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  HOME | Opinion (Click here for more)

Michael Rowan: Trump Aggravates a Flawed American Democracy
"Trump’s base must not be underestimated, no matter how bad the polls look for him; 92% of them are likely to turn out for Trump in November. In contrast, the best turnouts the Democrats historically manage to get is in the range of 70% of their diversified base, and it is not uncommon for young, black or poor voters to turn out at less than 50%. If that happens again in 2020, say hello to white supremacy and goodbye to democracy and equality as we hoped for it," in a thought-provoking op-ed by Michael Rowan, author of the just released How to Prevent Trump from Doing to America What Chavez Did to Venezuela.

“We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal…”
The Declaration of Independence

“We the People of the United States…”
The Constitution of the United States

By Michael Rowan

These foundational phrases of democracy have inspired humanity for 244 years, but they were not true of the 13 American colonies in 1776 and they are not true of the 50 “united” states of 2020. The “self-evident” fact is that white supremacy still dominates the aspirations for equality in America, and Donald Trump wants to keep it that way.

The Historical Flaw

The first U.S. Census of 1790 counted close to 4 million people. Half of those, Women, as opposed to “Men” described in the Declaration, were ineligible to vote. The 700,000 African slaves, totaling 20% of the population, were property not free to vote. And since states required that “white, male, property-owners or tax-payers” alone were eligible to vote, the net result was that in the first presidential election only 6% of the “American” population voted.

Additionally, approximately seven million Native Americans who were alive at that time, vastly outnumbering the European newcomers, and whose indigenous ancestors had owned and occupied North America since time immemorial, were considered “enemies” of the People of the states, and were as ineligible to vote as an English general. From the start, blacks, women, and natives were excluded from America’s democracy.

Thereafter, white males displaced natives from their lands, killing most of them from viruses or Indian wars; Africans were sold like animals and slaved on farms owned by white men that gave white Americans a leg up on cotton, tobacco and the slave trades; and American women, also encumbered by a servitude of sorts, duly produced the children and made the communities function as a duty to their white male masters.

In their defense, the Founders were aspirational in their writings. They weren’t writing about what was but what could be. They wanted a country reaching for and uniting around the values of equality. They wanted America to be better and over time it did get better, but slowly and incrementally.

What followed over time was the Civil War, lynching, Jim Crow Laws, racial segregation, redlining of black neighborhoods, inferior education, the lack of equal justice, and white officers killing black men with impunity, bringing the sting of systemic racism right into the TV sets of our present.

The brutal suffocation of George Floyd, a black man, coming after three months of a worsening pandemic, tens of millions of jobs lost, and several million business closings, prompted 17 days and nights (as of this writing) of protests against the knee of brutality powering white supremacy. Whether George Floyd’s death makes a difference in equality of blacks in America remains to be seen because white supremacy has survived hundreds of sensational killings of blacks.

In fact, centuries of incremental progress by black Americans and also by women, immigrants, LGBT, the indigenous, the poor and homeless, has been questioned by a president supported by white supremacists who see everything through the prism of Making America Great Again -- for them only. White supremacy feels aggrieved by equality for all.

Two Americas at War

One America believes that the historic maltreatments of natives, blacks, women and immigrants may never have happened, but if they did, the insurrection has been put down and the problems are behind us.

One America lives in a media bubble of a mythological post-racial society where white, rural males left behind believe their economic and cultural grievance of being usurped is the great evil of our day.

One America is overwhelmingly white, rural, homogenous and misinformed by schooling and culture that buried historical truth behind the myth that white dominance – such as the Confederacy -- was and is a good and just thing for the country.

The Other America developed in urban, immigrant, heterogenous and sometimes cosmopolitan mixes of cultures and conflicts, forging a slow, progressive dynamic that recognized the flaws of America and made some incremental and many failed efforts at solving conflicts democratically and inclusively.

The Other America recognizes that Natives live and die on “reservations” which are among the most deprived places in America; that women get paid way less than men for equal work, and wonders why, after 50 years of national agreement, the Equal Rights Amendment has yet to pass; that immigrants who are dying to live and work in America are persecuted and exploited for trying, succeeding or practicing their religions; and that racism against blacks is still tearing America apart: One black person might get elected president while tens of thousands of blacks are subjected to white racist violence from cops not that different from the days of George Wallace or the days of Jeff Davis.

Factually, American natives, women, blacks and legal immigrants can all technically vote today, but all of them are still a galaxy distant from equality with white males on any measure of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” It doesn’t matter because in the age of Reality TV, Twitter and Facebook, facts no longer matter; facts no longer exist. Times have changed. Senator Pat Moynihan got no push-back when he said fifty years ago, “You can have your own opinion but you can’t have your own facts.” Today he could be pushed to the ground with one tweet: Sad. Pathetic. Loser.

Economic inequality is the one condition that undergirds the grievances of both Americas. It’s easy to understand why. The top 1% of Americans has wealth equal to the other 99%; the top one-tenth-of 1% of Americans has wealth equal to the lower 90% of Americans; and one individual American has wealth equal to the bottom 50% of Americans (165 million people). It is no surprise what skin color graces the bodies of almost all the top 1% of America today. Nobody on the scene has a solution to economic inequality that appears workable. Trump’s solution to “carnage,” is to say, “Vote for me. What do you have to lose?”

Trump’s take on America

Like canny “follow your gut” gamblers in Vegas, Donald Trump can taste a good betting proposition. He saw that One America was not being serviced and pampered as the Other America turned politically correctness to a fault. Trump promised to recapture the past glory of white supremacy which whites enjoyed in movies like “Gone with the Wind.” Trump would sap nostalgic for law and order culture and show whites how to dominate again.

His calculation in 2016 was if he lost, he’d expand the Trump brand from the campaign publicity and make millions – he was close to a megabuck deal with Putin for a Moscow Trump Tower; and if he won, which he didn’t expect, he’d merge his brand with the White House and make even more millions. It was a no-lose proposition. The math was simple: there were more white than non-white voters in America. Aggrieved, undereducated and angry white voters populated the vast, sprawling, rural, farm, industrial, oil and coal states, dominating the Electoral College. The complex and conflicted miasma of urban colors and cultures in the Other America was difficult to unify, motivate and turnout. Trump felt that Reality TV, Twitter and rallies would clear the path to the White House, and it did.

Using TV and Twitter messaging, Trump would bundle One America with white nationalist identity symbols and words to recapture the mythological past glory of white America, just the way Mussolini bundled – fascism derives from the word to bundle – Italian nationalists who wanted to recapture the glory of Rome. The multicultural, cosmopolitan, heterogenous and fragmented Other America lacks a unifying message and the motivation for all its part to turn out for the whole.

Trump’s voters join his cult of personality which includes a whopping 70 million Twitter followers today (10 million of these may be media or enemies of Trump). Trump wants rabid fans, total applause, and absolute loyalty. He does not want independence, advice, criticism, or supporters who steal the show. Trump motivates his base by naming, defaming and demolishing his enemies – women, blacks, Muslims, Hispanics, Jews, gays, liberals, scientists, doctors, FBI directors, intelligence chiefs, generals, politicians, artists, comedians or anybody who turns on him publicly. Trump does not have a government program or policy, he improvises as he goes, which his fans seem to enjoy even when his lack of leadership ends in disaster for them, as in the pandemic.

Trump is not the first populist to manipulate white racism. George Wallace’s openly racist campaign and Richard Nixon’s Southern Strategy in 1968; the America’s First movement opposing immigrants or involvement in Europe’s wars in the 20th century; and the Know-Nothing party that bedeviled Abe Lincoln, all utilized tribal fears of blacks, immigrants, women, knowledge, the press and “enemies of the people” to drive up their votes and scare equality-lovers away.

Trump’s presidency has been a financial boon to the top 1% who are mostly white males. The tax cut trillion, the pandemic payout trillion, the massive deregulation of progressive legislation, and stacking the federal courts with fellow-disruptors, have increased inequality dramatically, weakening the possibility of ever governing a unified nation. But the stock market loves it.

What white rally fans get from Trump is participating in a ritual of dominance and self-satisfaction for being white and mixing with pure white power. Trump pumps out daily tweets that never compromise on disruption of the system, facts, science, knowledge, precedent, institutions, law, treaties, or enemies who are told to go home, quit or die. By exercising his freedom “to do whatever I want to do,” the id goes wild, the fans go wilder, and black blood runs in the streets once more.

The November election

Shockingly, Trump has maintained a favorable base of 47% of the vote for over three years and has just slipped to 41% in the polls. But what’s even more shocking is that 41% of American voters are sticking with Trump (1) after three months of a 100-year, badly managed pandemic that killed 130,000 Americans, a number that is increasing now that the economy is opening; (2) after 40 million people lost their jobs and millions of businesses were destroyed in an economic free-fall worse than anything since the Great Depression; and (3) after 17 continuous days and nights of protests (as of this writing) by millions of mostly white Americans in 650 towns and cities of the USA against police brutality and Trump, and for Black Lives Matter.

These historic protests do not mean that Trump’s messages of white grievance, disruption and a return to white dominance can be underestimated for their power and resilience in the November vote. As Lenin wrote a century ago in another troubled time, “Wars don’t happen to get something, but to get something back.” Those fighting for equality are fighting to get something. White supremacists are fighting to get something back. Don’t ever underestimate them.

It may look bad for Trump now, but there’s still 140 days, 20,000 tweets, and 580 hours (at 4 hours of TV and internet per day) that the average American is likely to twist in the mind before turning out to vote. Be on the lookout for something like the racist Willie Horton ad in the 1988 presidential campaign. White supremacy did not get to power by playing softball.

Trump’s base must not be underestimated, no matter how bad the polls look for him; 92% of them are likely to turn out for Trump in November. In contrast, the best turnouts the Democrats historically manage to get is in the range of 70% of their diversified base, and it is not uncommon for young, black or poor voters to turn out at less than 50%. If that happens again in 2020, say hello to white supremacy and goodbye to democracy and equality as we hoped for it.

Americans have to realize that they must set out to do something which Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Madison, Hamilton and all the Founders were incapable of doing. The Founders left it to us, the citizenry, to finish what they started. If the indigenous people, female people, people of color and immigrants to America are ever to be equal, this is the year and this is the moment that the aspirations of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States of America are on the ballot.

May God bless America on November 3, 2020.

Michael Rowan is an author and political consultant who has advised presidential candidates throughout Latin America, including Governor Manuel Rosales in Venezuela, President Jaime Paz Zamora of Bolivia and President Oscar Arias of Costa Rica. In the U.S., he has advised winning candidates in 26 states. He has been an award winning columnist for El Universal, The Daily Journal -- predecessor to LAHT -- and the Latin American Herald Tribune since the 1990s. He is the author, with Douglas Schoen, of The Threat Closer to Home - Hugo Chavez and the War Against America and the just released How to Prevent Trump from Doing to America What Chavez Did to Venezuela, published by Amazon Books.


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