The fundamentalism that the Republicans had embraced went beyond religion. It simplified the world in general; it rolled together many different kinds of anxieties—schools, drugs, race, buggery, Russia, to give just a few; and it offered the simplest, the vaguest solution: Americanism, the assertion of the American self. Practical matters were in the party’s printed platform and remained locked up there. ... there had been very little of purely political discussion. Americanism had been the theme of the convention, now defiant, now sentimental, as in Mr. Trump's acceptance speech. Fundamentalism, in its Republican political interpretation, was not just a grim business; it was as stylish as Mr. Trump himself. The Republicans were “pro-life.” That meant anti-abortion; but during the week another, metaphorical, meaning began to be attached to the word. To be pro-life was to be vigorous, joyful, and optimistic; it was to turn away from the gloom and misery of the other side, who talked of problems and taxes.Are you thinking that there is nothing new? Are you wondering where the catch is?
I had blogged about this before, back in 2012.
You are now asking yourself, "how could Sriram have blogged about Trump in 2012?"
Good question. In that post in 2012, I made referenced to Mr. Romney, not Mr. Trump.
Now, aren't you shocked that the paragraph that seemed to be really about Trump was actually about Romney?
That is nothing compared to the shock that I am going to administer to you. That 2012 post about Romney itself was actually a report by V.S. Naipaul on the GOP convention in 1984, when Reagan was nominated for a second term. So, let's recap, shall we? The paragraph that described the GOP, its presidential candidate, and its party loyalists from 1984 was equally wonderfully descriptive in 2012 and 2016 also.
The big difference between 1984 and 2016 is this: Reagan used the political dog-whistle to remind the GOP white loyalists about blacks and immigrants. Trump ditched the dog-whistle and went for the straight talk.
Back in 2012, one of my favorite commentators--Ta-Nehisi Coates, wrote:
After Obama won, the longed-for post-racial moment did not arrive; on the contrary, racism intensified.Yes, racism intensified. So much so that the NY Times spends some time helping us understand white nationalism and white supremacy--how they are similar and how they are different. It is almost as if we are back to 1950, before the Civil Rights era. And the white racism swung the election.
Think about that for a while. Middle- and upper-class whites voted for the guy who threw shit at every possible group except white Christian men.
If social economic status – especially education – is a gateway to a more tolerant, democratic society, why did middle- and upper-class voters back someone who represents the antithesis of such values?The answer, my friend, is no different from the past:
My reading of history suggests that the boundaries of American identity intersect with whiteness, patriarchy, xenophobia and homophobia. This means that anyone, any group that falls outside of such a definition of American identity, is considered beyond the political community; they’re aliens.So ... is there anything positive at all in these dark times?
Rapid social change, which poses a threat to this truncated version of American identity, activates anxiety and anger on the part of those who lay claim to this identity. The America with which they’ve become familiar is changing too fast. Hence, the slogan for the Trump campaign: “Make America great again.” This suggests that America, in its present state, is defective in some way and needs to return some previous version of itself.
Trump’s victory, in light of all of his antics during the campaign, makes it all but impossible to deny the continuing currency of racism, sexism, xenophobia and homophobia in the United States. It’s on display for all to see. This could be a good thing: It forces us to reckon with who we really are. Is America really about the democratic, progressive values professed in the founding documents? Or, are we really the small-minded, bigoted place Trump’s election represents?
If we hope to maintain a claim to exceptionalism, we must find our way back to the values on which this country was founded, ones that include equality and freedom.
If Trump and his supporters really wish to “Make America great again,” perhaps they should go all the way back to these founding principles. Only this time, they should leave behind the racism, sexism and nativism.