What fuels "white anxiety"? The baffling hypocrisies behind white paranoia politics

It's not just white people's anxiety about changing demographics which drives Trumpism

By Chauncey DeVega

Senior Writer

Published June 26, 2018 3:16PM (EDT)

 (Getty/Bill Wechter)
(Getty/Bill Wechter)

"The browning of America."

"A majority minority country."

"By the year 2050 whites will be a minority in America."

These phrases inspire extremely divergent responses from liberals and conservatives, Democrats and Republicans.

Liberals hear those three phrases and are (mostly) pleased and inspired because they view America's ethnic and racial diversity as a source of strength and proof that the country's creed is transcendent and inclusive.

Conservatives — and especially Trumpists — hear those three phrases and are filled with dread, anger and fear. While they often hide their sentiments behind words such as "tradition" and "culture," on a fundamental level, white conservatives believe that to be a "real American" requires a person to be first and foremost white and Christian.

Donald Trump rode this wave of white rage and fear to the White House. He had many criers on that damnable highway. Extreme right-wing opinion columnist and occasional Republican presidential primary candidate Pat Buchanan was and is one of the loudest and most panicked. Writing in Monday's New York Times, Charles Blow observed how:

Last week Pat Buchanan was on “The Laura Ingraham Show” to discuss the humanitarian crisis Donald Trump has created at the border by ripping children away from their parents.

He was not particularly sympathetic to these families’ plights, instead choosing to focus on the demographic danger facing whiteness: “This is the great issue of our time. And, the real question is whether Europe has the will and the capacity, and America has the capacity to halt the invasion of the countries until they change the character — political, social, racial, ethnic — character of the country entirely.”

He continued: “You cannot stop these sentiments of people who want to live together with their own and they want their borders protected.” Make no mistake here, Buchanan is talking about protecting white dominance, white culture, white majorities and white power.

A few days earlier on his blog, he expanded on this point: “The existential question, however, thus remains: How does the West, America included, stop the flood tide of migrants before it alters forever the political and demographic character of our nations and our civilization?”

In describing Western liberals’ aversions to instituting racist, xenophobic immigration policies, he wrote: “We are truly dealing here with an ideology of Western suicide.” He ended with this: “Trump may be on the wrong side politically and emotionally of this issue of separating migrant kids from their parents. But on the mega-issue — the Third World invasion of the West — he is riding the great wave of the future, if the West is to have a future.”

Blow continued:

Strip all the other rationales away from this draconian immigration policy. This is at the core: White extinction anxiety, white displacement anxiety, white minority anxiety. This is the fear and anxiety Trump is playing to.

Much of this echoes an observation I made in 2015 where I explained how:

Pat Buchanan possesses gifted insight into [the] powerful appeal of Donald Trump for the Republican base. Both men are nativist, xenophobic, right-wing populists who understand the allure of white alienation and racial resentment in the post civil rights era. Pat Buchanan is more of a “culture warrior” than Donald Trump. But like George Wallace in the 1960s, the Know-Nothings in the 19th century and the Black Legion in the 1930s, Buchanan and Trump are recent iterations in a long history of right-wing demagoguery and false populism in American politics.

Stephen Miller, a driving force behind the current zero-tolerance border crossing policy and one of Trump's closest advisers, also shares Buchanan's worries and anger about a White America "under siege" by waves of "inassimilable" nonwhites.

And in an appearance on Fox News last Friday, Michael Anton (who is one of Donald Trump's other white supremacist advisers) made the Trump administration's de facto crusade of "blood and soil" old fashioned white racism even more clear when he said:

The United States has a huge heart. We’ve welcomed millions of people, including my ancestors, but we’ve got to have limits or we don’t have a country.

Anton was in the "safe space" provided by Fox News where he would feel comfortable enough to make such a vile racist comment without being properly challenged.

This echoes Anton's infamous white supremacist "The Flight 93 Election" screed from 2016 where he argued that:

The ceaseless importation of Third World foreigners with no tradition of, taste for, or experience in liberty means that the electorate grows more left, more Democratic, less Republican, less republican, and less traditionally American with every cycle.

Anton's comments on Sunday are just a reflection of how Fox News and its hosts, such as Tucker Carlson and other members of the right-wing commentariat, trade in white supremacist talking points on a near-daily basis.

Of course, these claims and worries that whiteness (and white people) in America will be eclipsed or annihilated are ahistorical, lack proper social and political context in the present, and in total are nightmares of shadow and fog without any real substance.

Throughout American history the boundaries of who is considered "white" have changed to include new groups of people in response to the demands and needs of white elites to maintain power.

The Irish, Italians, the Polish, Jews, Russians and other Europeans have, over the centuries and decades, completed this journey from the periphery of whiteness to being fully considered white.

If American history is any guide, a good number of Hispanics and Latinos (as well as Pacific Islanders and other East Asians) will likely complete some version of that journey from honorary to full whiteness as well.

White Americans will not be a "minority" in America. They will still be the single largest group.

Moreover, this hysteria about a unified black and brown horde that will act in lockstep to pursue shared interests against white Americans is based on a fiction. Blacks, Hispanics and Latinos, Asians, Native Americans, and other nonwhite groups and individuals do not share a hive mind; they are not the Borg from "Star Trek"; their interests and goals are not always the same.

Most importantly, white Americans, regardless of demographic change, will still control every major social, political, economic and cultural institution in the United States.

Population numbers may fluctuate, but this deep institutional control of power in America has historically and will continue to remain in the hands of White America.

The concept of "race" does not reflect empirical reality as it actually exists.

Racism and white supremacy are based on a concept which is a "true lie" that dominant society makes real, both for those who benefit from racial inequality as well as those who suffer under it.

In all, Charles Blow's sharp observation that, "This is at the core: White extinction anxiety, white displacement anxiety, white minority anxiety. This is the fear and anxiety Trump is playing to" actually brings up something deeper, more existential and in many ways more sinister both because of the collective psychology involved and what such a conclusion then mandates as a necessary and reasonable response to an existential threat.

It is not just white anxiety about changing demographics which drives Trumpism and the Republican Party's white identity politics. It is actually a fear that black people specifically, and nonwhites more generally, will seek revenge against white people once the former are the numerically larger group. This conclusion is based on a very narrow and distorted understanding of power as a type of zero sum game where it is considered "human nature" for one group to dominate another by any means necessary.

Here, white racial paranoia — as a function of the absurd race concept — is based on contradictions and hypocrisy that nonetheless somehow cohere together.

Social science research, public polling and other data consistently show a deep divide in America between how whites and nonwhites understand the impact of racism, both in their personal lives and across society as a whole. Many of these differences are truly ridiculous and bizarre.

Before the Civil War and through to Reconstruction and afterwards, white Americans were afraid of "negro domination" if black slaves and then free people were given access to the vote and other civil rights. During the legal white supremacy of American Apartheid and Jim and Jane Crow, white Americans, by large and consistent margins, told pollsters that black Americans had an equal opportunity to succeed in America.

These divides continue into the present with white Americans — despite mountains of empirical research and increasingly also near instantaneous real-time video evidence — who are largely still in denial about the impact of racism on nonwhites more generally and of how cultural institutions such as the police, education, banking, finance, real estate and the political system, through gerrymandering and other voter suppression techniques, discriminate against nonwhites.

Against all facts and evidence, matters have become so absurd in the age of Donald Trump that almost half of white Americans actually believe that they are more likely to be victims of racism than are black and brown people. Moreover, Donald Trump and the Republican Party's voters are so drunk on white victimology that they think that it is white people and not nonwhites who are the "real victims" of racial discrimination in America.

All of these delusions revolve around a basic contradiction: Many white Americans have convinced themselves that black and brown people exaggerate, are too sensitive, and outright lie about their experiences as victims of racism and white privilege. Yet, this racism — which according to the white gaze does not really exist except in extreme forms such as the Ku Klux Klan and neo-Nazis — somehow does exist but manifests itself in the form of so-called "reverse racism" against white people.

Furthermore, if black and brown people have been exaggerating, lying about, and misrepresenting the realities of racism and white supremacy in America, then why would white folks have anything at all to fear from racism themselves, not to mention "revenge" for sins and crimes and transgressions which actually never took place?

It all boggles the mind. This does not make the cocktail of white privilege and white supremacy any less potent a social and political drug.

What does history actually teach us?

In the United States, black Americans and other people of color have only wanted full and equal rights with white Americans. For example, from the Civil War to the great experiment in democracy that was the Reconstruction, black Americans worked very hard to expand opportunities for all people, including poor and working class whites. This dynamic continues into the present where public opinion polls show that black and brown Americans consistently support policies which would expand the social safety net, civil rights and economic justice and opportunity for the average American — on both sides of the color line. Black and brown people are also on the frontlines of saving American democracy from the fascism and authoritarianism of Donald Trump and the Republican Party.

Black (and brown) Americans, as a group, have never sought to retaliate against white Americans — even when such an act and desire would have been perfectly reasonable, just and yes, moral. But there are millions of white Americans in Trump's camp, and also outside of it, who are terrified that with increasing racial and ethnic diversity they will be victims of racially-motivated revenge and violence. This makes these millions of white voters easily manipulated by racist demagogues who use political sadism to stab at the worst parts of human nature. In response, it will require a united front of black and brown and white folks to save the United States from Donald Trump and the Republican Party's fascist and authoritarian campaign against democracy. Unfortunately, too many white Americans would rather live under an authoritarian regime that supposedly empowers white people like them than a real democracy which provides equal opportunities for all people.

By Chauncey DeVega

Chauncey DeVega is a senior politics writer for Salon. His essays can also be found at Chaunceydevega.com. He also hosts a weekly podcast, The Chauncey DeVega Show. Chauncey can be followed on Twitter and Facebook.

MORE FROM Chauncey DeVega