The Trump presidency is over, but it is apparent that the Trump era isn’t. His racist, sexist, homophobic and xenophobic attitudes have found an appalling level of acceptability within the Republican Party. And isn’t limited to some extreme right-wing base of the party; these attitudes are firmly embraced by many members of both the House of Representatives and the Senate.
The most racist of Trump’s base constitute whites whose racism backfires on them, in ways they never, and still don’t, anticipate or understand.
The United States residents seem to be proud of what they call their ‘rugged individuality’, and don’t want any help from the government. They seem to overlook the public school system, roads, Social Security and a myriad of other entitlements provided ostensibly for all residents. But many of them seem to have a horror of anyone who is not white receiving any benefits. So they oppose such things as government-provided health care (something that I have in Canada), food stamps, aid to dependent children and other related benefits, believing that they are all going to non-whites who just want handouts. They don’t seem to recognize that by depriving non-whites of these benefits, they deny themselves as well.
One of Trump’s campaign promises that seemed to have resonated with his constituents was to ‘drain the swam’, a euphemism for removing long-entrenched Washington insiders from decision-making and law-making roles. His bizarre ‘populist’ appeal somehow convinced large numbers of Republicans that he was ‘one of them’ and ‘understood their pain.’ He was going, he said, to bring the power back to the people, and by that, he meant white people. And while he certainly put whites into positions of power everywhere in his administration, they were hardly ‘of the people’. Their appointments to the highest levels of power in the United States maintained the racist status quo and, unrecognized by so many of the whites who voted for him, penalized them, also.
It’s somewhat amazing that anyone can think Trump and his appointees are common folks, working class people who know the struggles of meeting expenses and planning for their children’s higher education, their own retirement and so forth. New York Senator Charles Schumer, in 2017, commented that members of Trump’s cabinet have more wealth that one third of the U.S. population.
And as long as I have mentioned Schumer, let’s talk about Congress. A few years ago, the average income of a member of Congress was about 23 times that of an average U.S. household. And what about Democrat Schumer? With a net worth of about $63,000,000.00, he is one of the richest elected officials in the country. Hardly a ‘man of the people’.
We’ll look at just a few examples of how whites suffer as a result of their own racism. What I’m going to discuss are the tangible things, the penalties they experience through legislation. The ways in which the hatred, fear and overall negativity of racism certainly impact everyone who is racist will not be addressed here.
In 2017, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders introduced an amendment to a bill that would have enabled U.S. residents to purchase pharmaceutical drugs from Canada. This would have been a considerable financial savings for many U.S. residents. For example, a vial of insulin, which costs about $320.00 in the U.S., can be obtained for about $30.00 in Canada.. Yet Sanders’ amendment was voted down, with Senate Republicans overwhelmingly rejecting it, with the support of some Democrats. Notably, New Jersey Senator Cory Booker voted against it. Is it coincidence that, during the six years prior to this vote, he received more campaign contributions from the pharmaceutical industry than any other senator?
But I digress. Diabetes, for which insulin is required, impacts about 18% of the white population, 27% of the Hispanic population and 30% of the Black population. By denying anyone the right to buy insulin in Canada, every diabetic in the U.S suffers.
And while I’ve cited insulin as an example, that isn’t the only drug that is more costly in the U.S. A recent study indicates that prices for pharmaceutical drugs in the U.S. are about 12 times higher than what one would pay in Canada. Additionally, almost 67% of all bankruptcy filings in the United States are related to health care costs.
After Trump appointed Alabama senator Jeff Sessions to become attorney general, he endorsed Judge Roy Moore to succeed him in the senate. Moore had twice been removed from the bench, in 2003 for refusing to remove a statue of the Ten Commandments from the Alabama judicial building, and the second time, after having been re-elected, in 2016 for ordering probate judges to deny marriage licenses to same-sex couples. While there are probably few LGBTQ people who vote Republican, it’s likely that at least some of their parents do. By so doing, they penalize their own children.
During the Obama administration, people who had been defrauded by for-profit colleges were able to get back some of the money they had spent. Trump appointed Betsy DeVoss as Education Secretary, a woman with no experience in finance or education. Her ‘qualifications’ for the position were her extreme wealth and her support of Trump’s campaign. She appointed as her assistants some of the very people whose businesses had defrauded students. Under her so-called leadership, victimized students received far less compensation for the money they had spend due to the lies they had been told. These victims were not only non-white; white students, too, were defrauded, and DeVoss’s policies negatively impacted all students, white and non-white, equally.
Student loan debt in the U.S. amounts to about $1.45 trillion. The number of white and non-white students and graduates who have student debt from the U.S. government is about the same, at 67% and 70% respectively. Any suggestion of relief for this crippling debt is met with derision and opposition by Republicans. And yet many people retire with student loan debt, and must use some of their Social Security Payments, intended to provide them with a dignified retirement, to pay these loans. President Joe Biden has cancelled a small amount of student debt, totalling about $16 billion. There is a long distance between $16 million and $1.45 trillion.
Government-funded public education is available for all residents from kindergarten through –twelfth grade. The U.S. ranks 14th in cognitive skills and educational attainment among developed nations. And it is no secret that many teachers must purchase many of their own supplies, because government funding of schools is insufficient to meet the needs of educating young residents. Inner-city school buildings are often in need of repair, but any talk of increasing funding is opposed by Republicans. But about 60% of the U.S. population is white, so the inferior schools impact more whites than non-whites. However, only about half of the members of Congress send or have sent their children to public schools, but those school are all in affluent areas, where there is no lack of funding for them.
Benefits to people living below the poverty line are often the targets of Republicans claiming that entitlement cuts are needed to balance the budget; they conveniently overlook the bloated military budget. But in 2016, the year Trump was elected, about 4 million white children lived in poverty; about 3.5 million black children did so. Therefore, cuts to entitlement programs impact more whites than blacks. And it’s worth noting that the official U.S. poverty line – a family of four earning less than $27,750 annually – is far below what a family of four can live on.
Jeffrey G. Madrick, writing in his book Invisible Americans: The Tragic Cost of Child Poverty in America,pointed out that whites make up about 60% of the population, and receive 69% of social benefits. So again, cuts to those benefits negatively impact whites more than non-whites.
When President Obama was re-elected in 2012, FOX News’ Bill O’Reilly said this: “Obama wins because it’s not a traditional America anymore. The white establishment is the minority. People want things.”
For O’Reilly and many people who believe as he does, the loss of the white majority is strange, alien and frightening. It causes people to ‘want things’ from a government to which they pay taxes, expecting to get some ‘things’ – like health care, quality education, affordable higher education and decent infrastructure, among others – to which they are entitled.
By ‘white establishment’, O’Reilly is referring to the white elite, the people who make the rules that they can either bypass or simply ignore.
The Trump administration embodied three broad categories of racism as defined b C.P. Jones. Cultural racism was demonstrated by Trump as he seized upon the racist attitudes of his base to excite his crowds as he degraded Mexicans, Blacks and other non-white populations.
He demonstrated Individual racism, described by Jones as someone who believes that people of color are inferior to whites in their social, moral and intellectual capabilities, and this is a legitimate reason for treating them as inferior. His public statements about Mexicans, Black and others all demonstrate his individual racism.
The third component is institutional racism, the laws and customs the systemically produce racial injustice. The caging of Hispanic children at the Mexican border – begun during the Obama years, intensified by Trump and continued under Biden – the ‘Muslim ban’ and Trump’s disdain for Black victims of police brutality all signified his administration’s institutional racism.
Trump is no longer president, but as I mentioned earlier, his influence over the Republican Party remains strong; Republican members of both houses of Congress, with few exceptions, court his approval. Racism in the U.S. is alive and well.
There was a glimmer of hope in the summer of 2020, following the brutal murder of George Floyd. People across the country and around the world – whites and non-whites – protested in massive numbers, calling for an end to the racist police policies that are imbedded in U.S. society. But despite Biden’s assurances of reform, nothing has changed.
With Trump dangling the possibility of another run for the White House in front of his adoring fans, the efforts of those who seek equality and justice in the U.S. must be intensified.
This is the text of a presentation before the Pacific Sociological Association Conference on April 9, 2020.