Trump and the Pungent Politics of Exclusivity

Donalnd Trump trumpets the politics of exclusivity in Richmond, VA. Former capital of the Old Confederacy.

Donald Trump trumpets the politics of exclusivity in Richmond, VA, the former capital of the Old Confederacy.

Donald Trump is a boorish, brash, braggadocious blowhard. He’s the kind of guy who’s richer than — and therefore better than — you, and if you don’t agree, then you’re an idiot. He’s tailor-made for the shame-drained slime bucket that is American politics. This fact ought to be a no-brainer at this point in the 2016 presidential campaign, but America’s over-paid beltway media fluffers still can’t comprehend why the GOP voting base laps up Trump’s uncouth stew of xenophobia, bigotry, sexism, and overt plutocrat sanctification like a St. Bernard who’s jowls-deep in a bowl of gravy-slathered kibble.

In an article for Reuters, for example, Bill Schneider claims that Trump is a new kind of candidate, an unholy, Frankensteinian daemon cross between “the political outsider and the fringe candidate.” This makes the blustery, ball-capped billionaire all the more perplexing to Schneider, who observes that, “Trump is a multibillionaire running against the establishment. He’s a candidate with no coherent political philosophy running as a conservative champion. It doesn’t make sense. But, so far, it’s working.” Trump’s conservative grass-roots appeal confuses the American punditocracy because they don’t want to admit that the secret to U.S. politics is exclusivity: that those with their grubby white maws already stuck in the national cookie jar will always vote to exclude other groups who are demanding some crumbs of their own.

The idea that Trump represents the political fringe is a feature, not a bug of his candidacy. In American politics, the fringe is where you need to look if you want to understand the raw emotions that fester just below the “respectable” surface of the American body politic — the kind of emotional slime that bottom-feeding political consultants slurp up from the muck-ridden American pond basin and regurgitate as less-potent rhetoric that still sends dog whistles to all the right (and white) voters.

In an article titled “Why Donald Trump isn’t as Fringe as You Think,” Talking Points Memo’s Michael Arceneaux takes the pundit class to task for writing Trump off as political sideshow. “I was initially annoyed with the attention lavished on Trump’s run for the presidency,” he writes, “but now I realize it’s a valuable opportunity to illustrate how Trump is a monster Republicans helped create. He is nothing more than a louder, shameless example of what the GOP has become.” That pretty much nails the essence of the Trump phenomenon, except for one major point: the Republican Party hasn’t really “become” anything. Rather, the conservative movement in America, in different manifestations in different historical eras, has always relied on the politics of exclusivity — the notion that my identity — that my privilege — as a “real” American is truly exclusive; a privilege that exists in direct contrast to your status as an outsider who doesn’t deserve access to the exclusive club that is America.

President Warren G. Harding: keepin' it real by keepin' immigrants out.

President Warren G. Harding: keepin’ it real by keepin’ immigrants out.

Thus, when The Donald rages apocalyptic against immigrants, Muslims, welfare recipients, African-Americans, Syrian refugees, and politically correct Starbucks cups, he’s tapping into a deeply ingrained sense of resentment among segments of mostly white conservative America. This voting coalition, who have bolstered the careers of everyone from Goldwater, to Nixon, to Reagan, to George W. Bush, to the Tea Party Congress, is perpetually convinced that a host of “not like me” forces are working in cahoots to dismantle the exclusivity of American identity.

To the average Trump supporter, American identity is paradoxically as strong as a bald eagle’s talons yet as fragile as a robin’s egg. To the average Trump supporter, American identity is inherently GREAT and powerful, but it’s also under constant siege from so many different forces — liberals, Mexicans, commies, moochers, losers, terrorists, #BlackLivesMatter, Washington insiders, China, Russia, STARBUCKS — that only a blunt-talking corporate manager can lead America in this multi-front war. The kind of indestructible, yet relentlessly delicate sense of American identity that Trumpism purports to defend is the most exclusive club on earth, and all the wrong people are trying to sneak past this club’s self-designated billionaire bouncer.

Conservatism is, and always has been, about much more than taxes, welfare, and burly national defence policies. The American identity that the Right Wing longs to protect is a deeply, defiantly exclusivist identity. All of the Right’s pet projects, which essentially boil down to doling out unnecessary aid to society’s most privileged while demonizing society’s most vulnerable, are mere extensions of the conservative movement’s need to guard the contours of America’s power structures from the “un-American” hordes.

Take immigration. Trump’s hard-line immigration rhetoric harks back to the anti-Catholic Know-Nothing movement of the 19th century, but anti-foreign fear-mongering hardly stopped there. Consider President Warren G. Harding’s State of the Union Address, which he delivered on December 8, 1922. The supposed threat posed by eastern European immigrants loomed large in the American WASP consciousness during this era, and Harding legitimized this paranoia in his address to Congress. “There are pending bills for the registration of the alien who has come to our shores. I wish the passage of such an act might be expedited,” Harding stated. “Life amid American opportunities is worth the cost of registration if it is worth the seeking,” he continued, “and the Nation has the right to know who are citizens in the making or who live among us and share our advantages while seeking to undermine our cherished institutions.”

Harding wasn’t a total reactionary (in the same speech he spoke out against the “evil” of child labor, which today’s Republicans seem eager to resurrect), but his splitting of the American public into camps of “citizens,” and an amorphous mass who were “seeking to undermine our cherished institutions” spoke to a fundamental national anxiety that everything great about America could crumble in an instant should the “wrong” people be let into the exclusive American club. Heck, it isn’t hard to connect Harding’s warning against those “who live among us and share our advantages” to Trump’s railing against illegal Mexican welfare sponges and criminals.

Immigrants, however, aren’t the only group trying to wriggle into the exclusivist Club America. Conservatives have long demonized “minority” groups, usually black people, as a perpetual threat to American identity. After all, first them coloreds wanted to be emancipated from slavery, then they wanted equal rights, then the wanted to vote just like white people! The nerve. Unsurprisingly, then, calls for equal rights on the racial front have historically resulted in fierce pushback from butt-hurt whities who wanted to maintain the exclusivity of THEIR America. In 1948, for example, Democratic President Harry S. Truman made a lukewarm appeal to Civil Rights, and for his efforts he got hammered by racist representatives from his own party.

The reactionary pro-segregationist movement of the mid-20th century espoused an inherrently exclusivist view of American identity. Plus, they were assholes.

The reactionary, pro-segregationist movement of the mid-20th century espoused an inherently exclusivist view of American identity. Plus, they were assholes.

Speaking to the House of Representatives in April 1948, Mississippi Democrat William Colmer accused Truman of fomenting a revolt within the “Real” (read: white) America of the time. “Is it any wonder…that a revolt has arisen all over our country, from Mississippi on the shores of the Gulf-kissed coast in the South to the stony crags of Maine in the North, and from the Atlantic to the Pacific Oceans, by southern Democrats and those freedom-loving Americans everywhere, at this attempt to destroy the true civil rights of the citizens of our great and common country?” Colmer fumed.

Only in the discourse of American conservatism could an “attempt to destroy the civil rights” of one group be inextricably connected to an attempt to grant civil rights to another group. In the wider right-wing worldview, being a true American has always hinged on the contrasting fact that others who don’t look like you cannot be true Americans. Thus, the “revolt” of which William Colmer spoke was the blowback Truman fomented among white people incensed at the thought of equal rights for all Americans. After all, you can’t have exclusivity when everyone’s invited to the national party.

According to Colmer and other racist representatives, Truman’s rocking of the Civil Rights boat “encouraged the arrogant demands of these minority groups to whom it was designed to appeal.” Colmer then gave the example of a black Pullman car porter named William Randolph, who had the gall to suggest that if black men were going to fight and die for their country, then the armed forces ought to be de-segregated. Well lan’ sakes alive, there simply warn’t no cause for such uppity talk! “Such ingratitude, such arrogance, such treason can only be attributed to such political bargaining as this proposed program [Civil Rights],” Colmer fumed. Again, it ain’t hard to draw a line from the blustery racism of mid-20th century segregationists to the to reactionaries who fill Trump’s rallies to hear their dollar-studded hero explain how “we have to take back the heart of our country.” Trumpism thrives on conservatives’ resentment towards “the arrogant demands” of minority groups who are trying to tear down the exclusivity of white American identity.

Over at Mother Jones, Kevin Drum frames the thinking of a Trump supporter as such: “the blacks, the Hispanics, the disabled, the immigrants, the poor: sure, they’ve got problems, but who doesn’t? They’re just making a big deal out of it in order to gain sympathy and government bennies that the rest of us have to pay for.” This is the very essence of the exclusivist interpretation of American identity: privilege is fine for me, but when applied to “undeserving” others, privilege dilutes the very exclusivity of American identity itself. Trump won’t let this aggression stand, man, and GOP and independent voters love him for it.

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23 Comments

  1. Nice piece. At the heart of this reactionary exclusivity is, I think, the conservatives’ fundamental fear of change. As our culture inches towards increased inclusiveness – a cultural change that conservatives should be reminded is a product of their precious market – conservatives lose their little bitty minds.

    • Those are really good points, although I think conservatives only fear change if it threatens the hegemony of the ruling elites (who tend to be conservatives). And the point about the market being the ultimate dynamic agent of change is something too many people forget about. Think about major corporations embracing LGBTQ rights, for example: it’s not only the moral thing to do, it’s also good for business!

    • Not fear of change, necessarily. Fear of BAD change. Not all change is good. Going from an ulcer to stomach cancer is a change. Increased inclusiveness isn’t necessarily all good, either. And to me, it is foolish, even pathological, to not fear the bad.

      • Well of course not all change is good, but Conservatives have a, shall we say, difficult time distinguishing between “good” and “bad” change.

  2. Let’s just face it, the conservatives have lost the culture wars and can’t accept the defeat. Instead of working to salvage something from the ashes, they double down and get beat again. The result is a Trump presidential campaign along with fellow jackasses Cruz, Carson, Huckabee, Fioriona, Santorum and the other Teabagger types. Those campaigns appeal to the lowest common denominator which of course includes the bigots and racists.

    While I do not expect Trump or any of those bozos to actually win the GOP nomination, the entire GOP field is running for the right to be listed in the history books as being the candidate who lost to the first woman to be elected President of the United States, Hilary Clinton. Let’s face the truth here. The GOP establishment will vote for Hilary or not vote at all. They will vote for her because they will go in the booth to vote for other GOP down ballot candidates in my opinion. They will want nothing to do with a looney toon president and know full well that they can work with Clinton.

    Unfortunately, the idiot brigade is too freaking stupid to understand what they are doing. By championing Trump they’re ensuring the GOP’s loss once again on the national stage. The state level GOP is doing one of two things. They’re either working for the best interests of their states by working with Dems in crafting intelligent legislation or they’re driving their states into the ground a la Kansas. The backlash from the people is going to kill the GOP before long.

    • I hope you’re right about the GOP getting a huge backlash, but I’m just not sure anymore. It seems there’s no about of nutso policies they can’t champion that a huge number of people won’t swallow up whole.

  3. This sounds like it was written by a blowhard who learned cute, trickster leftist insult-writing in some cultural Marxist establishment university leaning so far to the left it’s a wonder it’s still standing.

    Exclusivity, huh? Lemme ax you something. Do you agree that separate but equal is inherently unequal?

    • “Cultural Marxism” is one those fascinating, if utterly meaningless phrases that seems to float about in the alternate reality that is wingnutopia. And “separate but equal” is inherently unequal, unless it pertains to wingnuts.

      • It isn’t alternate reality just because you disagree with it.

        There is certainly enough written about cultural Marxism, pro and con, to provide meaning to the phrase for you to consider. It is basically the origin of political correctness … which I’ll bet you also don’t believe in. But there is a marvelous example of PC floating around the Internet right now — the utterly ludicrous claim that the song “White Christmas” is racist. Do you believe it is racist? That snow is racist? That weather is racist? That nature is racist?

        Separate but equal is only inherently unequal if the things being separated are inherently unequal. Plaintiffs for Brown v. the Board of Education found that racial separation in education, while masquerading as providing separate but equal treatment of both white and black Americans, instead perpetuated inferior accommodations, services, and treatment for black Americans. (Wikipedia)

        However, the inferior accommodations, services, and treatment weren’t inherent. (Inherent means having some permanent and inseparable element, quality, or attribute (Dictionary.com)). They were the deliberate policy/acts of the states so they were not inherent. Ending those practices, policies and acts proved they were not permanent and inseparable.

        Just out of curiosity, do they teach snarky and insulting writing and leftist school? It seems a permanent feature of so many leftist blogs and columnists. It also seems to be a skill beyond most rightwingers (including amateurs such as myself). Ann Coulter is an exception, followed by Michelle Malkin in distant second. Doug Giles is working on it but seems to try a little too hard… Perhaps it is the result of being steeped in Alinskyism, which most rightwingers aren’t?

        Have you ever considered just saying what you disagree with rightwingers about, instead of insulting them? Why not just offer what you do believe, as a contrast? Are your views not persuasive enough without the insults of those who don’t share them? Again, just curious.

        • I actually had to investigate the “White Christmas” snafu you referenced and, yes indeed, it appears to be a real story. I must agree that thinking that the song “White Christmas” is racist is pretty asinine. I’ve always considered it to be about snow.

          Regarding “Separate but Equal,” I’m not actually sure about what point you’re trying to make, unless you’re saying that the court’s ruling was somehow unjustified? But again, I’m not sure.

          Now, in terms of snarky writing: I admit: it’s a talent I developed on my own. That said, I think liberals are better at snark because employing sarcasm and irony necessitates a nuanced approach to issues that conservatives, who tend to lean towards more bifurcated, black-and-white thinking, can’t really appreciate. Ann Coulter, for example, thinks she can do sarcasm but fails miserably at it because the views she trumpets are so ridiculously simplistic that they leave little room for the complicated nuance of irony. She’s basically a parody of herself.

          Furthermore, this notion of “Leftist” schools is another one of those ideas that exists in the right-wing subculture but doesn’t really have any parallel in actual reality. Granted, plenty of universities harbor people with liberal/left views, but they also harbor people with conservative views as well. For example, I did my PhD at the University of Calgary in Alberta, a school in a deeply conservative, oil-dominated province whose right-wing Political Science and Economics departments are world-known. But yes, there are liberals there too. If I could distill my general disagreement with conservatism into a few sentences, it would go something like this: conservatism is the defense of inherited privilege against the historical arch of justice bending towards all people. Conservatism embraces simplicity over nuance and tradition over change merely because some changes threaten the privileges of those in power.

      • Exclusivity isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Do you think it’s okay for school boys to shower with school girls if they “feel” like a girl? But that’s where we are in the USofA now. It’s where rejection of “exclusivity” has got us. But you have to have chug-a-lugged deeply the leftwing dingbat kool-aid to imagine that locker rooms and bathrooms exclusively for girls and exclusively for boys is conservative wingnuttery.

        • It’s deeply problematic for you to characterize transgender people as “feeling” or “thinking” like they they are girls (or boys), as if they really have a choice in the matter, or as if they’re driven by sinister motives. Being transgender isn’t some attempt to score views in the girls’ locker room; that’s a made-up fear that exists in the right-wing fear-o-sphere. Rather, being transgender is a psychologically recognized, profoundly traumatic experience for people. They must go through intense therapy to understand the severity of what it means to have body dysphoria, and it cuts to the core aspect of their identity. The fact they are willing to risk extreme social exclusion, high rates of suicide, total rejection by their parents, poverty, and risk being literally murdered, speaks to the very real and very serious nature of how they experience the world as transgender people. Moreover, gender identity has always been fluid in many different cultures throughout history, and transgender people have always been around, it’s just that now, the culture is slightly more willing to recognize them as human beings. It isn’t some “leftwing dingbat kool-aid,” it’s something that is attested in peer-reviewed medical literature, as well as in the experiences of transgender people themselves. Bottom line: they don’t deserve to be ostracized.

          • All of them go through intense therapy? All of them experience this traumatic life you describe? I think a lot of it is just made up by ultra-leftists as part of the war on tradition, the natural family, and religion (specifically, Christianity). I doubt that all of them experience what you’re claimingt… but look, white people risk being literally murdered just walking down the street in some neighborhoods….

            Give transgendered (and I even doubt the word is authentic) their own separate bathrooms and showers. Because how do we know everyone who CLAIMS to be transgendered IS what they claim? How do you know some aren’t just horny teenaged boys pretending to be transgendered just to get access to seeing nekkid girls in the showers?

            That possibility is something I never see discussed by defenders of sexual dev– ah, otherness….

          • I’m afraid that the Broadly article doesn’t make the case that these people were killed because they were transgender. That appears to be the case with a few, but others appear to be cases of domestic violence, and still others (in fact, most of them) cases of “sex-worker” (i.e., prostitute) violence, and that apparently doesn’t discriminate between “straight” and “trans” prostitutes.. The violence and loss of life are tragic, but it appears to be a hazard of that, ah, line of work. More likely, the victims were targeted for other reasons, and they just happened to be trans… which makes the Broadly article opportunistic at best, and misleading at worst.

            And the moron trolling the law will lead to others doing the same until the behavior becomes commonplace.

          • I think you’re probably right about those killings having more to do with the line of work than the issue of the people being trans, but I thought it was interesting because it shows how time-tested forms of discriminations like race and class interweave with gender discrimination. Those are extreme cases, but they show how trans people face serious discrimination on a daily basis (although being poor, black, and trans obviously makes you worse off than being upper-middle class, white, and trans). My point is not that these bathroom laws aren’t a bit awkward to legislate and enforce, rather, it’s that resistance to the idea of fluid gender construction is usually rooted in a lack of knowledge about the subject. The guy who undressed in the women’s locker room probably never looked into any of the issues that trans people face, nor has he likely looked into any of the professional literature on gender identity. Instead, he feels threatened (and to a point, it’s understandable) by social changes that seem utterly abnormal merely because much of American culture still enforces strict gender binaries that are holdovers from the Victorian era. But, to your point, I agree that prostitution isn’t a recommended career path, although many people who end up going that route have additional problems that sent them in that direction.

  4. Equating domestic violence with sex worker violence? Plus basically calling it a hazard of that line of work meaning it’s okay when they encounter violence? Congratulations. You managed to not only go lower than your previous low, but you managed to do it twice in one sentence.
    You deny anything and everything to support your pathetic beliefs.

    • I didn’t equate anything, Dimmy. The Broadly article included examples of both, and I mentioned that it did. I didn’t say, imply or hint that it’s okay for sex workers to encounter violence … only that it’s a hazard in prostitution, and it isn’t necessarily because said workers are “trans-gender.”.

      I haven’t denied anything … only pointed out that the Broadly writer did not make a convincing case that the victims featured in the article were killed because, and only because, they were “trans-gender.”

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