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Ethnic resentment and its polarising effect

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Swashbuckling attitude: Republican candidate Donald Trump provides comfort to a large segment of the US that does not like it when the status quo they enjoyed is no more (Photograph by Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP)

A Washington Post analysis, backed by consistent research findings, has shone a sad but rational light on the rise of Donald Trump to Republican candidate when it seemed a joke, an impossibility to all right-minded thinkers at the beginning of the United States presidential race.

Backed by sociologist theory and fear — as well as anger, greed, envy; all seven deadly sins — any ethnic group that loses status/power, even if it is a loss that helps to balance the playing field, can be polarised by the right politician.

Many attributed Trump’s rise to the idiocy of his supporters, but there’s more opinion than fact in that viewpoint. The astounded intellectuals who espouse this idiocy theory have failed to identify with the majority of unenlightened, segregated white Americans who have experienced a few shocks and loss in standing, position and, ultimately, a real challenge to their historical supremacy.

We have a black president; the US is no longer the world’s powerhouse and the effects of equal opportunity legislation and rising non-white populations have allowed minorities to attain positions of power — heretofore held by white males.

While the average white male Trump voter may not be racist, he has also had only superficial contact with non-whites and his experience is that which is portrayed by the media and happily perpetuated by the Trump candidacy. All they know is that their “tribe” is decreasing in demographics and political posts; the presidency being the most recent position of power.

Whatever arguments for or against Obama’s presidency are irrelevant; what’s irrefutable is that he inherited one of the worst economies of any president and a more weakened United States of America on the world stage. As the average white family’s wealth was being eroded by these events, all they then saw was a black man steering the ship.

This black man then, in their view — and I’m not arguing this point here — moved to fix something they didn’t see as broken (health insurance) to provide coverage as a right to those who could not afford it. They claimed that this was no time — maybe there would never have been an acceptable time — to ask them to make any (more) sacrifices (slightly higher deductibles/co-pays/premiums) to subsidise an ethical (socialist) policy that all other developed nations have implemented.

There is no point in noting that universal healthcare should have been instituted long ago in more prosperous times, but the net effect of this particular law at this time of diminished cultural dominance bred anger and resentment and pretty much laid the groundwork for a polarising candidate to have effect.

Those who may well have in other times been proud to support a policy for the greater good now simply saw it, and other changes, as something to oppose because it helped “them” not “us”. You see, the bulk of Trump supporters are not comprised of the working class, the perceived beneficiaries of Obamacare.

Trump supporters have experienced a steady, unabated demographic shift that has contributed to the loss of power, influence and a legacy of unquestioned cultural dominance. Instinctively, as a group not interested in or familiar with any other cultures, creeds, religions, being filled with growing resentment, their choices come down to “us” versus “them” and a clampdown on immigrants is exactly what these voters want — and, with their mindsets, the promise of a wall is a bonus.

The Trump supporter is a manifestation in ethnocentricity. Trump’s swashbuckling attitude and aggression is the panacea for their diminishing power and his policies appear quite reasonable when seen from their standpoint.

Anger, resentment, jealousy and fear all cloud rational judgment or push reasonable feelings and fairness aside.

The ethnic resentment fuelling the Trump supporters and converts has been present for some time — the political correctness movement was a misguided attempt to do the right thing and was clearly directed by individuals with no external points of reference.

When alighting in the Midwest, in a near-exclusive white environment, I drew concern at my use of the word “black” to describe my friends. That I had these black friends should have tipped them off, but I was exhorted to refer to my friends as African-Americans. “Black” was, they believed, derogatory. I do recall actually snorting at this, noting that none of the people I was discussing were American and that black was more than acceptable — noting that only white people who didn’t have any black friends used the term African-American.

I finally convinced the Midwesterners that BET had not been renamed African-American TV by Russell Simmons and that the history books continued to refer to Huey Newton and Bobby Seale’s self-defence group as the Black Panthers. Oh and was February called African-American History Month by any television announcers, historians or cultural event organisers?

But I digress. Back to Trump and understanding how ethnic resentment has historically manifested to shed a brighter light on such supposedly irrational support that liberal intellectuals can explain only as the result of mass retardation.

In more extreme situations, this resentment ends in violence, yet this violence is not the result of some deep-seated, inherited, cultural feuds. While such ancient hatreds could be and were blamed for ensuing violence, it was the loss of status, influence and all that which a dominant group has been led to believe it is entitled to have that is at the root. The ultimate loss of power (control) — ergo, political power — this is the primary igniter for any escalating antipathy. For these intellectual liberals to conclude that Trump’s success can be because of to only mass idiocy seems to reveal their own deductive limitations.

Few people are capable of expressing with equanimity opinions that differ from the prejudices of their social environment. Most people are even incapable of forming such opinions — Albert Einstein

The more outrageous Trump behaves, the more shocking his utterances in public, the better. He continues to “break rules” and to deliver soundbites that would end the political chances of any other candidate. But this empowers his voters who see a champion, who is reasserting the white privilege that they grew up with as their misguided birthright. Trump provides comfort to a large segment of the US that does not like it when the status quo they enjoyed is no more.

• Minority students are accepted in universities (alma maters) ahead of their children

• Federal legislation imposes quotas as a remedy for past injustices

• Local council and government seats historically held by your family and friends are challenged and lost, putting a prompt end to cronyism

• Women are pushing up the bar and are now a competitive force

• Advances in technology completely change the way your job is performed

• Age, experience are a liability; connections mean less

• An educated immigrant class not hindered by the sloth of entitlement nor, any more, the colour of their skin leapfrog you; and then it’s 2008 ...

This particular perfect storm of circumstances has been fostering resentment quite insidiously. Complaints emerged about Black History Month ... what if we had a “White History Month ...”; the number of blacks killed by white police officers has been unconscionable and these travesties compounded by predominantly white grand juries, denying the victims their Sixth Amendment rights.

The abject failure of the justice system with respect to the Zimmerman killing of unarmed schoolboy Trayvon Martin looms large over every subsequent shooting and the natives — well, the whites — grow more and more restless as the growing resentment against “them” permits them to not only accept these unconscionable killings but even defend them.

And when a black icon uses her platform to support the Black Lives Matter movement, evoking the Black Panther Party for Self-Defence in her choreography, the reactions of uninformed whites was frightening in its ignorance and intolerance.

The Panthers were then equated with the Ku Klux Klan and many who knew no better were quick to jump on that bandwagon because it suited their sympathies — the facts would only be inconvenient. The institution of Black History Month was immediately vilified although unremarked. And one term that should die a quick death is “reverse racism” — it only illuminates the idiocy already attributed to Trump supporters, being oxymoronic: if racism is reversed, it’s neutralised.

Combine the growing white ethnic resentment with Trump’s platform that has attracted ethnically conservative and economically progressive populists who want increased spending on social security and a decrease in immigration, and you unite “white Americans’ ethnic and economic anxieties into a powerful populist coalition”.

So while I could never support a Trump presidency, his rise is not a mystery when one takes just a little time to locate the research that is readily available and cited in the less sensational online papers and blogs.

This research clearly identifies ethnic resentment as the destructive seed sowed that ultimately led to the violence and atrocities pursuant to the break-up of Yugoslavia and the violence throughout Eastern European history.

It also explains the civil unrest right here in Bermuda and why hardcore party members remain steadfastly loyal to leaderships that have plundered the public purse, lined their own pockets and/or betrayed their ideals. Both parties are populated with these individuals — most, or many, of whom are far from ignorant, but their intelligence is necessarily handicapped by their cultural bias that defines them. We’ve seen members on both sides justify all sorts of nonsense and even lose credibility.

When one ethnic group loses status or its members start feeling that they don’t have the status they deserve, the group gets resentful. Nationalist politicians then swoop in to capitalise on the resentment to capture political power. And the resentment about ebbing power can make unthinkable political positions into common and even prominent beliefs.

When have we seen this before? If you are gleefully pointing across the aisle, you are both right ... why don’t you examine your own folly first?

But, sadly, the Bermuda I’ve known has failed to evolve and indeed, we are no better than these “misguided, racist, anti-immigration” Trump supporters that we may feel superior to ... we should not if we, too, remain equally close-minded in support of a party based solely on ethnicity when that party or Cabinet has betrayed our trust and risked our island’s rather fragile stability.

The only explanation why seemingly intelligent, moral individuals would continue to support a leadership that betrayed the public trust, abused its position and harmed the economy and reputation is because he or she is controlled by this phenomenon of ethnic resentment. Polarised party members on both sides have been afflicted and taken advantage of by their leaders who fell prey to the effects of too much power for too long.

Are we able to recognise when we are as pliable emotionally as millions of Americans who continue to support Trump no matter what he says? I challenge all of my fellow Bermudians to locate their integrity and become one of Einstein’s few.

Nicolette Reiss is a qualified and licensed certified public accountant and chartered property casualty underwriter with operational and technical experience in reinsurance/insurance and financial services. References: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/monkey-cage/wp/2016/01/27/a-newly-released-poll-shows-the-populist-power-of-donald-trump/

Nicolette Reiss