I posted about this topic last year, The secret to Trump’s success: the GOP is the party of white identity and white grievances.
New York Times columnist Charles Blow now has a must-read column, America’s Whiniest ‘Victim’:
He is unceasingly pained, injured, aggrieved.
The primaries were unfair. The debates were unfair. The general election was unfair.
“No politician in history — and I say this with great surety — has been treated worse or more unfairly,” he laments.
People refuse to reach past his flaws — which are legion! — and pat him on the back. People refuse to praise his minimal effort and minimal efficacy. They refuse to ignore that the legend he created about himself is a lie. People’s insistence on truth and honest appraisal is so annoying. It’s all so terribly unfair.
It is in this near perfect state of perpetual aggrievement that Trump gives voice to a faction of America that also feels aggrieved. Trump won because he whines. He whines in a way that makes the weak feel less vulnerable and more vicious. He makes feeling sorry for himself feel like fighting back.
In this way he was a perfect reflection of the new Whiny Right. Trump is its instrument, articulation, embodiment. He’s not so much representative of it but of an idea — the waning power of whiteness, privilege, patriarchy, access, and the cultural and economic surety that accrues to the possessors of such. Trump represents their emerging status of victims-in-their-own-minds.
The way they see it, they are victims of coastal and urban liberals and the elite institutions — economic, education and entertainment — clustered there. They are victims of an economy evolving in ways, both technical and geographic, that cuts them out or leaves them behind. They are victims of immigration and shifting American demographics. They are victims of shifting, cultural mores. They are victims of Washington.
No one speaks to these insecurities like the human manifestation of insecurity himself: Donald Trump.
Donald Trump is their death rattle: That unsettling sound a body makes when death nears.
But, Trump’s whining is not some clever Machiavellian tactic, precisely tuned for these times. Trump’s whining is genuine. He pretends to be ferocious, but is actually embarrassingly fragile. His bravado is all illusion. The lion is a coward. And, he licks his wounds until they are raw.
Now, pour into this hollow man Steve Bannon’s toxic, apocalyptic nationalism and his professed mission — “deconstruction of the administrative state” — and you get a perfect storm of extreme orthodoxy and extreme insecurity.
Trump becomes a tool of those in possession of legacy power in this country — and those who feel that power is their rightful inheritance — who are pulling every possible lever to enshrine and cement that power. Suppressing the vote. Restricting immigration. Putting the brakes on cultural inclusion.
Make America great again. Turn back the clock to a time when privileges of whiteness were supreme and unassailable, misogyny was simply viewed as an extension of masculinity, women got back-alley abortions and worked for partial wages, coal was king and global warming was purely academic, and trans people weren’t in our bathrooms or barracks. The good old days.
Now the power of the presidency is deployed in this pursuit. The only thing that holds the line against absolute calamity is the fact that Trump lacks focus and hates work.
I have found that a close cousin of extreme caviling is sloth. As Newsweek puts on this week’s cover, he is a “Lazy Boy.”
He may keep himself busy with things he considers to be work, but his definition of that word and mine do not seem to be in alignment. Twitter tantrums, obsessive television viewing, holding campaign-style rallies to feed his narcissistic need for adulation. Those things to me do not signal competence, but rather profound neurosis. True productivity leaves little space for this extreme protestation.
And, not only is he a lazy whiner, he’s also a projectionist: He is so consumed by his insecurities that he projects them onto others. Trump branded Ted Cruz a liar, when he himself wouldn’t know the truth if it slapped him in the face. He blasted Hillary Clinton as being crooked, when he himself was crooked. He sneered at President Obama’s work ethic — among many other things — but Trump’s own work ethic has been found severely wanting.
In 2015, Trump said, “I would rarely leave the White House because there’s so much work to be done.” He continued: “I would not be a president who took vacations. I would not be a president that takes time off.”
Trump has spent an unseemly amount of time away from the White House, playing golf, and is at this very moment on a 17-day vacation.
Trump is like the unfaithful spouse who constantly accuses the other of infidelity because the guilt of his or her own sins has hijacked their thinking and consumed their consciousness. The flaws he sees are the ones he possesses.
This projection of vice, claiming of victimhood, and complaining about vanishing privileges make Trump an ideal front man for the kind of cultural anxiety, desperation and anger that disguises itself as a benign debate about public policy.
UPDATE: Lynn Vavreck, professor of political science at U.C.L.A. and co-author of the forthcoming “Identity Crisis: The 2016 Presidential Campaign and the Battle for the Meaning of America”, writes at the New York Times The Political Payoff of Making Whites Feel Like a Minority (snippet):
In 2015, Donald J. Trump’s “make America great again” and “build a wall” started out as simple but powerful slogans. As time went on, they became more infused with a specific meaning that symbolized the concerns and preferences of a substantial set of white Americans.
Mr. Trump’s appeals were a form of group politics or identity politics, and he continues to focus on threats to white identity as president.
Some Trump critics find his focus on whites as a group outrageous or counterproductive. But survey data suggest that many white Americans do feel threatened, and that they think there are policies that discriminate against them and should be changed.
Read her research.
UPDATE: Carol Anderson, professor of African-American studies at Emory University and the author of “White Rage: The Unspoken Truth of Our Racial Divide,” writes for the New York Times Sunday Review, The Policies of White Resentment (snippet):
White resentment put Donald Trump in the White House. And there is every indication that it will keep him there, especially as he continues to transform that seething, irrational fear about an increasingly diverse America into policies that feed his supporters’ worst racial anxieties.
If there is one consistent thread through Mr. Trump’s political career, it is his overt connection to white resentment and white nationalism. Mr. Trump’s fixation on Barack Obama’s birth certificate gave him the white nationalist street cred that no other Republican candidate could match, and that credibility has sustained him in office — no amount of scandal or evidence of incompetence will undermine his followers’ belief that he, and he alone, could Make America White Again.
The guiding principle in Mr. Trump’s government is to turn the politics of white resentment into the policies of white rage — that calculated mechanism of executive orders, laws and agency directives that undermines and punishes minority achievement and aspiration. No wonder that, even while his White House sinks deeper into chaos, scandal and legislative mismanagement, Mr. Trump’s approval rating among whites (and only whites) has remained unnaturally high. Washington may obsess over Obamacare repeal, Russian sanctions and the debt ceiling, but Mr. Trump’s base sees something different — and, to them, inspiring.
* * *
That white resentment simply found a new target for its ire is no coincidence; white identity is often defined by its sense of being ever under attack, with the system stacked against it. That’s why Mr. Trump’s policies are not aimed at ameliorating white resentment, but deepening it. His agenda is not, fundamentally, about creating jobs or protecting programs that benefit everyone, including whites; it’s about creating purported enemies and then attacking them.
In the end, white resentment is so myopic and selfish that it cannot see that when the larger nation is thriving, whites are, too. Instead, it favors policies and politicians that may make America white again, but also hobbled and weakened, a nation that has squandered its greatest assets — its people and its democracy.