MAGA Dale is not a good guy

Yet he is constantly given the benefit of the doubt.

A supporter of President Donald Trump is seen from the media van in the presidential motorcade en route to a campaign rally in Greenville, NC on July 17, 2019 [AP/Carolyn Kaster]

A supporter of President Donald Trump is seen from the media van in the presidential motorcade en route to a campaign rally in Greenville, NC on July 17, 2019 [AP/Carolyn Kaster] [Daylife]

In the popular imagination, Donald Trump’s average supporter – let’s call him Make America Great Again (MAGA) Dale – is a slightly overweight regular Joe with his brown hair tucked messily under his red mesh trucker hat. He is easing into middle-age as comfortably as he does onto the driving beads on the front seat of his pickup truck. Dale drives along the cornfields of flyover country, drive-through coffee in his cup holder, switching the radio dial between talk radio and soft rock. He loves his God, his family, his beer and his country. This is Dale. Dale is good.

The people to whom this fictional character has been sold are exclusively white. They don’t know Dale like Michael, the black man with the low brimmed baseball cap at the gas pump knows Dale and has known him since noticing that he has been watching him through the dark tint of his windshield.

He knows – as, in fact, does everyone – that Dale votes for any politician that promises to increase restrictions on wandering, gas station-going blacks like Michael. Although he says it indirectly, he means to have more arrests of people like Michael, preferably hitting their heads against the sides of the cruiser, and would be glad to lend a hand if called upon.

And if they march, he would wield “All Lives Matter” like an American flagpole and stick it into the ribs of any protester who stole the right to a megaphone. He is for any touted policy that promises to stuff Honduran and Guatemalan children back through fences – and trading his own children’s healthcare for it is not off the table.

There should be no hijabs, no henna-dyed beards, and if there must be blacks, they must be controlled and kept confined to their side of town. Dale wants as white a country as possible. In this he is a traditionalist, and not, as the media maintains, reacting to irrational but understandable anxieties brought on by globalisation and a new, changing country.

The country – and world – has always been changing, for everyone, and the plunging of rights, status and well-being are more costly for less fragile people. Dale wants, implicitly, what far-right activist Richard Spenser calls for, explicitly; that is, the maintenance, and where possible, expansion of white privilege. This is Dale. He is simple folk, the silent majority watching through their living room blinds for signs that demographic change may upset their right to rule.

This Dale is known to all people like Michael. For Michael’s people, flying over flyover country is a matter of security. They avoid driving through and risking a breakdown on a late night in the cornfields. They have heard stories of boys getting shot for bumping into white men in these places, and they are not sure if the locals know that the plantation life was bad and it is over.

Michael’s people know their grandmothers used to refer to these places as sundown towns, where people like Michael were warned not to be caught out at night.

The men and women who see themselves as the people of “real America” and so the torchbearers of heritage are exactly the same men and women who vote overwhelmingly in support of people who enact policies that allow children to die in detention centres. They live by the cowboy’s code of honour, the quick draw and the fair fight but are not opposed to the indiscriminate drone killing of unarmed people. Their culture is to cheer for the underdog, but they campaign for the removal of voting rights of marginalised communities.

Their resistance to big government is marked by efforts to expand policing, prisons, surveillance and the totalitarian control over bodies and wombs. They are for God and country but have run the Beatitudes out of every town they control. “Real America” is not a good place.

People like Michael know this and so they have never taken Dale at his word. They know that even though he is a simple man, he retains the capability to say things that are not true. He is not Jean Cramer, the obviously disturbed woman whom the media offers up as an example of a racist.

He has learned to say things indirectly because he has made a compromise with the media that as long as he does not let fly the n-word, his statements about his feelings and intentions will be taken at face value. He says he is worried about his job and that is enough not to ask if there are any other reasons he is ordering Hondurans to go home.

He says Trump supporters are not racist they are just fed up and that is that. No comparisons to other fed-up far-right assemblies in history need be drawn. He says that he was in fear for his life and it weighs more than video evidence of him killing a black person.

Only if he happens to be caught with a Ku Klux Klan application might his claim of being terrified get some scrutiny. He can be a congressman and joke about joining the Klan or ask what the problem is with white supremacy, and as long as he follows it with “that’s not what I meant”, he would suffer not much more than an aspirated sigh. At a racist’s denial, investigative journalism stops.

Michael is more sceptical than the national media. His people have never been believed, whose raised, empty hands while begging not to be shot are rarely a persuasive argument that they did not intend to be violent.

When conservatives say they want to add a question on citizenship to the census to defend minority voting rights, people like Michael do not wonder aloud if this may indeed be so. They know that they are being mocked.

As cable news panellists prepare to wonder if a white supremacist image in the latest Keep America Great ad was a mix-up, they will have already changed the channel. They did not need the release of his prison letters to find Michael Dunn’s initial explanations of why he shot black teenager Jordan Davis nonsense.

They weren’t blown back by the expose on Baltimore police carrying toy guns to plant on the body in case of killing an unarmed person.

They live in a world where James Baldwin, Mark Fuhrman and LA Confidential all agree that blacks are systematically killed in the curtained-off, darker spaces of police stations. This is clear as day to everyone, despite the pearl-clutching journalists who are always for some reason the last to find out. 

Michael knows Dale. Dale knows that Michael knows him. Dale doesn’t complain about his economic woes when he is alone with Michael. He only watches him behind the tinted windows of his pickup, grimacing at his freedom.

Dale is salt of the earth in a white supremacist country where what is a natural and organic expression of Americanism is white power. There is no mythical “base” – this is America. Good old conservative white folk, traditionally, support overwhelmingly the institutions and politicians that promise to hurt people of colour.

None can challenge this statement. It is a matter of historical record. The crops could fail and the president could change the republic to a monarchy, but he will still have Dale’s heart.

The president could turn environmentalist or anti-sexist activist and his followers would hold it up as proof that his critics were wrong about him. But he cannot love Muslims, he cannot defend migrants, he cannot fight against police killings – he would lose his people.

White supremacists are given the benefit of the doubt in liberal, white supremacist society. No matter his priors, Dale will never be under suspicion of being motivated, primarily, by hate. The press has not yet developed the analytical sophistication to discern that. But if they were to go to Michael and ask, he would tell them that MAGA Dale is not a good guy.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.

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