They’ve been “taking their country back” for quite awhile: 1968, 1980, 2000, and now 2016. But the place they take it to is always more extreme. Since Lyndon Johnson left the White House, the wishy-washy liberal left begs for an inch and the conservative backlash takes a mile back in revenge.
President Obama offered hope, mutual respect, and compromise. First he got the finger, and then we got Trump. Now pundits are holding forth about the failure of those of us in the liberal “bubble” to understand and empathize with Trump supporters. More of the same. More sensitivity in lieu of justice. What does all this concern with sensitivity get us? Trump. A shove and a curse and a kick in the ribs.
It’s probably futile to look for silver linings in the tragedy that befell the United States on Nov. 8. I suppose it’s good that Clintonism — beginning with Bill’s efforts to re-brand the Democratic Party in a more Republican image — has been repudiated. The shift to the “center” has now brought us right up to the doorstep of the Ku Klux Klan.
Are we supposed to try to “hear where they’re coming from” now? We’re told not to paint Trump supporters with a broad brush. The contention is that many people voted for Trump for reasons that had nothing to do with race. And it is certainly true that the Democratic Party deserves blame for abandoning its traditional role as defender of working-class Americans from the predations of capitalists. Instead, in the past three or four decades it has gotten as comfy as GOP traditionalists with free-trade deals that maximize profits at the expense of wages and job security.
On the other hand, those working-class voters who expressed their frustration with Clinton Democrats by putting Trump in office have crossed a line. They’ve sorely injured millions of fellow Americans who have done nothing to them. Moreover, they’ve injured themselves, on purpose, just to show the rest of us how much they hate us. Like the Dixie Chicks, “I’m not ready to make nice.”
If Trump voters in the rural working class really think that condoning sexual assault, rudely insulting African Americans, and gravely threatening Muslims and Mexicans will get them the job their grandfather had, they’re beyond stupid. The truth is darker still: These rural working-class whites KNOW Trump is not going to improve their lives, but they put him in office anyway. Why? To let the rest of their country — the majority — know how much they despise us, the people from diverse urban centers mostly clustered near the coasts. That’s what they mean when they say they’re not “politically correct.” They mean they’re rude, spiteful, bigoted, and proud of it.
Perhaps Trump supporters were motivated by the promise of massive infrastructure investment, and the jobs and economic boost that would bring. It’s no excuse, because not only did Clinton and Sanders promise exactly the same thing, but Trump’s own party has been preventing President Obama from doing it for the past eight years. So Keynesian deficit spending is OK only if it’s accompanied by a promise to exclude and abuse millions of fellow-citizens? That’s the definition of fascism. Look it up.
Maybe the best analogy for the political chasm in our country today is an abusive marital relationship. Trump and his supporters have abused the rest of us — verbally and, in many cases, physically. And now we’re asked to be sensitive to the needs and feelings of the Ku Klux Klan and their cheerleaders at Breitbart.com. We’re asked to consider that Trump supporters are really OK when they’re not being misogynous, xenophobic, racist, bigoted, etc.
The victim is asked to empathize with the victimizer, to understand why he insults, assaults, rapes, etc., and then to forgive and “heal.” The abuser has been out of work, we’re reminded, and may have a drug problem. But he makes no promises about changing his behavior, and now feels greater license than ever to continue the abuse. Community-building tools like sensitivity and respect for intellectual diversity are utterly impotent in the face of a movement that refuses to show sensitivity or respect for anyone else.
There have been many responses to the horror of Wednesday morning, Nov. 9, 2016. As mentioned in a column last week, one of the best is a video by writer and comic Tess Rafferty. She points out that she’s from California, the state with the planet’s sixth largest economy. Her state would do fine as an independent country if it had to. In fact it would do better than ever because, after seceding, it would no longer have to subsidize those areas of the country — Louisiana and Mississippi near the top of the list — who are addicted to the federal aid that keeps their shaky economies afloat.
Let me be blunt: My fellow Louisianans, Nov. 8 and its aftermath show us to be among the stupidest, ugliest, and most hypocritical electorates in the land. Does that sound like Trumpian hyperbole? No, it’s more true than Trump — though the bar’s pretty low when it comes to being truer than Trump. Does it sound elitist? OK, but at least I’m not a sucker.
Louisiana is one of those red states that drains millions more dollars out of the national treasury than it gives back, yet my fellow yokels keep whining about how Washington is somehow making their lives worse.
Washington heaped money on us after Katrina and the flood disaster of 2016. Yet when other states need help, our congressional delegation gives them the finger. Everyone agreed that the federal response to the flood disaster of 2016 was head and shoulders beyond President George W. Bush’s post-Katrina fiasco. But there can be no praise or appreciation, nothing but vitriol, for a mixed-race president, an urban intellectual with a Muslim name.
With election returns still under review, North Carolina voters appear to have been smart enough — just barely — to vote out the Republican governor for his gay-bashing policies, if only because they were bad for business. New Orleans is already a beneficiary of North Carolina’s hate politics, because the NBA All-Star game has relocated here. But guess what the geniuses in non-New Orleans Louisiana are up to now? The exact same gay-bashing that undermined North Carolina tourism.
Several house members, including Metairie’s Cameron Henry, chairman of the lower house’s Appropriations Committee, just rejected extension of a state employee health contract because it would bar discrimination against gay people. On other LGBTQ issues, the party of David Duke is taking the gloves off. Republican politicians are falling all over themselves to pick up the Duke mantle, shorn, of course, of its identifying insignia. But I’m from the South, I don’t need the hood and “blood drop cross” to recognize a Klansman.
John Kennedy has been whistling about “too many undeserving people at the bottom getting handouts” in his TV commercials. Does he mean the state in general? Does he mean uninsured flood victims in suburban Baton Rouge? Of course not. Southerners know exactly what he means because we’ve heard this rhetoric since conservatives first launched their attacks on freed slaves during Reconstruction.
Now Kennedy is aligning himself unapologetically with Trumpism. At least the more authentically fanatical of the gubernatorial runners-up, U.S. Rep. John Fleming, R-Minden, had the guts to do it before the election. But the winner of the David Duke Prize for Outstanding Political Exploitation of Hate is Attorney General Jeff Landry. He has aggressively promoted his anti-gay agenda from the start, including a refusal to abide by Governor John Bel Edwards’ anti-discrimination order.
Landry also has urged Congress to punish New Orleans for being a “sanctuary city” where undocumented immigrants are shielded in various ways from from federal immigration authorities. (Mayor Mitch Landrieu resists the label, but backs rules preventing police from inquiring about immigration status or detaining people because of it.
Trump has been as outspoken against sanctuary cities as Landry and David Duke. Both are pleased, I’m sure, with Trump’s cabinet pick for U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, the Alabama senator
deemed too racist for a federal judgeship — by his own party — in 1986. Urged on by retiring U.S. Sen. David Vitter, the disgraced Louisiana Republican, they’re plotting to withhold federal grant money to force us to hand over our undocumented neighbors.
This reinvigorated right-wing onslaught is not just a war on gay people, or on our Latin American neighbors. It’s a war on New Orleans. Trump and Duke and the Louisiana GOP say they just want us to hand over undocumented immigrants. Sounds reasonable, until we recognize that they also want to deprive our gay neighbors of their rights, then our Muslim neighbors — and for what? What do the non-gay, non-immigrant, non-Muslim people among us get in return for selling out our neighbors?
“Diddley, squat, nada, zilch,” to borrow words from one of John Kennedy’s nauseatingly cutesy campaign ads (like Heinrich Himmler with a cute puppy). What Trump’s dim-witted hate squad doesn’t get is that I live next to gay people and African Americans, I shop in Muslim-run corner stores, my kids go to school with children of undocumented immigrants.
Trump supporters look at my city with disdain from a distance. And what does that do for me? Diddley, squat, nada, zilch. I don’t want permission to be a racist and misogynous jerk, and that’s all Trumpism is selling (oh, yeah, and the huge tax cuts for his rich buddies, you low- and middle-income idiots).
California looks like a great place to be right now, especially if they Calexit. But New Orleans is also a great place to be. And not just because I’m from here. I’m embarrassed for my state, but not my city.
My precinct and the ones around it voted overwhelmingly for Hillary Clinton, after first going to Bernie Sanders in the primary. I can safely say, then, that my own corner of Louisiana is a Democratic Socialist stronghold, as deep blue as Vermont or Portland, Ore.
I’m aware that there are many white conservatives in the suburbs with roots in my neighborhood, but that’s one of the silver linings in the white-flight backlash against desegregation, the sin that conservatives can never forgive. My father remembers the KKK organizing drive in the 9th Ward in the 1960s, when donation boxes appeared in corner taverns reading “Defend the Land, Join the Klan.” But, you David Duke lovers, y’all left. You can have the state — we’ve got New Orleans.
So what’s a blue island in a sea of red supposed to do? All of those votes we cast against Trump ended up meaning nothing — and it was close to 40 percent of all votes cast in the state, not a negligible number. For one thing, we can do what we’ve already done, and what every other great city in America has done: hit the streets to express our anger at what the minority of American voters who cast their ballots for Trump have inflicted on our country.
It may seem counter-productive to wave signs and damage property in a city that everyone knows never wanted Trump anyway. Rural white conservatives laugh at urban protesters, or just gloat more. And, of course, street protests do nothing to stop Trump and his GOP lackeys from continuing their war on freedom, economic security, and equality. On the other hand, street protests are an aspect of our urban culture that we don’t need the city haters to understand.
In Paris and Berlin and Dakar and Buenos Aires, and all the great U.S. cities, street protests are a way to come together and express a collective will, regardless of political expedience. The street protests of the past weeks have been signals of solidarity from city to city, and to other nations in the frightened free world. It’s a way of saying that we refuse to be identified with Trumpism, even if a strong minority of American voters worked the “rigged system” (Electoral College) to their advantage.
We really need to limit our dreams to what New Orleans can accomplish all on its own, such as fighting every effort from Trump’s Louisiana henchmen to force New Orleans to conform to their values. We do not share their values.
My America — my Louisiana — has Muslims and Mexicans and gay couples raising kids in it. I love my America. The latest wave of right-wing backlash — a Southern tradition since Reconstruction — likes to tell us what values are “Louisiana values” and which are not.
Well, welcome to New Orleans values, Messieurs Landry, Kennedy, and Duke. We will not hand over our undocumented neighbors or comply with whatever scary registries you and the Trump thugs have in mind for our Muslim neighbors. Mayor Landrieu needs to go beyond slyly offering some “sanctuary city” protections to undocumented immigrants. He needs to trumpet the term, and we need to start hanging banners from our homes that also say it: Sanctuary City, refuge from the coming Trump terror.
We in the South know that the most effective political terror comes from self-appointed racist vigilantes. It works a lot like ISIS — individual Trump supporters acting on their own initiative. This kind of terror will surely increase as we send another necessary signal to the other America, because their bubble is far more insular than our bubble.
We need to insist on controlling our own symbolism. More than ever, the Confederate monuments need to come down. Trump’s own Josef Goebbels, Steve Bannon, has joined with David Duke and other Republicans to denounce our commitment to removing those monuments as a “war on history.” (Evidently they can’t tell history from myth.)
If the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals rules in favor of the city, as is predicted, City Hall needs to move quickly to get rid of these monuments to the origins of Trumpism. Be assured that Trumpist Republicans will come from surrounding areas to terrorize and obstruct. We should even have a huge street party to celebrate their defeat. I recommend parading the statues of these past tyrants through the streets, so we can throw rotten vegetables at them.
So what if divided America is the “new normal” — not that it’s really anything new? Too bad, but all this “reaching out” stuff has only been offered by one side. I’m OK with them having the America they want (white, angry, and jobless), but they can’t make my America look like the nightmare they think they want.
Hang out your signs to let the tourists know, your old Hillary or Bernie signs, or some yet to be developed symbol of the resistance movement that begins now. The tourists from Trump country should always be reminded: the America they fear they no longer recognize is exactly the America we’ve always wanted and will continue to fight for.
C.W. Cannon’s next novel, “French Quarter Beautification Project,” is now available for pre-order at Lavender Ink/Dialogos Press.
The Lens opinion section is a forum dedicated to the expression and debate of responsible views from across the community. Opinions expressed are not necessarily those of The Lens. To discuss a column idea you’d like to contribute, contact Karen Gadbois: firstname.lastname@example.org