Trump is a dangerously effective classic demagogue not because the working white poor are empty-vessel racists, but rather because he has split white America along class lines and has, among the Republicans, who are already the minority party, opened a self-destructive Pandora’s box of white resentments toward wealthy whites who use their education, family ties, networks, income, and money to leverage privilege while caricaturing or deprecating poor and middle-class whites. Poorer whites can live with the perceived injury of the well-connected and well-educated white elite capitalizing on the age of globalization, of huge and bankrupt government, and of politically correct multiculturalism, but not with the perceived insults that are central to the elite career and psyche. In an age of La Raza (“The Race”) and (only) Black Lives Matter, how exactly did the Republican establishment think the white working classes would eventually react to the new hyphenated America? With a week’s escape to Provincetown or commiseration at a B-list D.C. party? Tribalism for thee, but not for me?
“White privilege” is now a catchword for advantages supposedly enjoyed by roughly 70 percent of the population. Forget for a moment the inexactness of the term “white” in an increasingly interracial and intermarried society in which millions are of mixed ancestry and cannot be pegged by superficial appearance as fitting into any one racial category. Forget as well the careerism of the diversity industry, emblemized by the embarrassing but profitable ruses of an Elizabeth Warren, Rachel Dolezal, or Ward Churchill (none of whom faked a pedigree of a sympathetic poor Hungarian or Bosnian refugee). And forget the lies — such as “Hands up, don’t shoot” or George Zimmerman as the “white Hispanic” — necessary to paper over the contradictions of racial tribalism. Concentrate instead on the growing industry of caricaturing whites in popular culture.
There are two characteristics common to popular uses of the term “white”: It is almost always used pejoratively, and it is mostly voiced by elites of all backgrounds — and usually as a slur against the white working and “clinger” classes. So “the Latino vote” reflects shared aspirations; “the white vote” merely crude resentment. Those who benefit from affirmative action are not privileged, but those who do not certainly are. Whites cling in Neanderthal fashion to their legal rifles; inner-city youth hardly at all to their illegal handguns. Buying a jet-ski on credit is typical redneck stupidity; borrowing $200,000 to send a kid to a tony private university from which he will graduate more ignorant and arrogant than when he enrolled is wise. White “evangelicals” are puzzling for their crude hypocrisies; not so the refined paradoxes of Congregationalists and Episcopalians. Smoking is self-destruction, while injecting a strain of botulism toxin into your face is not self-mutilation.