Why they hate her: Kamala Harris, Black bodies and the white right

Republicans will spew lies about Joe Biden and the Democrats all week. But Harris will be their favored target

By Chauncey DeVega

Senior Writer

Published August 24, 2020 6:00AM (EDT)

Joe Biden, Donald Trump and Kamala Harris (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)
Joe Biden, Donald Trump and Kamala Harris (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)

The 2020 Republican National Convention, which opens on Monday night, will be an effort to counteract the effects of the just-concluded Democratic Party convention. This year's GOP gathering has already been described as a"circus of hate" and a parade of "ghoulish clowns."

Donald Trump has not tried to broaden his base of support or that of the Republican Party in any way. That party remains the world's largest white identity organization. To that end, Trump's 2020 re-election campaign is a celebration of white supremacy, white victimology and  American apartheid.

As branding and marketing expert Donny Deutsch explained in a recent interview on MSNBC, Donald Trump's appeal to his voters and his 2020 election strategy rests upon one statistic:

"One in three Americans are racists," Deutsch said. "One in three Americans are terrified that this country, by the year 2040, is not going to be majority white. That the black man or brown man or the yellow man or woman are going to come and take their jobs and take away their suburbs and scare them."

Donald Trump is an authoritarian who can only destroy and not create. His first term in office has led to a ruined economy, more than 176,000 dead from the coronavirus with relief efforts sabotaged, and continuous assaults on democracy, human decency, the Constitution and the rule of law. Trump has transformed the United States from the world's leader to a pitiable and pathetic pariah nation. Yet of course the Republican convention will be a work of Orwellian theater in which reality is inverted and Trump will be presented as a flawless, godlike and beneficent leader.

As in other authoritarian regimes and failing democracies, Trump's wife and children will be presented as natural heirs to and extensions of his power and greatness, heirs to intergenerational fascist dynasty.

In many ways this week's RNC will literally be the meeting of a death cult. A new poll from CBS News and YouGov shows that 57 percent of Republicans believe that the death toll from the coronavirus pandemic has been "acceptable." USA Today offers this context:

More than 176,000 people in the U.S. have died from COVID-19. According to the poll, a 57% majority of registered Republican voters think that number is "acceptable," compared with 31% of voters overall. Ninety percent of Democrats and 67% of independents said the death toll was "unacceptable." …

Among Republicans, the number saying the president has done a good job jumped to 86%, while 92% of Democrats said he has performed badly. Forty-four percent of independents said the president has done a good job with the outbreak and 56% said he hasn't. 

The Democratic Party's national convention was a celebration of diversity as strength, presenting a case that multiracial democracy is the country's future and something to be embraced rather than feared. The Republican convention will be very different, a call to defend the battlements and walls of white privilege, male entitlement and Christian nationalism, as well as an effort to rally Trump's rage-powered foot soldiers.

There will be mountains of lies. Speakers will attack Black Lives Matter, antifa and other supposed radicals — as well as liberals, "evil" Democrats, and other Americans who dare to disagree with Donald Trump and his regime — as anti-American traitors and de facto "terrorists." 

Joe Biden's personal character will be slurred, his record of public service misrepresented, and disproved conspiracy theories about his son Hunter will be flung around as gospel truth.

But Sen. Kamala Harris, now the Democratic vice-presidential nominee, will be the target of some of the ugliest and most vile attacks.

When Donald Trump, the Republicans and the white right more generally, looks at today's Democratic Party they see an existential threat, a black and brown bogeyman who wants to dominate and control white people. Kamala Harris will be the focal point of their rage and racism.

Donald Trump is recycling his white supremacist "birther" smears and using them against Harris.

Tucker Carlson and other Fox News personalities have repeatedly attacked Harris' personhood, while suggesting that she is some type of radical who does not like white people and is in league with forces who want to destroy "the American way of life." Rush Limbaugh has repeatedly suggested that Kamala Harris is a "hoe" and a human "mattress," who has used "sex to get ahead." Sarah Palin has accused Harris of being a political "prostitute."

Eric Trump, the president's son, shared a message on Twitter last week that described the California senator as "whorendous."

This exaggerated malice is an example of what social theorist Colin Crouch describes in his new book "Post-Democracy After the Crises" as "politicized pessimistic nostalgia":

Mainstream political parties do not have much time for nostalgia, as they are constantly urging us to embrace change and what they see as progress. The new conservative movements fill the space that has been left by this process, embracing a golden view of a past, not necessarily an historical one, and presenting it as being threatened by invaders of a world that the nostalgic believe rightly belongs to them. … In each case liberal attitudes are blamed for allowing the invasion, because liberalism implies the willing acceptance of diversity, and a liberal elite is attacked for fostering these attitudes and imposing them on an unwilling conservative people.

The hostility (if not outright hatred) aimed at Kamala Harris from the far right is a function of racism and hostile sexism.

Racism and sexism are also foundational to authoritarianism and neofascism.  

As historian Federico Finchelstein neatly summarizes in his book "A Brief History of Fascist Lies," a principal goal of fascism is "to leave reason behind and return to prejudice."

That desire helps to explain Donald Trump and the Republican Party's embrace of the white supremacist treasonous Confederacy and its legacy. By doing so, Trump and other Republicans are not "merely" using white supremacy and racial resentment to win over white voters. They are offering those voters a political dream world based upon "racial patriarchy."

In that dream world, white men rule over women and all nonwhite people. Men rule over women, white people rule over Black and brown people, and White men rule over everyone. Other identities such as ethnicity, class, sexual orientation and religion can also be overlaid on such a system.

Public opinion and other research have repeatedly showed that one of the defining features of conservatism and authoritarianism is the belief that, both consciously and subconsciously, there is a "natural order of things" to which people should adhere.

Moreover, in terms of realpolitik where raw power matters more than civic virtue, Donald Trump and the Republican Party are responding to the demands of their voters: Polling data suggests that nearly 20 percent of Trump supporters disagreed with the freeing of enslaved people. Republicans are also far more likely to possess racist values and beliefs than are Democrats.

Donald Trump won every category of white voters in 2016. He continues to be more popular than Biden among white voters in 2020.

But for all these explanations, on a fundamental level, it is Kamala Harris' body and personhood as being Black and a woman that is the root cause of the white right's contempt and rage. This backlash is a function of several things.

Here is the most general explanation: The white gaze views the black body, and especially the black female body, with feelings of disgust and contempt, mixed with desire and envy.

Then there is the specific example of Kamala Harris: The idea of a black woman, a Democrat, as the nation's vice president, and potentially as president, triggers a rage response from white racists who long for a return to a mythical past of white male domination over, and exploitation of, Black women and girls.

Poet Caroline Randall Williams' much-discussed New York Times op-ed "My Body is a Monument," published in June, speaks to this history as lived in the present:

I have rape-colored skin. My light-brown-blackness is a living testament to the rules, the practices, the causes of the Old South.

If there are those who want to remember the legacy of the Confederacy, if they want monuments, well, then, my body is a monument. My skin is a monument. ...

I am a black, Southern woman, and of my immediate white male ancestors, all of them were rapists. My very existence is a relic of slavery and Jim Crow. ...

Among the apologists for the Southern cause and for its monuments, there are those who dismiss the hardships of the past. They imagine a world of benevolent masters, and speak with misty eyes of gentility and honor and the land. They deny plantation rape, or explain it away, or question the degree of frequency with which it occurred.

To those people it is my privilege to say, I am proof. I am proof that whatever else the South might have been, or might believe itself to be, it was and is a space whose prosperity and sense of romance and nostalgia were built upon the grievous exploitation of black life.

The dream version of the Old South never existed. Any manufactured monument to that time in that place tells half a truth at best. The ideas and ideals it purports to honor are not real. To those who have embraced these delusions: Now is the time to re-examine your position.

Kamala Harris is a black woman in America, a member of the Black Diaspora, and product of the Black Atlantic with all of the attendant complexities of blood, culture, kin, identity and memory which comes with those overlapping identities. Harris carries that history as simultaneously a burden, a source of great strength, a type of armor and fuel for her success.

Such power and dignity are why the white right both fears and hates Kamala Harris. They continue to hate and fear Barack Obama for the same reasons.

*  *  *

Because whiteness and white people are viewed by dominant American society as inherently benign and good, there is a tendency among the country's news media and political leaders, and too many regular folks as well, to rationalize or make excuses for white racists.

Donald Trump and his supporters must somehow be "understood," and the grievances of the so-called white working class must be recognized "be responded to" because they face "economic anxiety." Of course, it is inconvenient for that narrative that Black and brown people, who for decades and centuries have been in worse economic pain than white Americans, have never embraced any version of racial chauvinism or "anti-white" behavior in large numbers.

Despite Trump's obvious commitment to white supremacy, some people continue to look for the "racist bones" in his body.

Journalists on Twitter still claim to be "shocked" by Trump and his administration's authoritarian tactics, law-breaking and other evil behavior. These same journalists breathlessly ask, "How can he do this?" or "Why do Republicans keep supporting Donald Trump?" The answers are clear. But asking the questions is more comfortable than confronting ugly truths.

Unfortunately, too many liberals and progressives still want to believe that class somehow can be made to supersede race entirely in American life. They want to believe that if the economic circumstances of Trump's "deplorables" could be improved, and if the effects of neoliberalism and globalization could be attenuated, then Republican voters would ultimately abandon their investment in white supremacy and male supremacy.

A diverse Democratic Party is America's future. Kamala Harris and other Black and brown people, especially women, are its torchbearers. But to win that future and keep it, liberals and progressives must take the white male power fantasies, wishes and fears of the white right seriously. Adherents of that worldview consider multiracial democracy to be an existential threat. They will do anything to stop it. They cannot be reasoned with or rehabilitated or convinced otherwise.

By Chauncey DeVega

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

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