Racial Resentment is illicit stock Conservatives traffic for Profit & Votes
In his recent article about the surge in Racial Resentment during the age of Obama, Jonathan Chait could have spared readers the torture of seeing him contort himself into a beltway “both-sides-do-it” pretzel, if he had asked himself one simple question: — “Who is profiting from racial resentment in the Age of Obama?”.
That fundamental question would have trucked him out of the airy parlor of abstract debate and beltway media myopia where “policy” amounts to wealthy talking heads from left, right and 3rd Way trading barbs on TV, and out into the trail of the billionaire-backed conservative wrecking ball that is stripping minorities of voting rights, women of reproductive rights, blocking millions from access to Medicaid, profiting off criminalized black bodies warehoused in for-profit prisons, eroding workers’ rights in the name of coddling corporations as “job creators,” erasing the history of minority oppression from textbooks and classrooms, and so on.
On that trail he would have discovered how those conservative interests are cynically using President Obama and minorities as Rorschach Tests to whip up latent bigotries in order to further their corporate and fundamentalist religious goals, the bulk of which are actually detrimental to those very people whose bigotries they are whipping up. Racial resentment would not exist in its myriad forms if there was no market for it. To understand its lucrative purchase is to seek out who profits from it, and above all who runs the market.
Why look at profit? That’s because “Race” and its derivatives “Racism”, “Racialism”, “Racial Resentment,” have no intrinsic value outside of economics. They are social constructs rooted in the need to justify profit off human bodies by assigning hierarchical meaning to visible physical differences. Race in American history never made logical or scientific sense except as an excuse after the fact, to stitch meaning out of the yawning gap between philosophical ideals that “all men are created equal” and the greed impulse to make money. Except, the consequences have been brutal to people of color. It birthed an ugly history of physical oppression and many forms of structural inequality.
Draft Rioters lynching African Americans on Clarkson Street, NYC, July 13, 1863, Source: Dickinson College
If slavery required the racialization of black bodies to ensure profit, it also subsequently required the racialization of the disparate peoples of European descent of varying fortunes into one monolithic “White” category to act as bulwark and maintain the social hierarchy. But what did “whiteness” mean if anything for those who did not own property or human chattel and were struggling to stay alive just like people of color? Enter “Racial Resentment” as a tool perfected for whipping up populism. President Andrew Jackson perfected it to serve territory-grabbing ends against Native Americans. But people, white, black or brown cannot always be hoodwinked into acting against their own rational economic interest, no matter their religious, tribal, or cultural allegiances.
There have been bull and bear markets for racial resentment especially since the end of the Civil War. There are periods of growth spurts such as we live in now of economic uncertainty, and periods of waning. Thus powerful interests are always on the prowl to exploit anything that divides and conquers the ranks of the ordinary people, often masking their agenda under nebulous and lofty disguises such as: values, freedom, tradition, real™ America.
As a commodity, Racial Resentment has no intrinsic value of its own save the utility that the profiteers derive from it. If it didn’t exist some other currency would be invented to profit off human differences and to maintain social control. Besides, it is not as if the conservatives are hiding their agenda. They have told us loud and clear what they are doing. Recent exhibit? Charles Koch’s smarmy term “collectivism” in his WSJ op-ed, or Art Pope’s radical control of North Carolina’s government as “budget director,” Or Mitt Romney’s insulting barb that President Obama won because he gave “gifts” to minorities women and young Americans, Paul Ryan’s Dickensian budget and quip about “lazy inner city males”, etc. Yet Chait bends over backward to argue that there is an equivalent use of race among liberals?
So let’s boil down the crux of Chait’s argument. Yes, he acknowledges that America has had an ugly racial past; that Racial Resentment has especially bubbled up during the Obama years because the President symbolizes the emerging diverse America that some whites are wary of. Obama’s policies have provoked suspicion that he’s redistributing public resources to benefit minorities at the expense of the white majority. Conservatives feel gagged that their disagreements with the Obama administration are met with liberals accusing them of racism straight out of Lee Atwater’s playbook. So their solid wall of obstruction against Obama’s agenda for America is just politics, and maybe understandable. Bill Clinton had it worse than Pres Obama because he was called “boy” while President Obama has not. Thankfully, the next president will certainly be white so this racial monsoon will soon pass.
Phew… America just needs to hold on till it’s over on January 20, 2017, then the world will be right side up again, right? Robert Kuttner is also discomfited that race reared it’s ugly head during the Obama years and worsened as a result of the President not pursuing an authentic progressive agenda. Jamelle Bouie in pushing back against Chait’s piece argues that African Americans have only seen a retrogression of their economic and civil rights gains inn the age of Obama. Ta-Nehisi Coates dismissed the Affordable care Act as “immoral” because of the swathes of poor blacks left out (he later walked back that word), then charged that President Obama should have anticipated that a colorblind policy would “hurt” AAs as Republican Governors rejected Medicaid expansion. Earl Ofari Hutchinson also said the only minority helped by the Obama Presidency has been Obama himself. So bottom line from both rightwing bloviators and differing corners of liberal punditry, is that the Obama Presidency has stoked rather than repair America’s race problem….
But President Obama NEVER said he was running for office to repair America’s race problem. He was running to accomplish specific practical changes in our economy, healthcare, and foreign policy. He said in a CBS 60 minutes interview the day after accepting the nomination in 2008 that his run was not an exercise in racial symbolism. On election night, his mantra was “the road will be long, the climb will be steep…”. He also said often that powerful interests never concede power. So how is it his fault what the purveyors of racial resentment have wrought on our body politic, and on the rights and economic security of the 99%?
The media sensationalists and goo goo eyed speaker circuit crowd who never organized a day in distressed communities were the ones with lofty notions of America’s racial canker being erased under a “Shaft-like” Obama …Can you dig it? (Maher wanted a Samuel L. Jackson-like president, no?)
It is thus not surprising that Chait like many in the media left and right routinely deny this President credit for his enormous accomplishments in the face of iron clad Republican obstruction, and similarly do not see the unprecedented levels of racial animus President Obama and his family is subjected to. As our own Chips pointed out, a look up on “teh Google” would have saved Chait the embarrassment of saying that President Obama has not been called “boy” unlike Clinton:
— TheObamaDiary.com (@TheObamaDiary) April 8, 2014
No one has forgotten the endless images of Pres Obama with a bone plugged through his nose, of both him and First Lady Michelle Obama depicted as apes, including outright racist talk trafficked by conservative lawmakers and rightwing media. Any other Presidents have been asked to show their birth certificates? Or any other First Family maligned as “moochers” when they traveled to conduct diplomacy abroad or taking a vacation back home? The catalog is long and irrefutable.
— h/t Meta
Nevertheless, Chait was onto something when he cited important data study on the correlation that the study drew between share of slave ownership and depth of racial animus present in communities in this country. Those most racially resentful lost bigger money from loss of their human chattel than those with historically milder resentment. No mystery about that. And so there is an economic imperative for conservative poobahs to plumb the grimy depths of racial resentment. Follow the money.
Source: Think Progress
The question Chait failed to ask is which ideological grouping has continued to trade unrelentingly in that currency of racial resentment? And why? Data, over the last half century has shown that one political party has both tactically and strategically trafficked in the currency of racial resentment to further its ideological goals – the Republican party in service to Movement Conservatism.
After the signing of the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts, the Democratic Party bore the brunt of seething anger of racist bigots who saw those laws as harbingers of Racial Armageddon, yet Democrats under LBJ stood by their decision on those laws and saw their ranks diminish from Dixiecrats’ exodus from the party. The Republican Party not only welcomed racial bigots but courted them in what came to be known as the Southern Strategy. Reagan perfected the strategy with his sowing fear about welfare queens driving Cadillacs. Bush Senior raised the fear factor with Willie Horton ads. The GOP strategists were unabashed about what they were doing. It was a cynical harvesting of bales of racial resentment for the sole purpose of winning elections and amplifying the economic reach of wealthy conservatives who fund movement conservatism. Chait knows this. And Tesler’s study provides irrefutable evidence about which political party is filled with racial resentment and which one is not. This is NOT a both sides issue.
Why did Democrats not go back to re-court Dixiecrats from the GOP? Were Dems just more altruistic, terrible business folk, or did they realize that Racial Resentment was junk stock that had no future value? Chait thinks liberals simply developed a derivative market of trading in Racial Guilting.
Conversely, why are Conservatives afraid to transform their ideas in order to avert demographic death? When Lindsey Graham (R-SC) cryptically said “We’re not generating enough angry white guys to stay in business for the long term” to fill the ranks of the Republican Party, he gave their raison d’être away. Why are they tribally wedded to angry White men in the first place?
America’s diverse demography can be courted by any ideological proposition IF persuasive arguments and governing agenda are presented. African Americans or Hispanics, or Asian Americans or young Americans or LGBT Americans are not glued to any party except they look for who has the chops to deliver on their rational economic and human welfare interests. It’s called Democracy. IF these groups were ideologically or tribally doctrinaire as conservatives have been historically, they’d never have changed their voting patterns as the political parties changed their focus. African Americans even when they could not vote, supported the Republican Party because of Lincoln’s role in the ending of slavery. Democrats got AAs votes because they enacted into law their fight for civil rights.
Source: Power of Peace
If, as many analysts admit, that Pres Obama has actually pursued a conservative agenda (with a small c) that makes him no different than a Rockefeller Republican, then why have his actions bred such distorted levels of racial resentment? The stimulus reversing the recession? Or saving the Auto industry that is the only manufacturing base left in this country serving the working classes of the Mid West? Or instituting Healthcare Reform that serves EVERYBODY who had been shut out of it previously? Or repairing tattered foreign relations? What is it that warrants the venom and vitriol from conservatives? The honest answer is, NOTHING!!! Policy differences and Pres Obama’s personal flaws are one thing, but none of these warrant the racist orgy unleashed in his era.
What does that tell us about this country? That any kind of governance that addresses fairness must breed resentment. So the only way for race not to rear its ugly head is to perpetuate unfairness, inequality? That will keep things quieted down? For whom? The only way bigots can be happy is when bigotry is allowed free rein at the expense of people of color? How long do we need to appease the bigots? Keep giving them inch after inch till we allow them to destroy our democracy completely? Is that it?
So it is disingenuous for Chait to treat racist malcontents as though their beef has any policy validation. It does not and neither should the conservative purveyors of their grievance be given any respectable place at the policy table. Theirs is not about policy or governance but profit and raw power as well as fear!! So public shaming and mobilizing votes against them is the only pushback with teeth.