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As the results rolled in on election night and it became increasingly clear that the nightmare of a Trump presidency would come to pass, overwhelmed with indignation, I tweeted, “watch as America gently lowers itself into white supremacist fascism as if it’s a warm bath when it should treat it like hydrochloric acid.” More than a week has transpired since that surreal experience and America has not only began submerging itself in that “warm bath” but its ideological managers are urging those of us who object to this horror show to pretend we don’t see the nation’s skin peeling away.
This love affair with denialism is perceived most keenly in the nauseating demand that we “give Trump a chance.” From the White House and the New York Times to Saturday Night Live, the spectrum of acceptable opinion begins with mournful defeatism and ends with a “wait and see” logic that essentially disregards as irrelevant a consistent pattern of racist behavior on the pretext “he can’t seriously be that racist, can he?”
Truth be told, this willingness to repeatedly give Trump the benefit of the doubt irrespective of all evidence to the contrary is the hallmark of white privilege.
Even the appointment of Stephen Bannon, an avowed white supremacist and anti-Semite, as Trump’s chief strategist has not deterred the press in their cautious appraisal of Trump and his associates. A November 14th article in the New York Times describes Bannon as a “nationalist media mogul” (notice the glaring omission of the word “white” before “nationalist”) and only highlights his racism as an accusation levied by “critics” and not a verifiable fact. President Obama himself, when asked about the character of a Trump White House, described the President-elect as non- “ideological” and “pragmatic.”
How can anyone not see the ideological fury of a Trump White House? The sheer volume of racist incitement that flooded American airwaves over the course of this election cycle revealed an ideological commitment to hatred that would make George Wallace beam. Far from a mere feature, racism is the oxygen to the lungs of the Trump phenomenon.
On second thought, maybe the failure to see this ideology is not a matter of ignorance but selective blindness to crimes so close to home it signals complicity. Perhaps it’s the ubiquity of white supremacy, its cruelly routine dimensions as a founding doctrine of American national identity, its accumulated violent intrusions into the daily lives of Black and brown people, and its myriad ways of winning allegiance, even among “liberal” whites, that underlies this collective refusal to acknowledge reality.
Indeed, it’s an unassailable truth of history that every powerful nation is passionately opposed to investigating those crimes where their fingerprints can be found at the scene and sometimes the crimes go uninvestigated for so long that they no longer resonate as crimes. Fighting against the tide of forgetfulness, we must unearth these crimes and guard against the repetition of them in our shaping of the future. Another option is to sit back and watch as the hope for a more progressive, life-affirming society disintegrates in this bathtub of acid. Our choice.