I have finally finished reading Joe Lansdale’s wonderful book “The Bottoms.” There are some great passages where the main character Harry Crane and his sister Thomasina are chased through a thicket by the Goat Man — a monster of Southern legend that is part man and part beast. I smiled as I read about the Goat Man in Lansdale’s book.
My grandmother was from rural North Carolina, and told me similar stories when I was a child. In her version, the Goat Man had a head of fire and loved to kidnap and kill little black boys and girls who stayed out too late at night or who dared to walk on the road near the mysterious barn where he lived. The Goat Man would eventually be run out of town by a brave black man who grew tired of his antics.
It could be months or years later, but the Goat Man would always return. The land and barn was his and he would never stray too far away from them. Of course, the Goat Man wasn't real: He was the central figure in a parable meant to teach black children about life under Jim and Jane Crow and the Black Codes.
Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump loves to tell stories, too. His stories are not like my grandmother’s. They are not intended to empower people or give them life wisdom or teach lessons about courage and moral virtue. No. Trump’s stories are intended to scare ignorant white people into voting for him.
Under the guise of care and concern for African-Americans, Donald Trump tells lie-filled stories to his white supporters about how black people are living in hell and that the country’s major cities are Afghanistan-like war zones.
Donald Trump also imagines an America where there is open warfare across the color line. This is one of his newest fixations. It would seem that the drubbing he took by Hillary Clinton in their first presidential debate has unleashed even more of his white racial paranoia and delusions. As reported by The Washington Post, Trump told his supporters at a rally in Colorado this week:
“We’re a divided nation, and each week it seems we’re getting more and more divided. . . . [We see] race riots on our streets on a monthly basis. Somebody said don’t call them race riots, but that’s what they are. They’re race riots. And it’s happening more and more.”
Trump’s version of life in the age of Obama is not summoned out of the ether from nothing. It is made of the “law and order” fears of Richard Nixon and white flight; the conspiranoid fantasies of right-wing talk radio, Fox News and the internet; and old racist fears of “black crime” that are part of the political and social DNA and sinew of American society from before its founding and through to the present. Trump’s “race riot” and his dystopian fantasies about black America are composed of other elements as well.
Donald Trump is the champion gladiator and hero of white nationalists and white supremacists. Their dreams and stories are now his. Trump channels them often and without apology.
As explained by sociologist James Scaminaci III in a previous Salon interview, Trump’s promise to build a wall along the Mexican border, his hysteria about roving hordes of “illegal” immigrants from Latin America who come to the United States to rape and kill white women and his plans to create a Muslim enemies list are inspired by William Lind’s book “Victoria,” the de facto successor to the infamous 1978 white supremacist tract “The Turner Diaries.”
During the Republican primaries, Trump boasted that he could shoot someone in the street with a gun and not be arrested. Such fantasies are reflective of a political persona imbued with toxic masculinity and an understanding of white manhood whereby guns, violence, strength and “high energy” are inexorably linked. This type of (white) male identity fixates on maintaining “alpha-male” status and “protecting” (white) communities from "inner-city" crime.
Such an authoritarian vision is also central to post-1960s Republican politics and its overt and coded racial appeals: the "Southern strategy" pioneered by Pat Buchanan and Lee Atwater, culture-war panics about “welfare queens” and obsessions with “black crime” as demonstrated by the infamous Willie Horton campaign ad.
These sentiments are channeled in “When the Music Stops – How America’s Cities May Explode in Violence,” an essay that was widely circulated by right-wing websites in 2012.
It begins (my emphasis added):
[T]he initial riots begin spontaneously across affected urban areas, as SNAP (the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) and other government welfare recipients learn that their EBT cards no longer function.
. . . Most of the mobs will consist of minority urban youths, termed MUYs in the rest of this essay. Which minority doesn’t matter; each urban locale will come with its own unique multi-ethnic dynamic. Some locales will divide upon religious or political lines, but they will not be the dominant factors contributing to conflict. In the American context, the divisions will primarily have an ethnic or racial context, largely because that makes it easy to sort out the sides at a safe distance. No need to check religious or political affiliation at a hundred yards when the Other is of a different color.
Whites are preyed upon by hordes of black and brown people. But there are “heroes” amidst the chaos:
In the absence of an effective official police response to the exploding levels of violence, suburbanites will first hastily form self-defense forces to guard their neighborhoods — especially ones located near ethnic borders. These ubiquitous neighborhood armed defense teams will often have a deep and talented bench from which to select members, and they will not lack for volunteers.
“When the Music Stops" ends this way:
A festering race war with police and the military in the middle taking fire from both sides could last for many years, turning many American cities into a living hell. . . . For a long time after these events, it will be impossible for the warring ethnic groups to live together or even to mingle peacefully. Too much rage and hatred will have been built up on all sides of our many American multi-ethnic fault lines.
These passages could be a primer for Trump’s speeches about an American society where “race riots” are common and can only be stopped by a fascist strongman like him.
Stories are a way of making sense of the world and communicating values. Stories are also conduits for inter-generational wisdom and values. Like those told by other African-Americans who grew up under Jim and Jane Crow, my grandmother’s stories often featured trickster figures who transgressed power and found a way to survive against the odds. Those stories had a great impact on my sense of justice, fairness and dignity.
Donald Trump's tales communicate his values with great clarity. Trump’s stories have also had a great impact on his children. His son Donald Trump Jr. has used social media to send racist images, such as the white nationalist mascot Pepe the Frog. He has been a guest on a white supremacist radio show, defended the Confederate flag and used dehumanizing rhetoric to describe Syrian refugees.
Ultimately, if you want to understand Donald Trump’s ugliness, just listen to the delusional stories that he tells about black America, immigrants, Muslims and a country that he believes to be in a dismal state and whose best years are long behind it.