Regardless of the outcome of today’s presidential election, Donald Trump has awakened a very dangerous movement in America.
Trump and his alt-right followers is what we find ourselves with after more than 40 years of a racialized White pushback against civil-rights and Black Power movements, and any kind of political and economic mobilization and progress by Blacks and other people of color. This is a furtherance of the tea party, which emerged as a reaction to the inauguration of Barack Obama as the U.S.’s first Black president in 2009. And the tea party, a barely thinly veiled racist, extremist wing of the GOP, was a subversively natural evolution from Newt Gingrich’s contract with most of America, President Reagan’s revolution with his War on Drugs, Nixon’s southern strategy, and the entrenched White backlash resulting from the death of Jim Crow.
Like a growing malignancy, the politics of white supremacy and racial paranoia has now metastasized into something so toxic that we may not be able to control it, let alone stop it.
The tea party brought blatantly racist, homophobic, xenophobic, and sexist conservative political ideologies to the mainstream. We even see it in our institutions for higher learning, where conservatives—in groups like Youth for Western Civilization and in “watch groups” like Campus Reform—are determined to make campuses a “‘safe space’ for racism.” But groups like these have flourished in campus frat houses and secret societies in private colleges and country clubs for many generations. The Internet has helped them to connect and spread their messages here and in Europe. They believe that White people are naturally superior to people of color and that White America is facing a threat of genocide. More specifically, they believe Jews and people of color have rigged society against them, and that the election of President Obama illustrates the truthfulness in their worldview, and pushed them over the edge.
And Trump, whose hatred of Obama is thought to be his motivating factor for running for president, has given the most explicit permission than any major figurehead on the national stage in recent years to those who regard diversity as the enemy, who see blackface parties and affirmative-action bake sales as righteous.
As Trump has grown into a major political force, the former tea party has morphed into the alternative right, dubbed “alt-right.” Representing an attack on what they deem “political correctness,” Trump and his crew are pushing to destroy existing progressive institutions to restore a sense of White patriarchal power and control.
These White American domestic terrorists have made it clear that they’ll be out for blood if Trump loses. I’m all for beating Trump, but have no illusions of safety irrespective of the outcome. If he wins, he’ll put the power of the federal government behind the alt-right’s threats. But a Trump loss isn’t a step toward progress given the growing mainstream power of a politics of White backlash.
As Jeet Herr writes in the New Republic, Trump is “the natural evolutionary product of Republican platforms and strategies that stretch back to the very origins of modern conservatism in the 1950s and 1960s … Instead of relying on old, worn-out dog whistles about welfare queens and states’ rights, Trump has updated racial paranoia for the 21st century with his talk about banning Muslims and deporting immigrants and building walls that Mexico will pay for.”
Trump represents the very real and dangerous culmination of government’s law-and-order policies, rallying cries to middle-class Whites who believe that getting “tough on crime” is the only hope of controlling Black communities and keeping them down. Any progress the politics of racial profiling and the belief that more police and prison will make us safe has already been eroded. Trump has successfully spread the belief that Blacks, Mexicans, Muslims and others are enemies to be kept out, held down, locked up, and ultimately destroyed.
But if we want to know how we got here, let’s rewind to President Reagan’s war on drugs and welfare, and many politicians’ justifications for mass incarceration from both sides of the political aisle. Look at the rise of rabid right-wing talk radio and its television counterpart, Fox News, which packages propaganda designed to keep conservatives riled up, ill-informed and hostile towards to anyone not white, Christian, and conservative.
Whatever Trump’s political gifts might be, he is definitely a con man who has figured out how to harvest the seeds of White resentment and paranoia. And now he represents the Great White Hope of many White people who view themselves as having been oppressed by eight years of an Obama presidency while being victimized by the browning of America.
The most frightening part is that we face dangers from the alt-right no matter the result on November 8. In campaigning for Trump, neo-Nazis and members of the KKK have been recruiting for their movements, reminding millions of Trump voters: “Not only do we have your candidates back but our movement is doing this same work. Join us after the election.”
Trump hasn’t done anything to discourage white-nationalist groups from mobilizing for him. And Trump knows the power of media, retweeting messages posted by white supremacists to his 6.4 million Twitter followers
Trump’s run for the White House has “emboldened extremist groups to speak more openly about challenging the rule of law,” says Ryan Lenz, a researcher at the Southern Poverty Law Center. Ideas that used to be considered on the fringe of American politics have become legitimized and mainstreamed.
David Duke’s support translates to support from white supremacists. Mark Potok, a senior fellow at the Southern Poverty Law Center describes him as “the most important self-described white nationalist intellectual out there,” whose messages are hugely influential.
The national Redix Journal quotes a writer named Gregory Hood as saying that “the conservative movement is trying to keep its White serfs trapped on the conservative plantation. They know if Trumpian nationalism triumphs, a more authentic form of White Identity politics can’t be far behind.”
Rachel Pendergraft, national organizer for the Ku Klux Klan–affiliated Knights Party, cites Trump’s candidacy as a way to have conversations about the browning of America through immigration and the declining white birthrate.
Armed white militia groups also represent a significant threat to the Black community and other communities of color. Some have armed themselves in preparation for civil unrest in case of a victory by Hillary Clinton. “They say they won’t fire the first shot, but they’re not planning to leave their guns at home, either,” reports Reuters.
“Armed paramilitary groups first gained prominence in the early 1990s, fueled by confrontations in Ruby Ridge, Idaho, and Waco, Texas, culminating in a militia sympathizer's 1995 bombing of a federal office building in Oklahoma City that killed 168 people,” according to Reuters. “Their numbers dwindled following that attack but have spiked in recent years, driven by fears that President Barack Obama will threaten gun ownership and erode the power of local government. The Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks extremist groups, estimates there were 276 active militias last year, up from 42 in 2008. In recent years, armed groups have confronted federal authorities in a series of land-use disputes in the western United States. Federal officials fear more clashes could come after seven militants were acquitted on conspiracy charges for occupying a federal wildlife refuge in Oregon.”
Groups like the anti-government Oath Keepers, who had armed members in the 2014 uprisings in Ferguson, told members to monitor voting sites on Election Day for “signs of fraud.” And a Georgia group called the Three Percent Security Force (named for the concept that no more than three percent of Americans fought in the Revolutionary War against Britain) is considering an armed march on Washington if Clinton wins.
“Over the past week, some prominent Trump supporters have hinted at violence. “If Trump loses, I’m grabbing my musket,” tweeted former Illinois Representative Joe Walsh last week. Conservative commentator Wayne Root fantasized about Clinton’s death while speaking at a Trump rally in Las Vegas on Sunday.
In Politico, “White Nationalists Plot Election Day Show of Force” reported on KKK, neo-Nazi, and militia plans to suppress the Black vote. “Neo-Nazi leader Andrew Anglin has threatened to muster thousands of poll watchers across all 50 states on Election Day. His partners at the alt-right website ‘The Right Stuff’ are touting plans to set up hidden cameras at polling places in Philadelphia and hand out liquor and marijuana in the city’s ‘ghetto’ … to induce residents to stay home. The National Socialist Movement, various factions of the Ku Klux Klan and the white nationalist American Freedom Party all are deploying members to watch polls, either ‘informally’ or, they say, through the Trump campaign. The Oath Keepers, a group of former law enforcement and military members that often shows up in public heavily armed, is advising members to go undercover and conduct ‘intelligence-gathering’ at polling places, and Donald Trump ally Roger Stone is organizing his own exit polling, aiming to monitor thousands of precincts across the country.”
But the alt-right is not the only reason that Black people will continue to struggle no matter who wins the election. A Clinton win won’t guarantee progress either. The privatization of and disinvestment in public education is poised to continue. She remains silent about the protests at Standing Rock and the related issues of climate change, environmental protection, environmental racism, and the oppression of Native Americans. It’s more than obvious that her “tribe” is the oil companies and banks—many who support her while financing the Dakota Access Pipeline. Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan Chase, Citigroup, Bank of America, and Wells Fargo have all invested heavily in both her campaign and the pipeline.
The precariousness of the post-2016 election is reflected in the fact that Republican elected officials and the GOP has made its obstructionist politics core to their brand and a top agenda item for the last eight years. Given the current political climate, this won’t stop.
Even if we defeat Trump, we still have to deal with ongoing issues that challenge Black lives and communities: militarized policing, gentrification, the prison industrial complex, divestment from public education, housing discrimination, and health and wealth disparities. On top of all that we’ll have to fight both this rising explicit white nationalism on the right and color-blind liberal racism on the left—two fronts of the same war.
The Democratic Party, by being complicit with their own version of corporate profiteering, globalization, warmongering, and criminalizing of Black communities and lives to feed the prison pipeline, has already devastated Black people. And if Clinton becomes president, many of her votes will have come from folks who voted for her simply because Trump scared them more.
It can be challenging to prepare our minds for this no-win-even-if-we-seem-to-win reality. Eight years of an Obama presidency have satisfied us on some fronts even as some policies have maintained the white supremacist status quo. Our best hope for surviving whatever madness lies ahead is to organize.
Change has always come from our willingness to engage in “ceaseless agitation.” To fall into the trap that a Clinton victory means progress is dangerous. We have spent eight years waiting and assuming the promised land was around the corner. We must manage our expectations, stay in touch with realities based on fact, and keep recognizing that America has declared war on us. This election represents one battle in a much larger war for survival and tangible progress. What happens when the votes that are counted goes far beyond our limited concepts of “winning” and “losing.” We’ll be under attack and forced to continue fighting for our lives.