Part 3: The Fear Factor
1. Fear of a Black President, and what would follow, if we ‘extended’ the Obama years. Larry Wilmore, on his sadly now defunct late night show, was really onto something when he called this election the ‘unBlackening.’ Trump and his operatives asked: what’s next? A predominantly POC Senate? How would whites maintain their natural place in the racial hierarchy if we keep letting black and brown people take positions of national leadership? This fear of blackness, of people of color in general, ‘taking over’ remains in part because many whites cannot imagine what life in America would be like as a truly equal and inclusive society.
2. Fear of a Woman President. This fear is shared by many women, as well as men, and it also is linked to racialized fears and generalized anxieties about a 'changing America' that is under threat. Using fear worked well for Trump as he presented himself as the only one who could keep us 'safe' (from whatever). And then there was the generalized hostility that was thrown at Clinton. In her post-election essay in the New Yorker, Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche says it best:
“ If everything remained the same, and Hillary Clinton were a man, would she still engender an overheated, outsized hostility? Would a woman who behaved like Trump be elected? Clinton was expected to be perfect, according to contradictory standards, in an election that became a referendum on her likability.”
The fact that 52% of white women voted for Trump does not negate the role of misogyny in this election. Rather, it reminds us that sisterhood cannot be taken for granted, it has to be constantly negotiated, and it has to be intersectional. "Woman", like 'working class" needs to unWhitened.
3. Fear of Immigrants and demographic shifts. This is how Trump started his campaign. He seems to have developed a Latino-based version of Nixon’s Southern Strategy. Losses among Latino voters would be gained among white voters, at least for this election. And blatant lies about what’s happening at the border and false claims about immigrants’ impact on jobs, and on local economies, appeared to have won the day, along with tough talk about building a wall (a promise that he will not keep, we predict).
This is also part of the urban-rural divide that has widened. In urban areas, we may see daily tensions between recent immigrants and native-born residents, but it is generally understood that immigrants make positive contributions to urban economies. Rural people tend to think the opposite (even though, in fact, a lot of small towns and rural economic growth is linked to immigration; for example, immigrants are opening more small businesses in hollowed-out rural towns that native-born residents).
California gives us a glimpse of what it could look like when whites are no longer in the numerical majority, according to this interesting analysis on the election (add link). But, as Anthony Thigpenn reminds us in his election analysis, California went through a white backlash in the 1990s that scorched the earth and halted progressive momentum. Looks like this is where we are now, nationally.
4. Fear of Islam, and a sense that white Christians are under siege. All the liberal and progressive attempts to put out the facts: we are far more vulnerable to domestic terrorist attacks, mostly perpetrated by white men on the Right, than by ISIS-inspired Muslims. In the face of multiple, and visceral sources fear, facts just don’t matter. It seems that many people (mostly white people) wanted to hear affirmation of their fears that we are at war with Islam, and that the cosmopolitan elites who coddle Muslims, and cry tears for refugees, are putting all of Christendom at risk.