incapacity for empathy continually endangers countless lives. His administration has fatally harmed immigrant kids and families, been careless in foreign conflicts, and worsened racist violence. It was always clear that Trump was going to get a lot of people killed. As coronavirus ravages the country and racks up a body count, remembering the gaslighting from naysayers proffering condescension or dumb optimism is all the more enraging. Trumpism is the white supremacist capitalist kamikaze mission we warned you about.
The president is an obvious horror show, but he’s enabled by members of a movement most saliently characterized by its racism and vengeance, and by apologists who insist the rest of us must understand and respect that movement. We know from multiple studies conducted before and after the 2016 election that what united Trump voters—including those who previously cast ballots for President Obama—wasn’t economic anxiety but racism.
Most white Americans have fever-dreamed a country where the racial hierarchy is now topsy-turvy and they’ve become victims of anti-white discrimination. (Though they admit they haven’t experienced it firsthand.) White Republican voters, specifically, report that they face as much racism as black people. That self-imposed victimhood led them to vote for the guy who promised that he’d effectively punish the blacks, Mexicans and Muslims they saw as taking a country they truly believe is solely, rightfully theirs.
The problem with white supremacy, though, is that in its single-minded effort to maintain and preserve white power above all else, it self-harms. Red states, which take up way more than their fair share of government funding, essentially voted to gut the very safety nets that benefit them, out of fear that they just might benefit black people, too. (This continues a long and historic tradition of white Americans voting against their own health and well-being to keep black people from deriving similar gains.) The question of why Trump supporters vote against their interests overlooks the fact that their primary interest is white supremacy. They’ll go down with the ship to maintain white power—and their status in the racial hierarchy—even if it kills them. Literally.
“White backlash politics gave certain white populations the sensation of winning, particularly by upending the gains of minorities and liberals; yet the victories came at a steep cost,” writes Jonathan Metzl, author of Dying of Whiteness. Their political choices ultimately “materially benefitted people and corporations far higher up the socioeconomic food chain—whose agendas and capital gains depended on the invisible sacrifices of low-income whites.” In other words, they become self-sacrificing tools of capitalists who don’t care about them at all, but who recognize that by exploiting their racial resentments, they can be used to political and economic advantage.
In return, we’ve all ended up with a barely functioning health-care system, crappy environmental legislation, and unfettered access to guns that white people increasingly turn on themselves. “When white backlash policies became laws, as in cutting away health care programs and infrastructure spending, blocking expansion of health care delivery systems, defunding opiate-addiction centers, spewing toxins into the air, or enabling guns in public spaces, the result was increasing rates of death.”
That shakes out in the numbers. Mortality rates among whites, which had been shrinking at about 2 percent a year for decades, have been rising since 1999, the result of what researchers label "deaths of despair" by suicide, drugs, and alcohol. When they drilled down to see precisely what’s happening, researchers found a direct correlation between the increase in death rates and white people’s obsessive fear of losing privilege. The “fuck your feelings” crowd’s self-pitying over imagined status loss is so all consuming, it’s costing them their lives.
"For perhaps the first time, we're suggesting that a widespread population health phenomenon can't be explained by actual social or economic status disadvantage, but instead is driven by a perceived threat to status,” Arjumand Siddiqi, an epidemiologist at the University of Toronto, has said. "The anxiety of whites is coming from a misperception that their dominant status in society is being threatened, which is manifesting in multiple forms of psychological and physiological stress.”
In their endless and desperate efforts to protect white supremacy, Trump voters rewarded incompetence and mediocrity, two traits that have defined this presidency on every front—including its response to a deadly global pandemic. This is how white supremacy ultimately hurts us all, including its defenders. And to be sure, communities of color and other marginalized populations will suffer the most because of this resistance to anything resembling equality. But white communities needlessly suffer, too.
And yet, despite bearing witness to the president’s lies and mismanagement of the crisis, which have made the U.S. the global leader in known coronavirus cases—and likely the future leader in COVID-19 related deaths—the white supremacist capitalist kamikaze mission continues. As long as Trump and his ilk are putting the screws to the blacks and the libs, as long as “those” undeserving people will be hurt, it’s worth it in the end.
That’s the sentiment at the core of the Trump administration’s ongoing push to take food stamps from more than 700,000 people, a significant number of them members of the GOP base, in the middle of a health pandemic. It’s why white conservatives who are well aware that racial divisiveness is a key ingredient to maintaining Trumpism keep dog-whistling anti-Asian sentiments in their messaging—intentionally labeling the disease the “Wuhan virus” and “the Chinese coronavirus”—to divert attention from this administration’s abysmal mishandling of the epidemic.
It explains how this government, which constantly pretends we don’t have money for free college or debt forgiveness, health care for all, or black chattel slavery reparations, for that matter, just passed a $2.2 trillion coronavirus stimulus bill to ensure white folks facing economic woes can feel like there’s government action—and remain complacent enough that they don’t get up in arms about the fact that the legislation doesn’t federally mandate that testing and treatment be free and easily accessible; that $1,200 checks for working people are means-tested but superrich corporate shareholders get cash giveaways; and that undocumented immigrants and their families get absolutely nothing.
It’s why Republican lawmakers Matt Gaetz and Fox News anchor Ed Harris singled out Howard University—an historically black college that houses a hospital designated a Washington, D.C., COVID-19 treatment center—for questioning regarding funds allotted in the stimulus bill, despite the fact that white colleges also received support.
And it’s why right-wing blowhards are attempting to paint this as a blue state, coastal elite issue, even though the number of coronavirus cases are currently “increasing at a more rapid rate in red states.”
This is the red meat that Trump voters love. As of this writing, a whopping 76 percent of Republicans still approve of how the Trump administration is (mis)handling this outbreak, yet another testament to the intractability of white supremacy among folks who are just dying to own the libs.
But Trumpism is a monster that’s never satisfied. The rise of the coronavirus seems to have engendered a kind of transparency on the right, and now wealthy conservative figures are outright asking Trump’s base to die to preserve a racialized economic status quo that does nothing for most of them. How else to explain the calls for lots more people to die so that markets can thrive?
“America will again, and soon, be open for business,” the president said last Monday. “A lot sooner than three or four months that somebody was suggesting. We cannot let the cure be worse than the problem itself.” R.R. Reno, the supposedly pro-life editor of the right-wing religious outlet First Things, has cautioned readers that “there is a demonic side to the sentimentalism of saving lives at any cost.” Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick went on Tucker Carlson’s Fox show to tell senior citizens that dying so the stock market can live is the patriotic choice, asking “are you willing to take a chance on your survival in exchange for keeping the America that all America loves for your children and grandchildren?” Glenn Beck, in a video that showed him comfortably working from his home studio, said he’d “rather die than kill the country. Because it’s not the economy that’s dying, it’s the country.” Conservative radio host Jesse Kelly tweeted, “You do not destroy your economy for any reason...Not for a virus. Not for a plague...The show must go on.”
So far, recent polls suggest even Trump voters are skeptical of this line of thinking. But never underestimate the suicidal tendencies of the Trump cult, especially as his overall numbers are somehow up in the midst of the mess he didn’t make but has already made much worse than it had to be.
So yeah, I’ll never forgive Trump, but my greatest ire is reserved for the people who voted for him, who aid and abet him and his toxic agenda daily. And for those who opposed Trump, sort of, but mocked or dismissed us as we expressed our entirely justified fears about how terrifying this presidency would be to our lives and this country—I see you. At this point, it almost feels unnecessary to say fuck you to all those who proffered condescension or dumb optimism in the face of looming Trumpian disaster and destruction. Mostly because Donald Trump’s governance is now shouting it louder than ever.