When an idea is threatened with death, it’s just like any frightened animal: it hisses, snarls, writhes, shrieks and attacks with all its might, sometimes even with its last breath. The bigger the animal, the more ferocious and dangerous it becomes in a losing battle. No matter how previously civilized it may have been, in its last throes it becomes an utter beast. Woe be unto she who crosses its path.
White (male) supremacy is an idea that has been around for centuries. Historians would probably argue over precisely how long, whether since the start of African colonialism or perhaps further back, say during the Crusades. Regardless, it’s an old idea, and a big one, firmly entrenched in the soil of our culture’s garden like an ancient, gnarled tree. Or, to avoid mixing metaphors: it’s a giant, senile elephant of an idea, and the townsfolk have come to euthanize it before it kills any more villagers.
The idea in its most basic form says this: White males enjoy the unique — and in many cases divine — right to shape and control human destiny as they see fit. All other humans — the “lesser” races and women, chiefly — are innately subject to their will, and any challenges to this position are inherently illegitimate. It’s a doozy of an idea, but it’s also, essentially, how Western culture has operated over the last millenium or so.
It’s an idea that, in the United States of America, has undergone various transformations. It began in its most barbaric form of slavery, where black people were literally seen as inhuman. It has shifted since then, through Reconstruction and sharecropping to the Jim Crow era and resultant Civil Rights movement of the 1960s. Shortly after black people were finally granted their constitutional rights it shifted yet again, taking its most insidious form to date in Nixon’s War on Drugs, which has literally lasted almost half of a century.
And make no mistake: the War on Drugs is every bit a form of White Male Supremacy as was Jim Crow and slavery before it. It has had to go undercover since outright racist language is no longer morally acceptable — we should give ourselves credit for that as a nation. But the problem with learning about how outrageously terrible things used to be is that it tends to distract us from how outrageous circumstances still are.
When brown people (especially men) are arrested, tried, convicted and incarcerated at incredibly disproportionate rates to white people,* you can be sure that there is an overarching method to the madness. It’s not accidental that crack was criminalized more severely than powder cocaine. It’s not accidental that police patrol inner city “ghettoes” instead of middle-class suburbs, where just as many white kids are using and selling drugs. It’s not accidental that when arrested, prosecutors press charges against blacks and latinos while releasing white detainees to a disproportionate degree. None of this is an accident — it’s white supremacy. Black Lives Matter is only the long-needed response to this exceedingly ugly societal truth.
So what does this have to do with the Great Donald Drumpf? Well, his overt racism and bigotry — and not only the bigotry itself, but the vast public support for it — is what you get when the last remnants of White Male Supremacy flail about frantically in order to avoid the writing on the wall. When everything they know about how the world works and is supposed to be organized is yanked out from under them, they have nowhere else to turn but to a rich, arrogant strongman who is promising to make everything as great as it used to be.** This is where the comparisons to Hitler usually enter the picture, and they’re not entirely unfounded.
But this is how to most accurately view the Drumpf phenomenon: as the culmination of a process long in development, one that had sadly stalled out after the monumental achievements of the 60s but is now ready to reassert itself as a new generation, born during the War-on-Drugs era of the 70s and 80s, finally reached full maturity. That process has a name: the unequivocal slaying of White Male Supremacy.
Obama’s election jump-started the process out of its slumber, and the unprecedentedly obstructionist Obama-era GOP party is just one more manifestation of the death throes of White Supremacy. It was all building to the shameless obscenity we’ve been subjected to over the last several months, and we only have to brave it for a little while longer before it’s safely laid to rest in the blood-soaked ground where it fought its last battle.
And that’s the upside when looking at the Drumpf phenomenon through this lens: it’s fundamentally hopeful. This is not how things will be from now on, it’s the end of how things were. It’s messy and it could get messier, sure, but there is a light at the end of the tunnel. This wild elephant of a beast is bleeding out, and while you don’t really want to get too close to it while it’s thrashing about, all we have to do is wait and keep jabbing it with our millions of spears in order to finish it off for good. It will die, there’s no question of that. We just have to protect against a murderous rampage in the meantime.
*Despite making up about 25% of the population, blacks and latinos make up 58% of prisoners (NAACP).
**If you doubt this, ask a Trump supporter what he/she precisely means by “Make America Great Again,” and ask yourself what their answer means for non-white people. If possible, try to find out what time period they’re talking about as the ideal period to go back to, and gently remind them what life was like for non-white people during that era.