This piece by Nicholas Hildyard, titled “Blood and Culture: Ethnic Conflict and the Authoritarian Right,” seems absolutely necessary for today.
Slate’s Jamelle Bouie and others are pushing back on the idea that the white working class support for Trump is primarily class-based, rather than rooted in racist and xenophobic resentment and fear. I’ve argued that they can’t be cleanly separated, which I’d think Hildyard would concur with. At the same time, he warned — way back in 1999! — that
Though necessary, the focus on the visible structures of economic exclusion (TNCs, neoliberal trade treaties and the like) has led to a partial obscuring of other, concurrent forms of exclusion — not least the newly-reworked ideologies which currently underpin and legitimise much discrimination.86 “Blood” and “culture” explanations of ethnic conflict are just two examples.
As a consequence, the ground on which globalisation is increasingly being challenged is ground that is as easily occupied by elements of the authoritarian but radical Right as it is by the progressive Left. The impression often gained is that the challenge to globalisation forms a platform shared by both Left and Right.
In reality, no such common platform exists: there are authoritarian responses to globalisation and there are progressive responses — and the two strands are confused at peril.
If I’m not mistaken, this is what Bouie and others (like my friend Stephen Robinson) are getting at, at least in part… that compromise and common cause cannot and must not be made with authoritarians around real and legitimate concerns and marginalization of many communities, including white working class communities.
A platform shared with authoritarian interests inevitably legitimises those interests, giving them a credibility that they might otherwise not enjoy.89 …such platforms send a public message to many groups who might otherwise be allies that progressives are prepared to set aside certain core issues (anti-racism, for example) in the fight against globalisation… the failure to place opposition to the ideologies underpinning social exclusion on a par with opposition to economic exclusion gives wider scope for authoritarian interests to shape the localisms that are emerging in response to corporate rule — scope which might not be so available if the focus of opposition was not concentrated so exclusively on economic exclusion.
Attractive — and necessary — as it might be to evolve as wide an opposition to globalisation as possible, it is surely also critical to have in mind where that opposition is likely to lead. The alliances that progressives enter into — albeit tacitly — will inevitably influence the outcome of their opposition. If they are serious in their commitment to “localisms” that are cosmopolitan, open and equitable, it is not enough to “talk the talk”. More important still is to “walk the walk” — for whom we chose to walk with ultimately plays a large part in determining where we end up walking. (emphasis added)
To elaborate on my confusion, this is a key element, to my read, of Bouie’s argument that “Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren Are Screwing Up the Resistance to Donald Trump”:
It seems reasonable for Warren and Sanders to make a distinction between Trump as blue-collar populist and Trump as racist demagogue. But that distinction doesn’t exist. Supporting a Trump-branded infrastructure initiative as a discrete piece of policy where two sides can find common ground only bolsters a white-nationalist politics, even if you oppose the rest of Trump’s agenda. It legitimizes and gives fuel to white tribalism as a political strategy. It shows that there are tangible gains for embracing Trump-style demagoguery. Likewise, it seems reasonable to want to recast support for Trump as an expression of populism. But Trump’s is a racial populism—backed almost entirely by white Americans, across class lines—that revolves around demands to reinforce existing racial and status hierarchies.
Where I perhaps started getting lost with the details of Bouie’s argument was the contrast he makes with Harry Reid’s statements. He quotes Warren:
“There are millions of people who did not vote for Donald Trump because of the bigotry and hate that fueled his campaign rallies. They voted for him despite hate,” Warren said in a speech after the election. “They voted for him out of frustration and anger—and also out of hope that he would bring change.”
And goes on
Both Warren and Sanders emphasize that bigotry was part of Trump’s message. But they want to separate the “deplorables” from the larger group of more ordinary Americans who just wanted a change of pace. And to that end, they both promise to work with Trump provided he chooses a populist agenda.
In contrast, he writes
There is an alternative to the rhetoric of Warren and Sanders that gets you to the same place without the same pitfalls. Following Trump’s election, outgoing Nevada Sen. Harry Reid issued this statement.
I have personally been on the ballot in Nevada for 26 elections and I have never seen anything like the reaction to the election completed last Tuesday. The election of Donald Trump has emboldened the forces of hate and bigotry in America.
We as a nation must find a way to move forward without consigning those who Trump has threatened to the shadows. Their fear is entirely rational, because Donald Trump has talked openly about doing terrible things to them. …
If this is going to be a time of healing, we must first put the responsibility for healing where it belongs: at the feet of Donald Trump, a sexual predator who lost the popular vote and fueled his campaign with bigotry and hate. Winning the electoral college does not absolve Trump of the grave sins he committed against millions of Americans. Donald Trump may not possess the capacity to assuage those fears, but he owes it to this nation to try.
Reid doesn’t preclude cooperation; this isn’t a call for blockade. What the Nevada senator does, however, is center the fears and concerns of nonwhite Americans. He essentially offers conditional terms: If you work to reduce and repudiate the fear and hate of your campaign, then there is a chance to “move forward.” Otherwise, there are no deals to make. Reid’s statement has all the room you need for a populist message to working-class whites. But it makes that message contingent on buy-in for an inclusive agenda.
(I would have made all this shorter, but I ran out of time.)
I suppose the key element where I basically got myself lost is that I see little hope, and have little interest, in the tactics of individual politicians. I have only vague interest in what Warren and Bernie do — ok, that’s not true, I find them keenly interesting, and they obviously wield incredible influence, but in terms of addressing long-term structural problems, I look to their leadership about equally as much as I look to John Oliver, which is to say, far from zero, but not as my bedrock interest. But what I mean is that, party politics does not interest me as the way forward. I’ve long been very interested in the terms of decadal-level change. And while our current electoral system is part of that — of course — I tend to see it more as the object for change than the lever for it.
So while our politicians should not cooperate with Donald Trump without demanding a repudiation of his bigoted campaign and promises, I agree there, I also think we as citizens and communities do need to find ways to cooperate with those who may have voted for Trump. (I know, some of my smartest friends disagree with this and are skeptical of the tractability–if any–there is for supporters of Trump’s racism, misogyny, and demogoguery.) On the one hand, even in the most vicious and outwardly violent conflicts, you have to negotiate with–and eventually allow empathy for–those on a different side than you. An incredible amount of fiction (and nonfiction) has written about the parallels of treating one’s enemy as inhuman. After all, an enemy who is irredeemably Other can only be killed or vanquished, not negotiated with and eventually lived beside. And of course, the accomplishments of US Civil Rights movements–efforts which are obviously, painfully incomplete–did not occur based purely on ostracization of racists. While we needed rhetoric of not one single figure, but rather the likes of MLK, Malcolm X, Fannie Lou Hamer, James Baldwin, all, and more than them besides — that is, a plethora of approaches and analyses, and analysts and analyses that changed over time. While one could reasonably characterize civil rights advancements as “You’re either with [racism], or you will act with us against [it],” space must be made, at the same time, FOR this “acting against it.”
So that is where I slightly differ from Bouie’s analysis. It is not a contradiction, per se, but a difference in emphasis. While it is important how our politicians deal with Trump, to me, far more important is how we figure out how to deal with each other. We need more spaces and venues to talk — and deliberate and HAVE EFFECTS (e.g. change spending, priorities, and the like) — with those we may not already agree with. We need concrete opportunities where we can say “we are committed to supporting marginalized communities and have no place for racism, patriarchy, xenophobia, or heterosexism” but then the opportunity to show this commitment can actually lead to some kind of material effect. This work will be tricky, as it will require including, for example, Trump voters — to work with a community cannot be “work with the part of the community you identify with,” and we cannot approach it as “work with the part of the community you don’t have open contempt for.” Threading the balance–of building inclusive spaces, but requiring their foundation on shared dignity and substantive equality and recognition of difference–is INCREDIBLY difficult. But there are examples out there. And to my mind, how to create, maintain, grow, and EMPOWER them (e.g. with DECISION-MAKING power for policy and social spending) is the far more interesting, and in the long term clearly (to me) more important question than how our Senators should negotiate the important, but vastly unrepresentative and ultimately dysfunctional, halls of established power.