By Elizabeth Dangerfield
America is broken because a whole lot of people are fighting desperately to maintain their delusion that America has been and should always be the greatest country in the world, that they as individuals should be able to do whatever they want because that is what freedom is all about and that is the American way.
They try to maintain the delusion that they are the supreme patriots and everyone else is an enemy to be taken out. The list of enemies is a long one – anyone who is even slightly progressive, anyone of colour, women who don’t toe the line, people who want abortions, people who support family planning, people who are not heterosexual, people who come to America seeking a better life from Central and South America, people who want to get them to wear masks to stop the spread of COVID-19, Muslims and people who are non-Christians – basically anyone who is different. They want to maintain the delusion that Trump was actually telling the truth, that he actually cares about them, that they are the chosen ones.
White supremacists are very insecure – their basic fear is that they are losers, insignificant and powerless and this is due to all the progressive changes that have occurred in America so that white people no longer can lord it over all others. These changes have undermined their status and their ideal place in the world. Everything is topsy turvy and it is outrageous to them that they should find themselves misplaced, insecure and even considered inferior in a world that is passing them by. This is why no amount of evidence and facts that you throw at them will ever hit the mark because they are clinging desperately to their identity in a very uncertain world. Maybe if America were great again, they could feel proud patriots in the land of the free. And what better way to feel better about yourself than to think that white people are genetically superior to all others.
An article in Business Insider Australia describes what motivates individuals to become white nationalists. Experts say that they are typically motivated by feelings of ‘insignificance’ and feel minority groups are responsible for their disempowerment. It is hard to identify who will become an extremist but people who are narcissistic, paranoid, and aggressive are most likely to become white nationalists. To my mind, these also seem to be the characteristics of most dictators. The article quotes one social psychologist as saying that:
“… people become white nationalists for three reasons: a desire to feel significant, attribution of their lack of personal success to another group, and a sense of belonging among other white nationalists. These motivations could stem from feeling ‘humiliated’ or ‘insignificant’ at school, in relationships with loved ones, or by society at large.”
The top 20% richest Americans owned 77% of total household wealth in 2016 – and the top 1% alone holds more than the entire middle class. Meanwhile, one in five American children live in poverty. White nationalists feel deprived, but they don’t seem to blame the successful wealthy people but rather minorities. The murderous hate associated with this can be shown by the El Paso massacre by a white supremacist in Texas and the storming of the Capitol Building in January 2021.
The growth of this movement of hate is totally terrifying. Arwa Mahdawi says in an article in the Guardian that the Squad shouldn’t have to feel terrified of their colleagues in Congress, but they are. The ‘Squad’ are 6 Democratic members of the House of Representatives in the USA. They are all coloured and progressive. Five are women and two of them are the first Muslim women to ever be elected to Congress. They are targets for unthinking American nationalists. A Florida Republican running for Congress openly suggested that Ilhan Omar be executed for treason. The newly elected Congresswoman, Marjorie Taylor Greene, posted a Facebook picture of herself holding an assault rifle next to Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib with the caption – “We need strong conservative Christians to go on the offensive against these socialists who want to rip our country apart.” It seems to me that the right-wing, white nationalists are doing a good job of ripping the country apart on their own.
But the threats to the Squad are real. Ocasio-Cortez fears for her life, not just from rioters, but from white supremacist members of Congress. Rioters carried guns and other weapons into the Capitol building, it seems with the intention of kidnapping or even killing members of Congress. One member of the Squad, Ayanna Pressley, reported that every panic button in her office had been torn out before the riots. This seems preconceived and there is conjecture that some members of Congress and the Trump administration aided and abetted the storming of the Capitol. New safety protocols that have been put in place in the Capitol following the storming of the building including having to walk through metal detectors and leaving their guns behind to vote. Some Republicans are blatantly circumventing the security measures because they see it as their right to carry loaded guns into the Chamber. As Arwa Mahdawi says “nobody should have to go to work every day wondering whether one of their colleagues is going to kill them.”
White nationalists see themselves as victims, but they are quite different victims to the ones protesting that Black Lives Matter. As Tristan Bridges, a professor of sociology at the University of California says in the Business Insider Australia article:
“Because Americans view inequality as a personal – not structural – problem, white people may blame other individuals for their lack of money. White life expectancy has fallen, and more than half of white Americans believe they face discrimination despite being the racial majority. Not surprisingly, people who get screwed by economic transformations look for something to blame, but they’re sending their mail to the wrong address.”
It should be noted that white life expectancy has only fallen slightly mainly due to drug and alcohol abuse and higher suicide rates and while more that 50% of white people believe they face discrimination less than 20% say that they personally have experienced it. Whites and blacks and Republicans and Democrats have very different views of discrimination in America.
While there is no doubt that some white people in America have difficult lives, the facts are indisputable. Overall, you are much worse off being a black in America than being white. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, in 2014 the median adjusted income for households headed by blacks was $43,300, and for whites it was $71,300. Blacks also lag behind whites in college completion, but even among adults with a bachelor’s degree, blacks earned significantly less in 2014 than whites ($82,300 for households headed by a college-educated black compared with $106,600 for comparable white households). These differences are due to systemic discrimination against blacks which affects all areas of their life such as health.
It is not surprising that Trump supporters tend to display a sense of egocentric victimhood rather than believing they are the victims of systemic discrimination. Psypost reports on recent research that shows that people who voted for Donald Trump and feel warmly towards him tend to score higher on a measure of egocentric victimhood (e.g. I rarely get what I deserve in life and I usually have to settle for less). Those who exhibit heightened levels of systemic victimhood (e.g. the system works against people like me, the world is ‘doing it’ to me and there’s nothing I can do about it), in contrast, tend to be more hostile towards Trump. Americans tend to blame the individual for their situation and disadvantage, but black Americans recognise that they are the victims of systematic discrimination hence the Black Lives Matters campaign. There is no comparison between the Black Lives Matter protests and the storming of the Capitol Building in Washington despite people like the Acting Prime Minister of Australia at the time trying to make one.
One way of dealing with systemic discrimination is via cancel culture. Charity Hudley in a VOX article on cancel culture pointed out that cancelling someone is akin to a boycott, but of a person rather than a business. What’s more, it promotes the idea that black people should be empowered to reject the parts of pop culture that spread harmful ideas.
“If you don’t have the ability to stop something through political means, what you can do is refuse to participate. Cancelling is a way to acknowledge that you don’t have to have the power to change structural inequality. You don’t even have to have the power to change all of public sentiment. But as an individual, you can still have power beyond measure. When you see people cancelling Kanye, cancelling other people, it’s a collective way of saying, ‘We elevated your social status, your economic prowess, [and] we’re not going to pay attention to you in the way that we once did. … ‘I may have no power, but the power I have is to [ignore] you’.”
Not long ago the Australian Government was concerned that GetUp! was asking its members to boycott certain companies that were supporting the continuation of the fossil fuel industry in Australia. Somehow it seemed outraged that ordinary people had the power to do such a thing. The truth is that our power as a consumer, including our consumption of social media, may be the only effective power we have to change things; to send a strong message that we don’t approve of certain behaviour. Collective action this way works as is shown by the number of superannuation companies that have divested themselves of fossil fuel companies in their portfolios. No matter how certain individuals may have distorted the process it is a valuable way of addressing systemic discrimination when, like in America, all else has failed.
There is some suggestion that the left needs to listen to those on the right such as white nationalists to find out where they come from, to be able to understand their concerns and to empathise with their situation. First of all, I don’t think the division of people into left wing and right-wing is particularly useful. It is a typical way that humans look at things, one or the other and nothing in between. I rather see the situation as people who tend to believe that we can improve on what we are doing and therefore support progress (the progressives), those who think that what we have now is good and shouldn’t be changed (the conservatives), and those who want to go back to sometime in the past when everything was much better (the reactionaries). Of course, as with all things, there is a spread of opinions across the progressive and conservative approach depending on the issue. Hopefully, most people are moderates in the middle but there will be a few extremists at either end wanting revolution or total control.
One can find people who are kind and happy to listen in either camp. But it tends to be the people who are progressive who are most tolerant as they can see possibilities and accept that there are different ways of being. Consider who you would prefer to be governed by – President Trump re-instated by an unruly mob or a democratic president who is going to serve for all Americans? Under the Democrats people won’t be forced to have abortions, undertake family planning, accept their status as inferior if they belong to minority groups, stay out of the country because they are Muslims, threatened with violence and intimidation if they don’t agree with extremists, ridiculed for being articulate women politicians. In the whole time that President Trump was in the White House no left-winged person tried to shoot him, it was a right-wing mob and their supporters that threatened peaceful democratic congress men and women. I worry that reasonable people are going to be away by unreasonable people using violent methods.
This all seems to stem from the desire to make America great again, to make white people feel great again and to restore what is seen as lost entitlement while not entitling anyone else.
In a country that seems obsessed with individual freedom, even if it kills other people by giving them a dreadful disease, the idea of putting society first, and helping those less fortune seems akin to communism. It seems ironic that the countries that are truly great are Scandinavian countries that are social democracies on the whole. For example, consider performance on valuable attributes such as happiness (Finland No. 1, USA No.18), education (Finland No.1, USA No. 20), community (Iceland, No. 1, USA No. 21), and life satisfaction (Finland No.1, USA No. 17). Given its enormous wealth, America is consistently outperformed by other developed countries on things that really matter to people. It seems the problem is that for far too long many Americans have believed their own propaganda.
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