Bob Sheak, Dec 3, 2020
In this post, I consider how Trump contributes to the political disorder and divisions of the society and how his power rests largely on his command of a huge populous base. He did not create it, but he has been decisive in galvanizing it. The devotion of this base is reflected in its continuous support for Trump’s groundless claims that the election was stolen from him by millions of fraudulent votes. But there is more. They go with him because Trump has expressed support for their specific interests and the idea that America is and should be a country dominated by whites, a certain fundamentalist Christian religion, the freedom of individuals to own and carry unlimited weapons, with walls to keep out immigrants, and that Washington elites and bureaucrats should stay out of their lives, for example by not restricting their behavior during the current pandemic. The right-wing populous forces in the society, that have deeply-rooted historical roots and represent the major electoral support for the Republican Party, will continue to make calls for unity, more equality, and social justice contested and hard to realize. The concern is that they could eventually enable an authoritarian leader to ascend to power and end democracy.
Trump compounds political disorder
Four weeks after the election, Trump still claims that he won by millions of votes – that the election was fraudulent, that millions of votes cast for Biden are invalid, that millions of votes for him were not counted, and, absurdly, that Biden must prove to him that the 80 million plus votes he received were indeed valid votes before he concedes. At the same time, Trump received over 73 million votes (the second highest total in US history), while Democrats lost seats in the House, failed to increase Democratic control in state legislatures, and, depending on the outcome of two senatorial elections in Georgia, may not have regained control of the US Senate. In an article published in The New York Times, Will Wilkerson suggests that Democrats did less well than they expected to do because they did not have a compelling message on how to revive the economy during the pandemic (https://nytimes.com/2020/11/27/opinion/trump-democratic-coronavirus.html). Thomas B. Edsall provides numbers of the Democrats’ poor performance, writing “In battleground congressional and statehouse districts, the same pattern appeared over and over again this year. At the top of the ticket, Joe Biden won, often handily. Further down the ticket, in contests for seats in the House and state legislatures, Democratic candidates repeatedly lost…. with Republicans gaining 179 state legislative seats and at least 11 seats in the House of Representatives (https://nytimes.com/2020/12/02/opinion/biden-trump-moderates-progressives.html). This an issue of why the Democrats did not realize their electoral expectations is for another post. The point now is that Trump lost the election, he refuses to concede that he has lost, and he is riling up this huge electoral base to believe that the election was stolen from him.
Not conceding despite the mounting evidence
While Trump has not yet conceded the presidential election, his chances of overturning the election results in contested states is increasingly unlikely. Jessica Corbett reports that even William Barr, Trump’s seemingly compliant Attorney General, says there is no evidence of widespread voter fraud.” She writes:
“Sparking immediate and widespread speculation that he will soon become just the latest top official ousted for publicly countering President Donald Trump, U.S. Attorney General William Barr on Tuesday told the Associated Press that the Justice Department has not found any evidence of voter fraud that would impact the result of the 2020 presidential election.
“‘To date, we have not seen fraud on a scale that could have effected a different outcome in the election,’ Barr said of the November 3 contest in which President-elect Joe Biden’s decisive victory denied Trump a second term. In the wake of his defeat, the president and his campaign have made unfounded fraud claims and filed numerous lawsuits even as states have certified their results.
A ruthless and partisan cascade of actions
In the meantime, Trump is using his last days in the White House to issue pardons, continues to go ahead on the legal front, fires officials in administration and executive branch agencies who have not demonstrated insufficient loyalty, opens up yet more public land to corporate interests, doing as much as he can do to undermine Biden’s presidency, and continuing to claim that he only lost the election because of widespread, systemic fraud. On this last point, how could he do otherwise and still be consistent in what he has continuously told his base since the election. Trump’s base is the main source of his power.
Of course, when it comes to the larger political situation, there is more to the story than Trump and his steadfast base. There is a Republican Party that is devoted to neoliberal economic policies that favor corporate elites and the rich, that wants to minimize government aid to the poor, that denies or wants to do little or nothing to address the climate crisis, that is content to do offer little relief for those negatively affected by the Covid-19 pandemic. There is a Supreme Court that is ready to provide legal sanctification for right-wing lawsuits. But in the present post, I focus on Trump and his base and how they represent a threat to democracy.
A base of stalwart followers who disregard “evidence”
Richard Heinberg, author of 13 books and a senior fellow at the Post Carbon Institute, maintains that Trump is trying to make Biden’s presidency “ungovernable (https://commondreams.org/views/2020/11/20/real-plan-make-america-ungovernable), writing that “Trump’s claims of election fraud have convinced many Republican voters and he has led his base to reject ‘evidence,’ while simultaneously “Trump & Co. can nevertheless salt the earth with disinformation and with resentment among the Republican voting base, making it impossible for the incoming Biden team to accomplish much.” Heinberg continues: “Claims of election fraudulence may prove highly effective to that end: up to 70 percent of Republicans apparently think the vote was hacked by Democrats, even as there is “no evidence of widespread malfeasance, and Republican lawsuits related to the election are being thrown out by judges in state after state for lack of proof. Still, Trump has spent four years training his followers to regard ‘evidence’ as something you make up on the spot to suit the needs of the moment; for the faithful, mere accusations are sufficiently convincing.”
Noam Chomsky, American linguist, philosopher, cognitive scientist, historian, social critic, and political activist, warns us of the “extreme fragility of American Democracy” (https://truthout.org/articles/noam-chomsky-trump-has-revealed-the-extreme-fragility-of-american-democracy). He writes:
“I suspect that Trump and associates regard their legal challenges as a success in what seems a plausible strategy: keep the pot boiling and keep the loyal base at fever pitch, furious about the “stolen” election and the efforts of the insidious elites and the ‘deep state’ to remove their savior from office.
“According to recent polls, ‘Three-quarters (77%) of Trump backers say Biden’s win was due to fraud’ and ‘The anger among Trump’s base is tied to a belief that the election was stolen.’ Rejection of the legal challenges with ridicule may please liberal circles, but for the base, it may be simply more proof of the Trump thesis: the hated elites will stop at nothing in their machinations.”
“Millions of Trump’s supporters seem to believe that their leader actually won the election. In fact, there have even been signs claiming, ‘World Knows Trump Won.’ In light of this, it seems to me that the contemporary United States is not simply a divided and polarized nation on political and ideological issues alone, but that we also have alternative epistemologies in operation: one segment of the population believes in actual facts and relies on science for an explanation of the world, while another segment of the citizenry is under the spell of falsehoods, disinformation and deception. How do you explain this peculiar phenomenon, especially since we are talking about a very rich and technologically advanced country?”
“It is amazing enough that someone whose malevolent decision to provoke an out-of-control pandemic has just killed tens of thousands of Americans can even run for office, even carry much of the country with him, and that the political party that virtually shines his shoes can win a resounding victory at every level apart from the White House. That’s putting aside Trump’s major “achievements”: driving to near-term environmental catastrophe and sharply increasing the threat of terminal war, crimes that scarcely registered in the electoral process.
“Viewed through the lens of this vile strategy, if the pandemic gets worse, so much the better. Then local officials will try to impose restrictions and even lockdowns to control patriotic Americans — in line with the plans of the supposed ‘Communist-run deep state’ — leading to economic harm and intrusions on normal life. Meanwhile, Trump and his associates could abandon other normal governmental activities so that when Biden establishes what they describe as a ‘fake government’ on inauguration day, the immediate problems will be severe and failure likely.”
The evidence mounts against Trump
Elise Viebeck and Josh Dawsey provide an update for The Washington Post on the failed efforts by Trump’s legal team ((https://washingtonpost.com/politics/trump-pennsylvania-legal-setback/2020/11/25/ba01c3aa-2141-11eb-860d-f7999599cb2_story.html).
They failed to win the support of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to “invalidate more than 2.5 million votes in Pennsylvania, as temporary order blocking further certification of election results.” Biden had won the Pennsylvania vote by 81,000. The Republican plaintiffs were “retroactively challenging the state’s mail-voting system, calling into question virtually every contest that took place there on Nov. 3 and asking for judges to take the unprecedented step of voiding election results across the state.” On November 25, the case was initially put on hold on the certification process by “Commonwealth Court Judge Patricia A. McCullough, who was elected as a Republican in 2009, “pending an evidentiary hearing.”
Later the same day, state officials appealed to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, triggering an automatic stay of McCullough’s order. State officials then asked the state high court to step in and dismiss the case altogether, arguing “that the “Commonwealth Court’s Order threatens to disrupt the certification of every race in the 2020 general election; foreclose the seating of elected representatives; indefinitely postpone the December 1 start of the General Assembly’s term; undermine the will of the voters; and cast a wholly unwarranted cloud over Pennsylvania’s election results,” lawyers for the state wrote in a filing.”
Then, according to an article by Jon Swaine and his colleagues at the Washington Post, Republicans appealed the case to a federal court in the 3rd Circuit, requesting “an emergency injunction to overturn the certification of Pennsylvania’s election results” (https://washingtonpost.com/politics/federal-appeals-court-rejects-trumps-request-for-emergency-injunction-to-overturn-certification-of-pennsylvania-election-results/2020/11/27/556540ba_30d7-11eb-bae0-50bb171226614_story.html)
The federal court denied the request, “delivering another defeat to the president’s attempts to reverse the outcome in a state that has already formalized President-elect Joe Biden’s victory there.” According to Swaine et. Al. “the 3rd Circuit said that the Trump campaign’s challenge of the district court’s decision had ‘no merit,” in an “opinion…written by Judge Stephanos Bibas, who was appointed to the court by Trump.” Moreover, “Bibas was joined by two other Republican-appointed judges in a unanimous vote by the three-member panel.
Viebeck and Dawsey point out that “Republicans have gained no substantive traction across more than two dozen cases trying to undo results favoring Biden since Election Day, and as of Tuesday [Nov. 24], four of six states where President Trump tried to overturn the outcome have certified Biden’s win.”
The election results have not at the time been finalized in Wisconsin, where a recount of votes was underway in the state’s two largest counties of Dane and Milwaukee. Biden had won the state by 20,000 votes and by the end of Tuesday, Trump had gained only 52 votes in the recount. By Friday, the recount in Wisconsin had added 132 votes to Biden.
In Georgia, at the president’s request, a machine recount was underway of the state’s 5 million presidential votes, with the expectation that the final result would be certified on Dec. 2.
In Arizona, the “Republican Party Chairwomen Kelli Ward asked a judge to begin examining ballots and envelopes ahead of what she said would be a formal election contest filed after certification,” which is consistent with an “Arizona law [that] allows any voter to challenge the results of an election on the grounds that illegal votes were cast or that election officials engaged in misconduct. To succeed, Ward would have to show that Trump actually received the most votes in the state, which appears unlikely given that Biden’s margin of victory is greater than 10,000 votes.” As it turns out, as reported by Greg Sargent for the Washington Post on Nov 30, 2020, “Arizona has now certified its election results, making President-elect Joe Biden the official winner of the state. He won by a hair more than 10,000 votes (https://washingtonpost.com/opinions/2020/11/30/biden-just-officially-won-arizona-thats-big-deal-democrats).
Yet, Trump doesn’t concede
Trump has sent out confusing messages. On the one hand, he seemed to concede the election to Biden when on Thursday, Nov. 26, he said that “he would leave the White House if the Electoral College formalized Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s election as president” (https://nytimes.com/2020/11/26/us/politics/trump-election-georgia.html). He also seemed to concede implicitly when he allowed the General Services Administration (GSA) to allow Biden team to obtain public funds to run their transition, receive security briefings and
gain access to federal agencies to prepare for the Jan. 20 takeover. On the other hand, he has continued to “reiterate his baseless claims of fraud that he said would make it ‘very hard’ to concede. Then, speaking “in the Diplomatic Room of the White House after a Thanksgiving video conference with members of the American military, the president insisted that ‘shocking’ new evidence about voting problems would surface before Inauguration Day.” The president added: “It’s going to be a very hard thing to concede because we know that there was massive fraud,” that “he had won the vote by a significant margin,” and that “We were robbed. We were robbed. I won that by hundreds of thousands of votes. Everybody knows it.”
Inside a dysfunctional, but dangerous, Trump-led White House
(https://washingtonpost.com/politics/trump-election-overturn/2020/11/28/34f45226-2f47-11eb-96c2-aac3f1662215d-story.html). Their report is based on interviews with 32 senior administration officials, campaign aides and other advisers to the president, as well as other key figures in his legal fight, many of whom spoke on the condition of anonymity to share details about private discussions and to candidly assess the situation.”
As noted, Trump remains unconvinced by the evidence that he has lost the election but the reporters learn more. His behavior in his inner circles has been erratic, disruptive, and confusing. They write: “Sequestered in the White House and brooding out of public view after his election defeat, rageful and at times delirious in a torrent of private conversations, Trump was, in the telling of one close adviser, like ‘Mad King George, muttering, ‘I won. I won. I won.’” His aides are unwilling to contradict their boss out of fear of his attacks on those who contradict him – and his ability to rile his base into a twitter rage against such people. They put it this way: “Trump empowered loyalists who were willing to tell him what he wanted to hear — that he would have won in a landslide had the election not been rigged and stolen — and then to sacrifice their reputations by waging a campaign in courtrooms and in the media to convince the public of that delusion.”
Trump’s behavior has brought confusion and inaction in the government. Rucker and his colleagues capture the thrust of it all as follows: “The 20 days between the election on Nov. 3 and the greenlighting of Biden’s transition exemplified some of the hallmarks of life in Trump’s White House: a government paralyzed by the president’s fragile emotional state; advisers nourishing his fables; expletive-laden feuds between factions of aides and advisers; and a pernicious blurring of truth and fantasy….Though Trump ultimately failed in his quest to steal the election, his weeks-long jeremiad succeeded in undermining faith in elections and the legitimacy of Biden’s victory.
According to the sources Rucker and his colleagues interviewed, Trump has continued to “reiterate his baseless claims of fraud that he said would make it ‘very hard’ to concede. Then, speaking “in the Diplomatic Room of the White House after a Thanksgiving video conference with members of the American military, the president insisted that ‘shocking’ new evidence about voting problems would surface before Inauguration Day.” The president added: “It’s going to be a very hard thing to concede because we know that there was massive fraud,” that “he had won the vote by a significant margin,” and that “We were robbed. We were robbed. I won that by hundreds of thousands of votes. Everybody knows it.”
Trump’s ranting and assertions resonate beyond the White House. Rucker et. al. write: “Trump’s allegations and the hostility of his rhetoric — and his singular power to persuade and galvanize his followers — generated extraordinary pressure on state and local election officials to embrace his fraud allegations and take steps to block certification of the results. When some of them refused, they accepted security details for protection from the threats they were receiving.” In the final analysis, Trump’s power and bizarre behavior lie in the unquestioning support he gets from his base.
Why the right-wing base adheres to Trump
By virtually all accounts, the massive right-wing “base” will continue to support him, that is, most of the almost 74 million people who voted for him. If it turns out this way, Biden’s hope for a unified America is little more than wishful thinking, especially when you take into account the likely intransigence of the Republican Party and the interests of corporate/rich America. Withal, the base plans a decisive role. It will ensure that the deep partisanship that now divides the society will continue and be reflected in politics at all levels of the society. The base is ultimately where Trump’s political power lies. It gives Trump the power to continue his dominating influence in the Republican Party and be a critical factor in whether Trump mounts another presidential campaign.
As many have noted, Trump did not create the base but he helped to catalyze and enlarge it. The origins and sustaining conditions are varied. It is reflected in the desire of many whites to consolidate white supremacy as a dominant feature of the society and in the fear that brown and black skinned Americans will in the near future be a majority of the population. While sadly it is alive and well today, the origin of white supremacy – and systemic racism – has a long historical legacy.
In her book, Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents, award-winning author Isabel Wilkerson documents the deeply embedded racism that has existed in the country since the first slaves were brought to his country in 1619. She refers to it as one part of a “caste” system, reflecting the preexisting notions of early settlers to their racial superiority, reinforced by their self-interested interpretation of the Bible, and created a hierarchy of who could do what, who could own what, and who on the top and who was on the bottom and who was in between….the upper-rung people would descend from Europe, with rungs inside that designation, the English Protestants at the very top as their guns and resources would ultimately prevail.” African Americans were at the bottom (p. 23) In one of her most telling paragraphs, she writes about today’s Trump voters as follows.
“Many voters, in fact made an assessment of their circumstances and looked beyond immediate short-term benefits and toward, from their perspective, the larger goals of maintaining dominant-caste status and their survival in the long term. They were willing to lose health insurance now, risk White House instability and government shutdowns, external threats from faraway lands, in order to preserve what their actions say they value most – the benefits they had grown accustomed to as members of the historically ruling caste system.”
They are, in part at least, responding to “[t]he precarity of their lives and the changing demographics of the country [which has] induced a greater need to maintain whatever advantages they had come to expect and to shore up the one immutable characteristic that has held the most weight in the American caste system” (p. 325).
Right-wing religious convictions
Trump’s popularity also grows out of his public willingness to join forces with nationalist-oriented Evangelicals. Wilkerson points out that Trump has made their priorities his priorities – “ending abortion, restricting immigration, protecting gun rights, limiting government, and…the disdain for science and the denial of climate change” (p. 330). Katherine Stewart has devoted an entire book to the political influence of Evangelicals – The Power of Worshippers: Inside the Dangerous Rise of Religious Nationalism. According to Stewart’s probing and well-documented analysis, Christian nationalists believe, for example, that the U.S. was founded as a Christian nation, that it should be given primacy in politics and all institutional arrangements, that is, there should be no separation between the state and religion, that those chosen to be the country’s leaders should hold Christian beliefs, that public schools should include Christian teachings, the parochial schools should receive public funds and access to public facilities. They are one of Trump’s principal and devoted constituencies. Whether Trump mounts another presidential campaign or not, this is a political force that is, at its core, opposed to progressive values and priorities and will continue, with or without Trump, for years to come. For those of you interested in this topic, I recommend Andrew L. Seidel’s book, The Founding Myth: Why Christian Nationalism is Un-American.
Delving further into Trump’s “populous” base and what it stands for
I have written about the populous base at some length. My point, again, is that it is unlikely that Biden will be able to win the support of this huge right-wing, grass-roots disparate coalition and “unify the nation.”
The multifaceted “populous” base, comprising many of the close to 74 million voters who just case their vote for Trump, representing about 47 percent of all voters. Hacker and Pierson emphasize, in their book, Let Them Eat Tweets: How the Right Rules in an Age of Extreme Inequality, that “America’s version of right-wing populism began to surface well before Trump – in fact, well before the financial crisis.” The appeals for the populous base are in many cases “racially tinged, involve strong identities and strong emotions… that draw a sharp line between ‘us’ and “them” (p. 22) and are ‘best suited to single-issue groups, cultural institutions such as churches, and certain kinds of media” (p. 23).
The power of the president and the Republican party hinges on this electoral base of support as well as support from the rich and powerful. Hence, support has been garnered over time from a variety of right-wing groups, including, those who want unlimited gun ownership, evangelical groups that favor the end of reproductive rights for women and an end to the separation of religion and the state, groups that want a virtual end to most or all categories of immigration, groups that want to preserve white supremacy and reject as myth the racist and discriminatory history that is so central to the dark side of American history. Trump has a friendly relationship with far-right, sometimes armed, groups support the reopening of the economy, who demonstrate for white supremacists’ values or a reactionary concept of “freedom.” But beyond the particular interests, Trump is also viewed by these supporters as having the ability to transform the government in a way that will make “America Great Again,” put an end to the intrusion of government bureaucrats in their lives, and protect their communities from a secular culture.
Fundamentalist evangelicals see support in the plutocracy for their opposition to women’s reproductive rights and to LBGTQ interests and want the plutocrats to select “conservative” judges to the Supreme Court and federal judiciary that favor “the traditional family” and support for white Christian institutions. The National Rifle Association likes the plutocrat’s opposition to any meaningful gun regulation. Among other – or most – right-wing populists, the anti-immigration policies of Trump and his administration are strongly supported. Cutting across such issues is the desire of the right-wing populous base to maintain their “superior” white status at a time when demographic changes threaten their majority position in society. Hacker and Pierson say that “the racism-focused narrative takes various forms.
“Some emphasize contemporary forces: the incessant race-baiting of Donald Trump; white backlash against the nation’s first black president; the anxiety generated by the ongoing shift toward a ‘majority-minority’ nation. Others emphasize the deeper historical roots of white identity. Yet all these accounts suggest that race is the cleavage that defines American politics.” They also emphasize, too, that this cleavage reflects “deep psychological attachments that are easily triggered and highly resistant to change. In this respect, they present a ‘bottom-up’ perspective, emphasizing the underlying resistance of key parts of the white electorate to the shifts in status and power that demographic change entails” (p. 9).
There is a certain antagonism in the right-wing populous base toward government, not because of its economic policies, but because of policies that constrain their non-economic “rights” and/or reduce the advantages of their “whiteness.” There are a host of organizations that represent the various segments of the right-wing populous base and they are major players in educating, mobilizing, and engaging voters in the base to support the Republican Party. On this point, Hacker and Pierson write: “As the GOP embraced plutocratic priorities, it pioneered a set of electoral appeals that were increasingly strident, alarmist, and anti-government extremism, the party outsourced voter mobilization to a set of aggressive and narrow groups: the National Rifle Association, the organized Christian right, the burgeoning industry of right-wing media.
An example: Rural America has been, by and large, for Trump and the Republicans
Robert Wuthnow, professor of social sciences at Princeton University, has studied rural communities in America, one of Trump’s sources of support. He and his assistants have visited hundreds of these communities, “studied their histories, and collected information about them from surveys, election results, exit polls, censuses business statistics, and municipal records” (The Left Behind: Decline and Rage in Small-Town America, p. 3). He points out that “30 million Americans live in small towns with populations of fewer than 25,000 residents.” The US Census tallies 44 to 50 million people in what it labels “rural communities.” Exit polls in the 2016 election “showed that 62 percent of the rural vote went to Donald Trump” (p. 1).
Wuthnow finds that the “moral outrage of rural America is at the basis of support for Trump – and involves a mixture of fear and anger. The fear is that small-town ways of life are disappearing. The anger that they are under siege. The outrage cannot be understood apart from the loyalties that rural Americas feel toward their communities” (p.6). They are concerned about declining populations, school closings, businesses leaving, and jobs disappearing. But it is more importantly about cultural issues. They are angry about government bureaucrats who promote diversity, about “moral decline” reflected in the bank bailouts, the sexual promiscuity available on the Internet, the prevalence of crude language on television, about their opposition to reproductive and LBGTQ rights and immigration. Withal, they will vote for Trump again because they like his patriotic slogans, his militaristic foreign policy, his denigration of the media and liberal elites, his anti-immigrant policies, his Christian/evangelical connections, and the misperception of him as a political outsider. It remains to be seen whether the COVID-19 pandemic, now increasingly affecting rural communities, will change their minds about Trump.
Reactionary Populism gained new life under Trump
Along with all the rest, Trump and the right-wing political forces supporting him have gained strength from the growth of a reactionary populism since the 1990s, including “local militias, Christian fundamentalists, and the Tea Party among them.” Carl Boggs, professor of social sciences at National University in Los Angeles, points to how Trump benefited, as 35 percent of his presidential vote come from evangelical constituencies (Fascism Old and New: American Politics at the Crossroads, pp. 12-13). His presidency has “apparently lent new legitimacy to the evangelical movement, especially the selection of Mike Pence as vice-president and Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education. As American society moves ever rightward,” Boggs writes, “evangelicals have grown in numbers, organizations, media presence, and general influence. They work indefatigably through state legislatures, PACs, think tanks, conferences, and medical outlets to carry out ‘God’s work, hoping to Christianize secular institutions, beginning with education, bringing ‘family values’ and patriotism to the forefront.” Boggs thinks that they “could help to solidify a social bloc behind fascistic tendencies….” (p. 13).
Historian Kathleen Belew documents the growth of another source of Trump’s “popular” appeal in the American white power movement in her book, Bring the War Home: The White Power Movement and Paramilitary America. Here is some of what she found.
“While white power featured a diversity of views and an array of competing leaders, all corners of the movement were inspired by feelings of defeat, emasculation, and betrayal after the Vietnam War and by social and economic changes that seemed to threaten and victimize white men. White power also qualifies as a movement through its central features: the contiguous activity of an inner circle of key figures over two decades, frequent public displays, and development of a wide-reaching social network.
“White power activists used a shared repertoire of actions to assert collectivity. Public displays of uniformed activists chanting slogans and marching in formation aimed to demonstrate worthiness, unity, numbers, and commitment to both members and observers. Activists encouraged dress codes and rules about comportment and featured the presence of mothers with children, Vietnam veterans, and active-duty military personnel. Members showed unity by donning uniforms and by marching and chanting in formation. They made claims about their numbers. They underscored their commitment with pledges to die rather than abandon the fight; preparing to risk their lives for white power; and undertaking acts that put them at legal and physical risk. A regular circulation of people, weapons, funds, images, and rhetoric – as well as intermarriages and other social relationships – bound activists together” (pp. 10-11).
And they thrive.
“The state and public opinion have failed to sufficiently halt white power violence or refute white power belief systems, and failed to present a vision of the future that might address some of their concerns that lie behind the more diffuse, coded, and mainstream manifestations” (p. 239).
The threat of violence
The white power movement, ultra-nationalistic, racist, xenophobic, anti-Semitic, armed, opposed to progressive values and ideas, poses no threat to the power elite. They represent the potential street fighters against those who criticize the existing power structure from progressive and leftist points of view. They have been riled up by Trump’s efforts to delegitimize the presidential election and convince his base that the Democrats stole the election from him. In an article for The Nation, Kali Holloway expresses concern that the president’s inflammatory rhetoric may provoke violence (https://thenation.com/article/politics/trump-election.html). Here’s some of what she writes.
“Democracy maintains domestic peace by ‘the mere fact that the political forces expect to take turns,’ political scientist Adam Przeworski has noted. When people believe their votes literally don’t count, they become more likely to resort to violence. Trump’s supporters, already steeped in white grievance, are predictably receptive to the idea that ‘illegal voters’ have even succeeded in stealing their democracy. Apparently not satisfied with all their ill-gotten political gains from real voter suppression—in the form of voter ID laws, gerrymandered districts, closures of polling sites, and purges of voter rolls—Republicans are now signaling that a Democratic win is itself evidence of fraud. Trump and the GOP used birtherism to delegitimize the first Black president in US history. Now Republicans are casting Black and brown citizens as illegitimate voters to invalidate the Biden presidency.
“The potential for violence here isn’t just theoretical. As ballots were being tabulated in Arizona, Nevada, and Pennsylvania, armed Trump supporters swarmed vote-counting centers, and gun-toting election denialists have gathered at Georgia’s Capitol as the recount proceeds. After thousands of Trumpists, including plenty of white supremacists, marched in Washington, D.C., to protest nonexistent vote theft, members of the Proud Boys allegedly rioted against counterprotesters, and ‘other Trump supporters ripped multiple Black Lives Matters signs off a building before trampling on them,’ according to the Times. An Alabama police captain announced via social media that Biden voters deserve ‘a bullet in their skull for treason,’ and an Arkansas police chief urged his followers to ‘throw water on [Biden voters] at restaurants. Push them off sidewalks. Never let them forget they are traitors and have no right to live in this Republic after what they have done.’ (Both officers resigned after outcries.) Claiming the election had been ‘fraudulently stolen from us,’ a Trump supporter in the New York City borough of Staten Island advocated online for the ‘extermination of anyone that claims to be a democrat.’
“Once out of office, Trump will use every bullhorn at his disposal to spread misinformation and foment violence. His tweets will push debunked election fraud lies, and he’ll portray himself as a martyr slain by a corrupt and unfair electoral system. His rallies will continue—he’s already begun dangling a 2024 run—to keep his fragile ego from shattering and to scare off other GOP contenders. If he launches a conservative digital outlet, as rumored, it will ensure that viewers believe he is the one and only source of political truth. You get the picture: Trump will keep denigrating democracy to elevate himself. Yet again, this president’s selfish gains will be America’s loss.”
And the threat of violence from the right is happening now. Richard Fausset reports that Trump’s ongoing unfounded claims about a fraudulent election is inciting violence action in Georgia, where two seats for the US Senate are still being contested (https://nytimes.com/2020/12/01/us/politics/georgia-election-trump.html). Fausset quotes a statement by Gabriel Sterling, a voting system official in Georgia, who has “harshly criticized the president for failing to condemn threat of violence against people overseeing the election in the state.” Here is what Sterling said.
“It has all gone too far. All of it. Joe diGenova today asked for Chris Krebs, a patriot who ran CISA [Goergia’s Certified Information Systems Auditor], to be shot. A 20-something tech in Gwinnett County today has death threats and a noose put out, saying he should be hung for treason because he was transferring a report on batches from an E.M.S. to a county computer so he could read it. It has to stop. Mr. President, you have not condemned these actions or this language. Senators, you have not condemned this language or these actions. This has to stop. We need you to step up, and if you’re going to take a position of leadership, show some. Death threats, physical threats, intimidation. It’s too much. It’s not right. They’ve lost the moral high ground to claim that it is. This is elections. This is the backbone of democracy. And all of you who have not said a damn word are complicit in this.”
All the evidence at this time indicates that Joseph Biden electoral victory will be confirmed and that Trump will have to leave the presidency on January 20, 2021. Biden and his administration will face a challenging time. Even before Biden takes, office there is a desperate need for US Congress – and Trump – to sign off on a “relief” legislation that would ease some of the economic pain that affects millions of Americans. But, even when Biden takes office, the pandemic will still be raging. There will be continuing a massive problem of unemployment, along with low-wage, no-benefit and insecure jobs. Millions of people will be unable to pay their rents, with a rising number homeless. Fifty million people are already “food insecure.” State and local governments are short of revenues, thus detrimentally affecting public health and education systems. The climate crisis steadily deepens, and Biden will face a Republican Party that will oppose any meaningful steps to address any of it.
Much of what a Biden administration can accomplish will depend on whether Democrats have a majority voting position in the U.S. Senate. Even then, the political calculous will be unpredictable, with some “moderate” Democrats and Republicans playing unconventional roles that depart from party expectations. McConnell will continue to be a highly partisan Republican leader in the Senate and do everything he can to advance his party, regardless of the general societal impacts.
Through it all, the right-wing populous forces will continue to exist. They will be more effective if galvanized by their present leader, Trump, but with or without him (perhaps less cohesive without him), they are a powerful political force that wants an America that disavows a society based on multi-cultural influences and progressive norms, values, and aspirations. Democracy is not one of their priorities.