Trump’s Neo-Fascism Takes America’s Racism to the Next LevelRoundup
tags: racism, fascism, Donald Trump, herrenvolk democracy
Jason Stanley is the Jacob Urowsky Professor of Philosophy at Yale University, and the author of five books, most recently How Fascism Work: The Politics of Us and Them.
Since losing the presidential election, Donald Trump has pinned the blame on cities with large Black populations, such as Detroit, Philadelphia, Milwaukee, and Atlanta. Specifically, Trump has connected these cities with corruption, claiming for example that “Detroit and Philadelphia are two of the most corrupt political places anywhere in our country—easily.” It is widely agreed that these cities are not responsible for Trump’s electoral loss. Trump’s strategy of connecting Black political participation to corruption is just that—a strategy made more effective by the fact that it has a deeply embedded history in U.S. politics.
The Reconstruction era, just after the Civil War, was a brief decade or so in which Black Americans in the South could vote. Whites in the South argued against Black political participation, on the grounds that Black elected officials indulged in rampant political corruption. In his magisterial 1935 work Black Reconstruction, W.E.B. Du Bois thoroughly debunked this view, revealing it to be nothing more than a cynical political tactic to retain white political power in the South. As Du Bois writes, “the center of the corruption charge was in fact that poor men were ruling and taxing rich men.” And in describing the strategy of using false charges of corruption to justify disenfranchising Black citizens, Du Bois states:
The south, finally, with almost complete unity, named the negro as the main cause of southern corruption. They said, and reiterated this charge, until it became history: that the cause of dishonesty during reconstruction was the fact that 4,000,000 disfranchised black laborers, after 250 years of exploitation, had been given a legal right to have some voice in their own government, in the kinds of goods they would make and the sort of work they would do, and in the distribution of the wealth which they created.
The use of charges of corruption to disenfranchise Black voters has remained in the center of American politics. Michigan politicians used charges of corruption to replace mayors and city councils of Black majority cities in Michigan by “emergency managers” charged with making all financial decisions for the municipalities which they controlled—including incurring debts that the citizens of these municipalities must pay back. Black Americans comprised 14 percent of Michigan’s population between 2008 and 2013. Yet 51 percent of Black Americans in Michigan were under an emergency manager at some point during this time. In contrast, during the same period, only 2.4 percent of whites in the state were under an emergency manager. Nor was the placing of so much of Michigan’s Black population under this kind of authoritarian receivership beneficial to them; it was, after all, the policy that led to the lead poisoning of thousands of children in the city of Flint.
Linking cities with large Black populations to corruption as a way to disenfranchise their voters is part of a lengthy American tradition of attempting to justify a Herrenvolk democracy—a system in which only members of one race or ethnic group can participate in the formation of the laws under which they are governed. But Trump’s behavior, and the behavior of the political party that enables him, has long since escaped capture by this label. The Republican Party under Trump seems instead to be leading the country away from even a highly restricted democracy. The political formation that seems to be emerging is rather straightforwardly authoritarian in character.
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