Professor Lee Marsden writes on Trump’s white nationalist coalition and the mid-term elections.
The midterm elections in America will determine who controls the House and Senate for the next two years. Republicans and Democrats alike are declaring these elections as the most important in of this generation with the stakes high. Republicans fear if the Democrats take the House impeachment proceedings against Trump will be instigated and for Democrats the fear of an unrestrained presidency without any checks and balances in place, potentially ushering a second Trump term. By his own estimation Donald J. Trump, the most unlikely of presidents has achieved many things, not least large tax cuts for the better off and a booming economy. The midterms represent a referendum on his accomplishments and a test whether the alliance which brought him to power is durable enough to withstand the continual cycle of scandal, resignations and dismissals which have beset his presidency.
An unholy alliance of the Alt-Right, conservative evangelicals and Catholics delivered victory for Trump in 2016 against all the odds, including changing demographics and elite assurances that a Clinton victory was assured. The unifying factor behind such a victory was not just whiteness, a rejection of politics as usual, hatred of Hilary Clinton by large sections of society, and a desire to overturn the Obama legacy but more fundamentally a conservative ethos which rejects the liberal, politically correct consensus which has been a factor driving an increasingly liberal society since the 1960s.
George Lakoff, a Berkeley professor specialising in cognitive sciences and linguistics has identified what he calls Strict Father Morality as unifying such diverse groups. In Strict Father Morality strong male leadership is taken as a given, there are clear rules about wrong and right, wrong doing must be severely punished, government should get out of the way through minimal government and low taxation and allow families to control their own destiny. A self-help culture where the individual is responsible for his or her own actions, for providing the best education they can, protecting themselves, and insuring themselves against illness and old age. A culture where traditional marriage is upheld and unborn children are not aborted or experimented on, where murderers are sentenced to death and where America looks after its own interests first and is the preeminent world power. An approach with a clear hierarchy where God is above human, human above nature, man above woman, white above black, heterosexual above gay, Christianity above other faiths, and America above other nations.
White Alt-Right, conservative evangelicals and white Catholics could unite around such an agenda summarised by Trump’s campaign slogans of Make America Great Again and America First. In such thinking Obama was seen as the nurturing parent and the epitome of all that was going wrong in America through his introduction of Obamacare, support for same sex marriage, pro-abortion, pro-LGBT, and his policy of leading from behind in foreign affairs. On his watch the US failed to exert leadership or influence in the Middle East, including the rise of ISIS, Syrian civil war and the Libya debacle. Obama was seen as acquiescent in presiding over US decline.
Trump appealed, and still appeals, despite his many failings to a white conservative coalition which supports low taxation and a world view where America is considered a victim subject the abuse of a world out to get them. Refugees and migrants seeking to exploit American generosity and gullibility facilitated by a Democratic party intent on putting the outsiders’ interests ahead of white America. Politicians and business are seen as complicit in outsourcing American jobs and signing up to trade and climate deals which disadvantage America. NAFTA, TPP, the Paris Climate Accords had to be reformed to make sure America can bully its way to producing more energy and selling more of its goods overseas to protect and increase jobs at home.
In such thinking migrants and refugees, including the Honduran caravan, place a burden on the American taxpayer and so they can be kept out through reduced quotas, deportations, travel bans and building the Mexico wall. Traditional ally, Israel, a kindred spirt should be rewarded by moving the US embassy to Jerusalem and defunding UNWRA and the Palestinian Authority overturning a bipartisan approach to Israel pursued by Democrat and republican administrations. International agreements, including the Iran Nuclear deal, between America and other nations can be torn up and rewritten to advance US foreign policy objectives because America First means that such agreements are worthless and can be reformed or overturned to suit US interests.
Trump’s continuing appeal with his base – the coalition, is based on his lack of diplomacy and non-political positioning. The campaigning president constantly seeks to reassure his base that he has their backs, jobs are returning, the economy is booming, America is the major player in the world, the Supreme Court appointments of Gorsuch and Kavanagh means that abortion will be further restricted, Christianity will be protected and white privilege will be defended. Trump’s personal failings, of which there are many, are overlooked because unlike most politicians he has been delivering on his campaign promises. They may not be the policies liberals and the politically correct like but for the white Alt-Right, Conservative Evangelicals and Catholics in America this is as good as it gets.
Lee Marsden is Professor of Faith and Global Politics at the University of East Anglia.
Photo credit: Darron Birgenheier