Wednesday Words: On Race, Tribes and Voting

I get in trouble sometimes for putting two things alongside one another to see how they speak to one another. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. 504719990_wide-bff45e75b9cb94f5461dcfe06dd75a367b02d30d-s900-c85I read this article this morning, "A pollster on the racial panic Obama’s presidency triggered — and what Democrats must do now." I'm eager to delve into Cornell Belcher's research to see how it holds up. (By the way, he's not saying everyone who voted against Obama is a racist--his argument is much more nuanced than that, and race is one factor among many. I ask you to engage with what he is actually saying before you argue with it.)

I was especially interested in his critique of the old Democratic trope that people vote for Republicans "against their economic self-interest":

It’s a disconnect that’s frustrating to me. They’re not voting against their economic interests; they are voting for their higher interests... The idea that you can disconnect white people from their group position and make pocketbook arguments to them void of the history of their group is folly.

...Who are we to say that they’re voting against their economic interests? If in fact you think you’re losing your country, that’s your higher interest, and how in the hell am I gonna prosper if [I believe] other people are taking my country?

The themes he lifts up reminded me of a passage I was reading last night from Steven Pressfield's book on creativity, The War of Art. It's not a book about politics, but this excerpt prompted me to reflect on how potent the Trump campaign turned out to be. I've tried to abridge it as much as possible:

Fundamentalism is the philosophy of the powerless, the conquered, the displaced and the dispossessed. Its spawning ground is the wreckage of political and military defeat, as Hebrew fundamentalism arose during the Babylonian captivity, as white Christian fundamentalism appeared in the American South during Reconstruction, as the notion of the Master Race evolved in Germany following World War I. In such desperate times, the vanquished race would perish without a doctrine that restored hope and pride.

What exactly is this despair? It is the despair of freedom. The dislocation and emasculation by the individual cut free from the familiar and comforting structures of the tribe and the clan, the village and the family.

It is the state of modern life.

The fundamentalist (or more accurately, the beleaguered individual who comes to embrace fundamentalism) cannot stand freedom. He cannot find his way into the future, so he retreats to the past. He returns in imagination to the glory days of his race and seeks to reconstitute both them and himself in their purer, more virtuous light. He gets back to basics. To fundamentals.

To making America great again?

Continuing to ponder all of this, and I welcome thoughtful engagement (and respectful disagreement) as I sort it out.