Trump Apologism As Identity Politics for White People

by Alex Knepper

A Trump-supporting Facebook friend says he finds my contention that Republicans care about bashing the media — and that they are fueled by white identity politics — instead of or more than policy — to be incoherent; that the two coexist (except it’s not ‘white identity politics’) and that it’s absurd to say that calling out the media negates the ability to focus on and care about policy.

He is right; the two can co-exist. But my contention is that Trump has been feckless and impotent on policy — from the perspective of right-populism! — and that his supporters have, 9-to-1, decided rhetoric and emotionally-charged identity-oriented skirmishes with media figures, especially ones going after wypipo as racist, are enough to retain their support, even their enthusiastic support.

I’ve always considered myself center-right on immigration issues. In theory — and it’s not an issue I’ve changed my mind about as I’ve moved left on economics; in fact it’s complemented it quite nicely: Bernie is right that open borders are a ‘Koch Brothers scheme’ — there is a lot that Trump and the Republicans could do to reform immigration laws that I would actually support. I’m OK with all of the following: moratoriums on immigration in between waves of newcomers, mandatory English language immersion for the children of newcomers in public schools, an end to family reunification as a primary consideration in who to admit, instituting preferences for immigrants from countries culturally similar to the United States and people with badly-needed skills (e.g., doctors). I do not support building a wall or assuming the people we apprehend at the border are criminals and treating them as such: the overwhelming majority of them come to this country, as poor old Jeb correctly put it, out of love — a desire to improve the lives of their families, a desire to pursue economic opportunity.

Cartoons: Donald Trump vs. the media

As far as I can tell, Trump has accomplished one thing when it comes to center-right reforms to immigration laws: a minor rollback in the number of H1B visas granted to corporations looking to hire cheap foreign labor instead of American workers they’d have to pay a bit more money. This visa has been badly abused, and our companies usually don’t need immigrants because they need to fill jobs Americans just won’t do. The problem is that Americans just won’t do them at the reduced rates our companies wish to pay their workers — and rightly so. (One suspects that Trump, having spent his career hiring people here illegally because he wanted the cheap labor too,sympathizes with business’ desire.)

Here’s where the white identity politics element comes in. Although Trump has actually accomplished very little in the way of immigration reform at the level of policy and governance — he has never gone to war with his own party in its desire to protect their donors’ ability to access cheap labor, he has never made any specific proposals for Congress to debate and vote on — he’s sure done a lot of shit-talking against CNN and New York Times reporters who support open borders and call him a racist and a bigot. Every time he sees someone on TV — and he watches a lot of TV — opposing him, he goes nuclear-level berserk against them, and proves in operatic fashion to his supporters that he doesn’t care about being called a racist by coastal elites, unlike Jeb or Rubio or Kasich he’s not afraid to fight left-wingers, and he won’t mutter shibboleths about diversity being our strength and that we are torturing kids in cages and so on. The sentiment runs something like: ‘Trump doesn’t treat wypipo like they’re the enemies of truth, love, and justice! Excellent!’ In today’s environment, these extremely emotionally-charged suffice to win and retain the support of the right. But this is an extension of the politics of the likes of Sarah Palin, not Pat Buchanan: resentment-driven anger revolving around ‘identity’ — in particular, revolving around attacks, real and perceived, against white people, and Trump holding the line against those who want to paint white people

Meanwhile, vanishingly little actually changes in the way of policy — but it sure is emotionally satisfying — that’s one of the key problems with excessive ‘identity politics’: the way it so frequently is satisfied with symbolism, which is important but cannot be permitted to be the crux of a major party’s politics. The proof that this is enough for his supporters can be found in the fact that poll after poll shows him retaining 90%+ approval among Republicans. Therefore I don’t know what else to conclude other than what I stated at the outset: that apologizing for Donald Trump is largely an exercise in white identity politics. Whatever conservative intellectuals want to make of him or wish to attribute to him and his presence in theory, Trump in practice has been very far from whatever all that could or should be, and support for him is shot through with indifference to governance and policy as long as the right people are pissed off by his presence in the Oval Office or the speeches he gives to distract from his empty policy record.

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