The coming battle for the racist vote in America
A sitting governor and a former president are facing off in a white supremacist race for power.
We are in a newly built coliseum. It is wide enough to hold millions. Comfortably seated among us is a lynch mob jeering at the people in shackles being exhibited at the centre of the arena. These are the colonised brought out to be trashed.
It is the final show. Two demagogues are jousting for power. Each is attempting to prove to all of America’s New Nuremberg now standing atop their seats, cheering (if not outright straight-arm saluting), that it is he, not his opponent, that should be awarded the racists’ vote.
On one side is a governor. He promises a refined, Ivy League-educated, more methodical racism. A new and improved version. One less vulnerable to outbursts and legal challenges but still with enough markers of klan country – a “monkey” here, a “woke ideology” there – to be admired by the “silent majority”.
He raises his lance, offering the crowd his exhibition. A spectacle of Black seniors being manhandled by police officers and arrested for allegedly voting as felons. The point here isn’t to prosecute but simply to march out to the middle of the arena confused and worried Black people. To offer their heartbreak as red meat to the hungry mob.
Other, smaller, politicians follow suit. They ban classic works of African-American literature. They expunge anti-racist ideas from the schools. They call up armed citizen poll watchers to return Black voters as near as they can to a moment in history when the White League and ex-Confederate white soldiers placed pistols at Black voters’ temples to “ensure electoral integrity”.
Then, from one end of the coliseum to the other this governor sends brown and Black survivors of odysseys through jungles and deserts, fleeing the roving warlord of American imperialism, to “Democrat cities”. He orders them to be dumped in front of liberal politicians’ houses as if to say – but also plausibly deny saying – “you deal with this trash”.
The sight of dishevelled, travel-worn refugees stuffed into buses and dropped off on to the curb with nothing and no one excites the hearts of the racist spectators. The governor – in his bid to win their support – offers them the sight of “foreigners” forced to drink from toilets in the borderlands that once belonged to their ancestors.
What is offered to the racists – what is always offered to the racists – is nostalgia. The stealing of babies and distributing them across the country without record and without any hope for their parents to find them reassembles the slave auction sites. With “family separation” the mob is treated to their own modern version of the scenes of wailing in slave quarters.
Ripping babies away from migrant women while they breastfeed them mirrors the ripping of hundreds of thousands of Black children from their enslaved mothers’ arms so they could be auctioned off. Instead of selling Black babies “down river” they send Brown babies up-road as punishment and as deterrence for the “rest of them” – warning that they should never try to cross colonialism’s fictitious border.
But the governor cannot say he invented this “zero tolerance” policy that takes children away from reaching arms. That honour belongs to the racists’ hero. The man on the opposite side of the coliseum already fitted in his all-white Knights Templar armour and sat upon a horse with buckling knees weighed down by gold.
On this side, his lance polished, his name sung in every county that hosted a lynching, his banner raised in every small town that owes its present demographic makeup to the hundreds of 19th and 20th-century pogroms which chased Black and Indigenous people out of its borders with torches, is the former president. He, with his signature flapping wig, needs no introduction.
The former president will argue that he doesn’t just talk about it, he is about it. He is a “man of action”, of high energy, “manfully aware of the difficulties besetting him and ready to face them”.
It was he who strode in carrying white nationalism like a banner, exciting white supremacist activists around the globe from Canada to Australia. It was he who rode in with no resistance as the American media then, as now, was no more willing or equipped to examine, recognise or even call out a national white supremacist movement than those American journalists of the 1920s who praised Adolf Hitler as a young “magnetic speaker”.
A media for whom no amount of fascist saluting, of dog-whistled anti-Semitism and shouted Islamophobia, of tirades against the “foreigners” and “gender deviants”, of scapegoating colonised people, of speaking of his army and his militias, of an auditorium filled to the brim with a mesmerised, chanting crowd – an American Nuremberg rally – can offer any hint.
Apparently befuddled, the American media – or that part of it which is not openly part of the lynch mob – is forced to make up a nonsense word: Trumpism. Their patriotism, their dedication to the famously racist state always overriding their interest in informing the traditionally targeted populations and naming what is patently obvious: an American Nazi movement.
The former president did what racist politicians like George Wallace and David Duke dreamed of doing but fell well short of. For this reason, he has the right – he indirectly claims – to the racists’ hearts.
He boasts he is the leader of legitimated white supremacy. Political white supremacy. The white supremacy that plays in the doorway of open race hatred, crossing it then laughing as it comes back inside, certain of the rule that the American media will always give the white supremacist who manages not to say the N-word aloud the benefit of the doubt.
The former president points out that he is the originator of unveiled conservatism. The maestro of implausible deniability. The king and kingmaker and the commander-in-chief of the lynch mob movement.
And quite literally, too. It was he who reportedly fought to lead the crowd that brought nooses for Mike Pence and hurled the N-word at Black Capitol police officers. It was his name chanted by the men and women who rushed over the makeshift barricades of the US Capitol building, with Auschwitz sweatshirts and pro-slavery battle flags, who shouted “where’s Nancy Pelosi?” in a tone that must have resembled the tone of the men who broke into a house in Mississippi and demanded to know where Emmett Till was before they took him.
It was he who reportedly fought the secret service to lead the pro-MAGA mob breaking into the capital just as, 100 years ago, countless white mobs broke into jails searching for the Black child they said committed an “outrage” to burn alive. Or a century before that when a proslavery mob tried to storm into a warehouse in Alton, Illinois looking for white abolitionist Elijah Parish Lovejoy to kill. It is the white supremacist lynch mob, present at every turn of American history and yet somehow undetectable to today’s liberal political scientist and pundit alike.
The former president joins his opponent in the centre stage of the coliseum. He is still the rock star of New Nuremberg. When he asks the crowd if they know what the N-word is, they shout it. And he says no, no, nuclear he meant, to an arena of knowing smiles. When he dines with a man that jokes about the furnaces of Nazi concentration camps and the need to install a white supremacist dictatorship, he says “he didn’t know” about his past and the fans tear up at his brilliance.
And now, during the racists’ storming of Twitter, when a bowing sycophant opens the door to his return, offering the re-platforming of every neo-Nazi and the banishing of every prominent anti-Nazi on a silver platter, he waves it away like bad wine.
The Holocaust deniers’, the Holy Land Crusaders’, the lynch mob’s king. He still has their hearts even as the political strategists of racist power are eager to move on to a less crude figure who can get things done.
And so these two behemoths of white power saddle up for battle. The masks are long off.
The explicit calling of Mexicans rapists, the pursuit of national registries for Muslims, the warning issued to the mob not to “monkey this up,” the overground railroad transporting the unwanted – the racists raise their lances to the stadium. The lynch mob responds with hurrahs. The colonised – pushed, prodded, and paraded – are forced to witness politicians serving their constituents.
There are minor players too, of course. Even Ye is pressing his pot helm on. He dons his white lives matter T-shirts and “I like Hitler” whimpers in the hope that he will be accepted by the big kids and the more traditionally skinned white supremacists in what has to be the most epic misreading of a room.
But he, and the hundreds of white supremacist politicians, can be no more than a sideshow for the coliseum’s main event: A rally in America’s New Nuremberg. A lynch mob showing. And a leadership contest for the reins of political white supremacy played out in an amphitheatre before a chanting crowd and a gaggle of note-taking reporters still asking questions about gas prices.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.