Charges of racism or racially insensitive behavior and speech abound in America today, and discussions about racial relations in America dominate many conversations concerning housing, education, employment, law enforcement, personal income, healthcare or any of a hundred other matters that occupy our thoughts at the present time. Expressed or implied beliefs regarding race and racial inequalities in both opportunities and outcomes are often the dividing lines that are conveniently used to separate those who are “woke” and enlightened from those who are racist and hateful.
Not surprisingly, few of these conversations end without bruised feelings on both sides.
To assert that a particular problem or situation is not defined by racism is the sin of insufficient sensitivity that indicates either dull obliviousness to the plight of the oppressed or active hatred disguised as mere disagreement. Worse yet, if someone is white and fails to conclude that racism explains every issue, that individual is failing to acknowledge the “White Privilege” that allows them to blithely or stupidly speak in favor of hard work, individual initiative and personal responsibility in ways that might offend their listeners by assigning blame—while also failing to recognize their own culpability for the problem at hand. For example, someone of fair complexion who observes that workplace success is typically a function of experience, education, and diligence is obviously denigrating struggling co-workers who have not been privileged with the many benefits of whiteness.
On the other side of the equation, those who feel they have been victimized by either overt racism or an insensitivity to the challenges posed by their racial identity are put into the position of either educating those around them, which they might find either annoying or demeaning, or quietly nursing a festering wound in order to keep from making others uncomfortable. Moreover, that individual might be themselves uncertain about the actual meaning or cause of the attitudes or behaviors of those around them. Was an offhand comment or lack of response from another person a sign of hostility or an understandable outcome of their worries about a sick child back at home? Is a failure to validate your beliefs or concerns a sign of hate—or simply a thoughtful disagreement?
The inability to peer into the souls of those around us confounds our interactions, and many now habitually approach every encounter with some degree of trepidation because the imperfections inherent in human communication can now be weaponized in a manner that can result in sanctions that range from suspicion to shunning to expulsion. It is little wonder that so many now choose to avoid eye contact and restrict their comments to banalities and virtue signaling, which only further confounds and confuses our efforts to have frank and necessary conversations about race and race relations in America today.
And now let’s talk about President Trump.
The therapeutic model of government in general—and the Presidency in particular—has become entrenched over the past couple of decades. In times of national danger or distress, Presidents are now expected to soothe our fears and acknowledge our pain. To be able to project empathy has become a job qualification for high office as important as any other, and the President is now supposed to be a form of national Prozac—easing our jangled nerves while providing the reassurance many desperately need.
In this aspect of his job, President Trump is simply dreadful. His universe neatly divides between winners and losers, and the losers are either ignored entirely or showered with contempt if they dare complain. There are no participation trophies or “A’s for effort” on Planet Trump. He is a cruel competitor and career capitalist who is quite willing to stomp on whomever he needs to in order to attain his objectives, traits which launched him into the Oval Office but continue to appall his many critics.
I do not believe Donald Trump is a racist, although it is politically advantageous (and likely personally satisfying) for his opponents to claim otherwise. However, expressing sympathy for African-Americans and others who are sitting in terrible cities and continuing to vote for mostly Democratic politicians who have done little to foster their personal advancement does not come naturally to him.
As far as President Trump can see, every American is ultimately responsible for their own successes or failures, and this attitude extends beyond our borders to those nations and people that he believes lack the will and skill to create prosperity for themselves—and so resort to begging for foreign aid or crashing our nation’s borders. Whether this lack of sympathy can be characterized as racism in practice (rather than belief) is an intriguing question, but the reality of the situation is that President Trump tends to see the United States as more of a huge business than a nation—and he expects every employee/citizen to do his fair share to ensure success.
This underlying message probably goes far to explain Mr. Trump’s unique bond with working class Americans and small business owners. They share his dislike for those whom they perceive as lazy, stupid, or both, and they see our nation as a land of opportunity for the hardworking and skillful. The self-comforting Democratic belief that blue collar voters will eventually wise up to President Trump’s plutocratic ways is, I believe, one that is misguided and self-defeating. It leads them to wrongly brand the tens of thousands of cheering people at every one of his rallies as cretinous bigots, and it further alienates them from the broad middle range of voters they should be assiduously courting at every turn rather than insulting.
We still, of course, have too many Americans who harbor horrible preconceptions about others based on the colors of their skins, but our nation has made truly remarkable progress toward creating a multiracial society that celebrates egalitarianism and individual self-worth. However, it is also true that American tolerance for any government program that is perceived, rightly or wrongly, as an unearned handout is at low ebb, and many Americans—of every shade of humanity—are weary of being unappreciated for working hard and playing by the rules.
Politicians and pundits who fail to understand this new reality and instead continue to accuse 50% of our nation of racism will do so at their own electoral peril.