The Distemper of White Spite

While the snarling rabid minions of the mobilized alt-right seek to cloak themselves in the mantle of “free speech,” their provocative marches are, instead, the most extreme recrudescence of a white nationalist distemper. Emboldened by the white supremacist Trump Administration and the constant racist tweeting of its ersatz Führer, other “aggrieved” whites look to the White House to operationalize their racial resentments.

Of course, those racial resentments are deeply rooted in the political culture of the United States, especially as expressions of state and vigilante violence against people of color. When white Europeans invaded the American continent in the 15thand 16thcenturies, they either sought to plunder the wealth of the indigenous population or to establish colonies as an extension of the war capitalism practiced by their competing nation states. To satisfy the need for labor, European settlers imported African slaves in the 17thcentury, enacting, in the process, a harsh regime of exploitation throughout the colonies.  Once these North American colonies achieved their independence through the formation of the United States in the late 18thcentury, those states continued to engage in war and expansion against the indigenous populations and to enslave people of African descent.

Indeed, the foundational document of these United States, the Constitution, was a perfect reflection of a slave republic, built on empire, expansion, and exclusion. The Second Amendment to that Constitution inscribed militias as a vehicle of state violence against both the indigenous and slave populations.  As William Appleman Williams asserts in Empire as a Way of Life, “the routine lust for land, markets, or security became justifications for noble rhetoric about prosperity, liberty, and security” (62). Hence, hiding beneath the ideological veil of liberty and security was an iron fist of state violence, especially against people of color, whether red, black, or brown.

When state militias became less reliable in the 19thcentury as a consequence of class conflict, private security agencies, like the Pinkertons, vigilantes, and eventually police forces were the new vehicles to control and repress any resistance, whatever its color.  On the other hand, white supremacy as the dominant ideological order through the 19thand 20thcenturies consigned to the police the role of patrolling and brutalizing African-Americans.  In the southern states in particular, right through the 1960’s, police were part of a terror network that punished any black person who violated the rules of white supremacy.

White supremacy did not disappear with the overcoming of segregation and second-class citizenship. If it no longer relied on white sheets to promulgate its terror, it could always find blue uniforms to hide behind whenever travesties were committed against the African-American community.  With cries for “law and order” and the pointed use of drug and criminal justice policies, the African-American community faced renewed state violence and police brutality in the late 20thand early 21stcenturies.

Therefore, the unending and vicious murders of unarmed black people by white police and white vigilantes are not an anomaly or the work of a few “bad apples.” It is inherent in the nature of white supremacist social order that inscribes disadvantage and oppression against people of color.  Indeed, “supporting heavily racialized investments in policing, prisons, and the military,” “aggrieved whiteness,” as argued by Mike King, constitutes an effort to “maintain white socio-political hegemony” (Abolition Journal, May 4, 2017). The passage of “Stand-Your-Ground” legislation in numerous states has been a cover for white vigilantes like George Zimmerman and others who feel empowered to execute unarmed African-Americans.

These examples of lethal white spite manifest a direct correlation with the political fortunes of Donald Trump. As noted by Sasha Abramsky in his important book, Jumping at Shadows: The Triumph of Fear and the End of the American Dream: “Primed to fear a long list of despised ‘others’ by endless exposure to sensational cable television news reports, to social media, and to talk radio, a critical mass of voters in such an anxious age will throw their lot in with demagogic figures who pander to their anxieties” (15).  From the outrageous racist claims about Mexicans to the Gestapo-like tactics of ICE to the kidnapping of brown children and their detention or deportation of their parents, Trump relies on racial fears and resentments of whites to advance and institutionalize such white spite.

Certainly, the very real decline of living standards and the attendant rise in morbidity statistics among some white workers, especially those in rural areas, has created an environment where racism and xenophobia can be mobilized. “Perceived threats to national security and/or unemployment” are breeding grounds for “anti-immigrant attitudes” (Michele Lamont, The Dignity of Working Men, 92).  Hence, it is not surprising that Trump’s 2016 electoral victory owed much to the “dwindling proportion of traditionally high-status Americans (i.e., whites. Christians, and men), as well as those who perceived America’s global dominance as threatened.…(They inevitably gave) support for the candidate who emphasized establishing status hierarchies of the past” (Diana C. Mutz, PNAS, April 23, 2018).

In the next few decades people of color will become a majority of the American working class. Attacks by Trump and the Republican Party on people of color represent desperate attempts to mobilize whites and divide the working class for their own political benefits.  Unfortunately, for the fortunes of the working class as a whole, the appeals to white spite go beyond the fringe extremist elements of the alt-right.  They go to the core of persistent white supremacy – a core that needs to be confronted and removed if there is any hope for transformative change in the United States.

More articles by:

Fran Shor is a Michigan-based retired teacher, author, and political activist.  

January 22, 2019
Patrick Cockburn
On the Brink of Brexit: the Only Thing Most People Outside Westminster Know About Brexit is That It’s a Mess
Raouf Halaby
The Little Brett Kavanaughs from Covington Catholic High
Dean Baker
The Trump Tax Cut is Even Worse Than They Say
Stanley L. Cohen
The Brazen Detention of Marzieh Hashemi, America’s Newest Political Prisoner
Karl Grossman
Darth Trump: From Space Force to Star Wars
Haydar Khan
The Double Bind of Human Senescence
Alvaro Huerta
Mr. President, We Don’t Need Your Stinking Wall
Howard Lisnoff
Another Slugger from Louisville: Muhammad Ali
Nicole Patrice Hill – Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
The Scarlet “I”: Climate Change, “Invasive” Plants and Our Culture of Domination
Jonah Raskin
Disposal Man Gets His Balls Back
Thomas Knapp
Now More Than Ever, It’s Clear the FBI Must Go
January 21, 2019
W. T. Whitney
New US Economic Attack Against Cuba, Long Threatened, May Hit Soon
Jérôme Duval
Macronist Repression Against the People in Yellow Vests
Dean Baker
The Next Recession: What It Could Look Like
Eric Mann
All Hail the Revolutionary King: Martin Luther King and the Black Revolutionary Tradition
Binoy Kampmark
Spy Theories and the White House: Donald Trump as Russian Agent
Edward Curtin
We Need a Martin Luther King Day of Truth
Bill Fried
Jeff Sessions and the Federalists
Ed Corcoran
Central America Needs a Marshall Plan
Colin Todhunter
Complaint Lodged with European Ombudsman: Regulatory Authorities Colluding with Agrochemicals Industry
Manuel E. Yepe
The US War Against the Weak
Weekend Edition
January 18, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Melvin Goodman
Star Wars Revisited: One More Nightmare From Trump
John Davis
“Weather Terrorism:” a National Emergency
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Sometimes an Establishment Hack is Just What You Need
Joshua Frank
Montana Public Schools Block Pro-LGBTQ Websites
Louisa Willcox
Sky Bears, Earth Bears: Finding and Losing True North
Robert Fisk
Bernie Sanders, Israel and the Middle East
Robert Fantina
Pompeo, the U.S. and Iran
David Rosen
The Biden Band-Aid: Will Democrats Contain the Insurgency?
Nick Pemberton
Human Trafficking Should Be Illegal
Steve Early - Suzanne Gordon
Did Donald Get The Memo? Trump’s VA Secretary Denounces ‘Veteran as Victim’ Stereotyping
Andrew Levine
The Tulsi Gabbard Factor
John W. Whitehead
The Danger Within: Border Patrol is Turning America into a Constitution-Free Zone
Dana E. Abizaid
Kafka’s Grave: a Pilgrimage in Prague
Rebecca Lee
Punishment Through Humiliation: Justice For Sexual Assault Survivors
Dahr Jamail
A Planet in Crisis: The Heat’s On Us
John Feffer
Trump Punts on Syria: The Forever War is Far From Over
Dave Lindorff
Shut Down the War Machine!
Glenn Sacks
LA Teachers’ Strike: Student Voices of the Los Angeles Education Revolt  
Mark Ashwill
The Metamorphosis of International Students Into Honorary US Nationalists: a View from Viet Nam
Ramzy Baroud
The Moral Travesty of Israel Seeking Arab, Iranian Money for its Alleged Nakba
Ron Jacobs
Allen Ginsberg Takes a Trip
Jake Johnston
Haiti by the Numbers
Binoy Kampmark
No-Confidence Survivor: Theresa May and Brexit
Victor Grossman
Red Flowers for Rosa and Karl