By Europaeus *
Continued from Part 7
In speeches and on social media, President Trump has capitalised on divisions of race, religion and identity as a political strategy to galvanise support among his white followers.
Most recently, President Trump lashed out at the late Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (D-Md.), one of the highest-ranking black lawmakers, by calling his Baltimore district “a disgusting, rat and rodent infested mess,” and claiming that “no human being would want to live there.” Professor Ruth Ben-Ghiat, a professor of history at New York University and expert on authoritarianism, said that President Trump has been strategic. “This is a concerted attempt to construct and legitimize an ideology of hatred against non-white people and the idea that whites will be replaced by others,” she said. “When you have a racist in power who incites violence through his speeches, his tweets, and you add in this volatile situation of very laxly regulated arms, this is uncharted territory.”
President Trump has done little vigorously to confront the crisis that his own government is trying to combat. In the wake of the deadly 2017 ‘white supremacist’ rally in Charlottesville, Trump at first claimed there were “very fine people on both sides” before later backtracking, and only under pressure from his advisers.
And after a ‘white supremacist’ killed 49 Muslims in New Zealand, Trump dismissed the idea that ‘white nationalism’ was a rising threat, saying that it was only “a small group of people that have very, very serious problems.”
The ugliest phenomena often develop in countries when there is a vacuum of moral leadership. ‘White nationalism’ is autonomous from any political formation, and President Trump energises its followers, in the view of Leonard Zeskind, who is an American human rights activist, and president of the Institute for Research & Education of Human Rights. “[President Trump] gives ‘white nationalism’ voice. He’s their megaphone. Donald Trump, dumping on immigrants all the time, creates an atmosphere where some people interpret that to be a good sign for violence against immigrants,” said Zeskind. The speaker is known for his research into extreme right, racist, and anti-Semitic organisations in the United States. (L. Zetkind, Blood and politics: The history of the ‘white nationalist movement’ from the margins to the mainstream, New York, N.Y., Farrar, Straus and Giroux 2009).
On the campaign trail, many of the Democrats hoping to defeat President Trump drew parallels between his rhetoric and the El Paso shooting and denounced his handling of ‘white supremacy’.
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) said on C.N.N.: “What he has got to understand is that when you have language that is racist, that is virulently anti-immigrant, there are mentally unstable people in this country, who see that as a sign to do terrible, terrible things.” (P. Rucker, ‘ ‘How do you stop these people?’: Trump’s anti-immigrant rhetoric looms over El Paso massacre’, The Washington Post, 4 August 2019).
In August of 2016, then-Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton condemned Donald Trump for “taking hate groups mainstream,” arguing that he would promote prejudice and paranoia if he were elected.
Three years later, the candidates vying for the 2020 nomination sounded similar themes – but with much blunter language – as they criticised his words and actions leading up to the racially motivated massacre in El Paso, Texas.
“Mr. President: stop your racist, hateful and anti-immigrant rhetoric. Your language creates a climate which emboldens violent extremists,” tweeted Sen. Bernie Sanders.
And while Sen. Elizabeth Warren has focused her messaging on the shootings around rallying Democrats to win back the Senate, she had plenty to say when C.N.N. asked for her reaction on Trump: “Donald Trump says hate has no place in this country – Donald Trump has created plenty of space for hate. He is a racist. He has made one racist remark after another, he has put in place racist policies, and we’ve seen the consequences of it.”
By linking the President’s rhetoric with real-world safety, these candidates are taking the campaign out of Washington’s halls of power and relocating it to their everyday lives.
“Mr. President, immigration isn’t the problem. White nationalism is the problem. America’s inaction on gun safety legislation is the problem,” Joseph Robinette ‘Joe’ Biden Jr., the Democratic frontrunner, tweeted on 5 August. After Trump spoke, Biden followed-up with a tweet claiming hatred cannot be expelled from the White House until there is a new president. (L. Villa and P. Elliott, ‘Democrats blame trump in blunt language for mass shooting in El Paso’, TIME, 5 August 2019).
On 5 August the President finally condemned racism and ‘white supremacy’. But he always is temperate when he speaks from a script. A few scripted words do not undo the damage he inflicts on a daily basis. He warns, threatens, and insults. He brooks no criticism. And when he is criticised, he responds so savagely, it is almost breathtaking. He encourages his followers to respond with hostility to anyone who disagrees with him or them. And out of fear – or blind ambition – members of his own party are deafening in their silence.
The damage the President has done will take years to undo. So Americans also have to confront their new reality: they live on a powder keg – too many guns and too many hate-filled individuals who wish to kill the people they irrationally fear. (J. Bachman, ‘El Paso: Trump didn’t pull the trigger, but …,’ Who.What.Why., 5 August 2019).
Since he became President in January 2017, Donald Trump has seen twenty mass shootings.
Speaking in the wake of two mass shootings in less than 24 hours which left at least 31 dead over the weekend, President Trump referred to “the inherent worth and dignity of every human life” and the scourge of “destructive partisanship.”
“In one voice, our nation must condemn racism, bigotry, and white supremacy,” the President said, reading from a script which scrolled on a teleprompter in front of him.” He added: “Now is the time to set destructive partisanship aside – so destructive – and find the courage to answer hatred with unity, devotion and love.”
That unifying message stood in stark contrast to more than two and half years of name-calling, demonising minorities and inflaming racial animus, much of it carried out on Twitter. Just two hours before his White House speech, President Trump tweeted an attack on the ‘fake news’ media for contributing to a culture of “anger and rage.” And in another set of tweets, the President suggested pairing “strong background checks” with “desperately needed immigration reform” – then dropped the matter entirely during his speech.
Such is the picture of a divisive leader trying to act as a healer, particularly in the aftermath of the anti-immigrant attack in El Paso, where the gunman posted a manifesto which echoed Trump’s harsh rhetoric on immigrants, including describing his attack as “a response to the Hispanic invasion of Texas.” President Trump, in tweets and in rallies, has repeatedly decried the “invasion” of undocumented immigrants across the nation’s southern border.
Rep. Veronica Escobar (D-Tex.), whose district includes the El Paso Walmart involved in the massacre, urged the President and his team “to consider the fact that his words and his actions have played a role in this.” “From my perspective, he is not welcome here” Escobar said on M.S.N.B.C.’s “Morning Joe” on 5 August. “He should not come here while we are in mourning.”
On the same day, former President Barack Obama issued a forceful call for the nation “soundly [to] reject language coming out of the mouths of any of our leaders that feeds a climate of fear and hatred or normalizes racist sentiments.” In a statement posted to his Twitter and Facebook accounts, Obama warned that such language has been at the root of most human tragedy, from slavery to the Holocaust to Rwandan genocide.
Former President Obama did not mention President Trump by name, but his statement amounted to a tacit rebuke of the President by a predecessor who has largely kept himself out of the public eye since leaving the White House.
Senior policy adviser to the President, Stephen Miller led the effort to write the 5 August response, with the contribution of four or five other people, according to two people familiar with the efforts, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to reveal private discussions. The group consulted previous speeches the President had given following tragedies, including after a ‘white supremacist’ rally in Charlottesville left one dead, and after a 2017 mass shooting at a country music festival in Las Vegas, one of the collaborators said. (A. Parker, P. Rucker and J. Dawsey, ‘Teleprompter Trump meets Twitter Trump as the president responds to mass slayings’, The Washington Post, 6 August 2019).
It may be safe to come to the conclusion that the racist, narcissistic behaviour which characterises the Trump Administration has its roots in colonial history.
It is also possible to say that President Trump is an unrepentant racist and a malignant narcissist, who also readily espouses Islamophobia, xenophobia, and misogyny.
Evidence of Donald John Trump’s racist bigotry extends as far back as July 1972. Alright, D. J. Trump was only twenty-six years old. But let us see the case: ‘non-white’ applicants were turned away from renting apartments in Trump senior-owned complexes in July 1972. Donald’s father, the owner in question, was Frederick Christ Trump. He is portrayed in Wikipedia as an “American businessman and philanthropist and a prominent real-estate developer in New York City.” The applicants complained to the New York City Commission on Human Rights and the Urban League, leading the League and other groups to send test applicants to the owner who was Frederick Christ Trump. They gathered proof that ‘whites’ were considered desirable tenants, and thus offered apartments, while ‘blacks’ – broadly defined were generally steered away. The ‘others’ were refused accommodation. Both of the advocacy organisations then raised the issue with the Justice Department. In October 1973 the Civil Rights Division of the United States Department of Justice filed a civil rights suit against the Trump Organization (with Frederick Christ Trump, chair, and Donald John Trump, president) for infringing the Fair Housing Act of 1968. In response, Trump’s attorney, Roy Cohn countersued for $100 million by implicating the Department of Justice for allegedly false accusations. Court records showed that four landlords or rental agents confirmed that applications sent to the Trump Organization’s head office for approval recorded the race of the applicant. A rental agent said that Frederick Christ Trump had instructed him “not to rent to blacks” and “to decrease the number of black tenants by encouraging them to locate housing elsewhere.” A consent decree between the Department of Justice and the Trump Organization was signed on 10 June 1975, with both sides claiming victory – the Trump Organization for its perceived ability to continue denying rentals to welfare recipients, and the head of Department of Justice’s housing division for the decree being “one of the most far-reaching ever negotiated.” It personally and corporately prohibited the Trump Organization – and the Trumps personally – from “discriminating against any person in the … sale or rental of a dwelling,” and “required Trump Organization to advertise vacancies in minority papers, promote minorities to professional jobs, and list vacancies on a preferential basis.” Finally, it ordered both Trumps “thoroughly [to] acquaint themselves personally on a detailed basis with … the Fair Housing Act of 1968.” In early 1976 F. C. Trump was ordered by a county judge to correct code violations in a 504-unit property in Seat Pleasant, Maryland. According to the county’s housing department investigator, violations included broken windows, dilapidated gutters, and missing fire extinguishers. After a court date and a series of phone calls with F. C. Trump, he was invited to the property to meet with county officials in September 1976 and arrested on site. Frederick Christ Trump was released on $1,000 bail.
There is a perhaps lesser known case, but more recent, dating to May 1989 in which Donald J. Trump, a businessman since 1971, and until recently a very wealthy real-estate developer, businessman and television personality, was involved. In May 1989 D. J. Trump placed a one-page advertisement in The New York Daily News calling on New York State to execute the Central Park Five – five African American and Latino teens wrongfully accused of beating and raping a jogger, a white woman, in New York’s Central Park.
As a candidate to the presidency and later as President, Trump has spewed so much hatred in his tweets and public speeches that ‘white supremacists’ have felt emboldened and more comfortable publicly displaying and acting on their racist beliefs. This uncontrollable resurgence of nationalism has inspired various acts of racist aggression: from chants of “send her back” aimed at Congresswoman Ilhan Omar to mass shootings across the country, including in El Paso, Texas and Dayton, Ohio.
So many in the United States bend over backwards to separate President Trump’s supporters from their expressions of racism and their admiration for his narcissism. Others seek to present Trumpism as a new phenomenon or an exception in American political history. The truth is the American society has always been a racist and narcissistic one.
Perhaps the most serious effort to address the psychological effect of American racism on white people belongs to African American sociologist and historian William Edward Burghardt Du Bois, an American civil rights activist, Pan-Africanist, author, writer and editor in his emblematic work, Black Reconstruction in America : toward a history of the part of which Black folk played in the attempt to reconstruct democracy in America, 1860-1880, New York, N.Y. , Harcourt, Brace and Co., 1935). In his book, Du Bois observes the behaviour of southern plantation owners and the corrosive effect of slavery on their psyche, concluding the following: “[It] tended to inflate the ego of most planters beyond all reason; they became arrogant, strutting, quarrelsome kinglets; they issued commands; they made laws; they shouted their orders; they expected deference and self-abasement; they were choleric and easily insulted … ”
Slavery was abolished 154 years ago, but racism and the psychological effects it left behind have not disappeared. In fact, a lot of what Du Bois described coincides with what modern psychology has identified as the attributes of the narcissistic personality disorder.
According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (American Psychiatric Association, Washington D.C. 1994) those include:
“1. a grandiose logic of self-importance; 2. a fixation with fantasies of unlimited success, control, brilliance, beauty, or idyllic love; 3. a credence that he or she is extraordinary and exceptional and can only be understood by, or should connect with, other extraordinary or important people or institutions; 4. a desire for unwarranted admiration; 5. a sense of entitlement; 6. Interpersonally oppressive behaviour; 7. no form of empathy; 8. resentment of others or a conviction that others are resentful of him or her; and 9. a display of egotistical and conceited behaviors or attitudes.”
President Trump seems to qualify for all of these disorders.
A racist’s narcissism need not be a personality disorder. As psychologists Jean M. Twenge and W. Keith Campbell pointed out in their The Narcissism Epidemic: Living in the Age of Entitlement (New York, N.Y., Atria Books, 2010) many narcissists may appear to be “functioning well” by most social standards. At the societal level, racism and narcissism are really a flaw of the human condition, not a disorder.
Where American racism and narcissism come together is in the constant urge to maximise advantage over others and satiate the desire for greatness and wealth. This is mixed with a disdain for those who have been deemed lesser and the willful ignorance of the conditions in which they may suffer. In other words, racism and narcissism are two separate yet interdependent constructs, not a mental illness.
The American roots of these constructs are quite clear and reach back as far as the first colonies. Take the history of the Jamestown colony established in 1607. For four centuries, its story has been one of hard-working Englishman John Smith in the United States and of the ‘good’ Native American Pocahontas – her actual name was Amonute or Matoaka – saving his life when her ‘bad’ Native American father Powhatan attempted to kill him.
This, however, never happened. Smith invented this story in 1624, years after Matoaka’s death. And the actual story of Jamestown provides many examples of the racism and narcissism of the early colonialists.
Despite all the self-praise, the fact is that colonialists managed to survive only thanks to the help of Matoaka’s tribe, the Pamunkey, during the winters of 1607, 1608 and 1609. The gold-and silver-seeking Englishmen, having no experience in farming or fishing, would have all died of starvation and disease before a resupply reached the colony.
Matoaka was also not the heroine of a wonderful romantic story. Colonists kidnapped her at the age of 16 in 1612 and held her captive for two years before another Englishman, John Rolfe, married her in 1614 and took her to England in 1616. She gave birth to a son along the way. Matoaka died in 1617 before she could make it back to Jamestown and to her people.
In the half-decade after her death, the Jamestown colony began growing tobacco as a cash crop and waged a war on the Pamunkey to conquer more land. Many of the growers of this cash crop were indentured servants from England, as well as the first African slaves in North America, kidnapped and brought to the Jamestown colony in August 1619. (1619-2019: Remembering 400 years, at William & Mary, as a public university in the Commonwealth of Virginia and an institution built by and tended by enslaved Africans and their descendants, 1619-2019: Remembering 400 years. William & Mary, wm.edu/sites/1619).
Even at this early stage of what would become the United States, all the elements of American racism and narcissism were in place: a sense of entitlement, a belief in one’s own ‘exceptionalism’ and oppressive behaviour towards others, a lack of empathy and an obsession with power.
They remain just as strong today. The successors of those early colonists are still obsessed with myth-making, engage in self-aggrandisement and pursue riches, greatness, and empire. They still seek to exploit those designated as ‘others’ and are indifferent to their suffering. They also use any slight or excuse to resort to the wanton destruction of people and the erasure of their cultures.
American racism and narcissism stand at the core of government policies which aim: to maintain detention camps for Latino asylum seekers at the United States-Mexico border, to cut social welfare programmes for vulnerable populations; to shield perpetrators of police brutality, to criminalise communities of colour, and to dispossess Native Americans of their land and ban Muslims from entering the country.
Continued tomorrow … (Part 9)
* Europaeus landed in Australia over fifty years ago. Except for the blue skies and starry nights between 02.12.1972 and 10.11.1975 the place has been constantly overwhelmed by what Hannah Arendt called the ‘sand storm’ – a metaphor for totalitarianism.
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