Trump Is Fuelling The Rise Of White Fright

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Radio Host Laura Ingraham gestures while speaking during the (RNC) in Cleveland, Ohio, U.S., on Wednesday, July 20, 2016. (Photo: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

It seems forever ago that Justin Trudeau made the world swoon by matter-of-facting that his cabinet would be gender-balanced and diverse “because it’s 2015.”

Unfortunately, now it’s 2016.

Donald Trump’s apocalyptic acceptance at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland was easily the scariest political event I’ve ever witnessed outside of 1930s newsreels. As CNN’s Anderson Cooper summed up: “He painted a dark and frightening picture of America, he talked about people being attacked by criminals, attacked by terrorists, betrayed by their leaders, the game is fixed. And he said he can be their voice.”

Ah, but not everyone’s voice.

If the lack of melanin in the crowd wasn’t enough of a clue, the racially charged subtext rose to the surface when he couldn’t help but use the term “them” when discussing “inner cities.” Or when he warned of 180,000 illegal immigrants “tonight roaming free to threaten peaceful citizens” and of more “being released by the tens of thousands into our communities with no regard for the impact on public safety.”

The thing about this tactic… is that it captures (and, yes, fuels) the zeitgeist of white America.

Or when, after yet another string of police shootings of unarmed black men, most recently a therapist lying on the ground with his hands up, Trump promised to restore law and order, to “liberate our citizens from the crime and terrorism and lawlessness.”

The thing about this tactic — a far cry from conservative saint Ronald Reagan’s inspirational “shining city on a hill” much less Obama’s hope and change optimism — is that it captures (and, yes, fuels) the zeitgeist of white America.

See, it doesn’t matter that crime is still at historic lows, or that there are fewer wars now than ever before, or even that terrorism is down from the heights of the 1970s — a historian and former military intelligence officer reminded me last fall that we are living in the safest time in human history.

What matters is that people feel that it’s not safe.

That is what years of similarly apocalyptic warnings by Fox News, talk radio like Rush Limbaugh and online outlets like Breitbart and The Rebel hath wrought.

Trump’s warning of Hillary Clinton’s legacy of “death, destruction, terrorism and weakness” comes on the heels of earlier RNC speeches by far-right radio host Laura Ingraham appearing to seig heil to a jumbotron image of Trump making the same gesture (and not for the first time); former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani shrieking about refugees; New Jersey governor Chris Christie leading a witch hunt against Hillary Clinton, complete with chants of “guilty” and “lock her up;” and a sheriff who blasted Black Lives Matter for promoting anarchy, which was a slight step back from his recent op-ed declaring BLM “the enemy” and accusing them of fomenting revolution.

Then there was Newt Gingrich’s claim that “we are sleepwalking through history as though this is all about politics. It is not. It is about our safety and our survival as a country. And this is why every American should be terrified at the prospect of a Hillary Clinton presidency.”

And this tweet by former KKK grand wizard David Duke:

This fear and loathing isn’t relegated to the Republicans, of course. Though this rise of white in America began in the wake of Obama’s election, where it was directed into the Tea Party, it has been permeating the western world.

It ties into the online hate-mongering that got professional troll Milo Yiannopoulos banned from Twitter this week for inciting a racist and misogynistic cybermob against Saturday Night Live actress Leslie Jones for daring to star in a female-fronted Ghostbusters reboot.

Not to mention the oft-racist and misogynistic Gamergate movement that has plagued the video game community for the past couple years because SJWs (a.k.a. social justice warriors) dared call for game characters to offer more than white males. And Men’s Rights Activist counterparts harassing women online in a concerted effort to drive them off.

Consider the anti-black backlash after after BLM – Toronto protested at the Pride Parade, and all the ad hominem attacks against Black Lives Matter, calling them “terrorists” for daring to ask not to be racially profiled and killed by the state.

Or transgender bathroom fears being stirred up in southern U.S. states and the Catholic school system in Canada’s prairies. Or Stephen Harper’s attempt to cynically gin up Islamophobia with a niqab ban, a “barbaric cultural practice” snitch line and terror attack warnings during last fall’s Canadian election.

And, of course, the recent Brexit vote which was fuelled by anti-immigrant sentiment, especially given the possibility of Turkey joining the EU, and sparked a surge in hate crimes. Not to mention the rise of anti-immigrant far-right political parties across Europe, led by the likes of France’s ultra-nationalist Front National and Britain’s UKIP.

What ties all these racist, xenophobic, misogynistic and anti-LGBT attitudes together is progress, or rather the fear of it.

A summer like we’ve been having makes it seem like the world is backwards, but that’s actually because progress has been fast enough to spark a frightened backlash and has given everyone a megaphone.

Western has been dominated by white men for so long that moves being made to increase diversity and inclusion are frightening to those who have always had power, and some are worried about what having to share it will mean for them.

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Trump addresses delegates on the final night of the Republican National Convention (Photo: Timothy A. Clary/AFP/Getty Images)

When Trump says that Obama “has used the pulpit of the presidency to divide us by race and colour [and] has made America a more environment for everyone,” he’s echoing those spouting the cynical All Lives Matter slogan and those who accuse everyone who mentions privilege and discrimination of pulling the race card.

But the “great” America that Trump wants to bring back was never great for everyone.

As Jon Stewart said on Stephen Colbert’s live show after the speech: “You’ve got a problem with those Americans fighting for their place at the table. You got a problem with them because you feel like — what’s Rep. Steve King’s word for it? — subgroups of America are . If you have a problem with that then take it up with the founders. We hold these truths to be self evident that all men are created equal.

“Those fighting to be included in the ideal of equality are not being divisive,” he added. “Those fighting to keep those people out are.”

Here’s the thing to remember, though. While much of this backlash is fomented by the alt-right — a catch-all for the radical misogynistic, anti-LGBT, anti-semitic, anti-immigrant, Islamophobic and white nationalist groups that have been coalescing online over the past decade — a lot of it is just from scared white folks.

Nobody wants to lose what they have, especially those in the middle and lower classes who already have so little, even if they’re white. They’ve been hit hard by the Great Recession and income inequality, too. These people are not evil, they’re being frightened and the way to fight back is not to attack them, but by assuaging their fears to remind them that inclusivity includes them.

Social media makes it hard to tell sometimes, but even having these conversations is evidence of progress. It is being made, and rapidly. That’s why the backlash has been so severe. Standing up for your rights is always more dangerous than not, but that’s how you win those rights.

As Obama likes to say, quoting Martin Luther King Jr., “the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice.”

This white fright around the western world has been sparked by a black president, the war on terror and the growing refugee crisis, but examined on a macro level this is really about changing demographics in a society where people of all colours, genders, orientations and beliefs are demanding real equality, not just theoretical.

And that change is not just going to come — it is coming. Not even Trump’s wall can hold it back.

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About Joshua Ostroff