Race to the bottom: Obama's presidency, Trump's election victory, and the perceived insidious greed of whiteness

The election of Donald Trump as the 45th President of the United States, despite his long-list of disturbing scandals, came as a surprise to many people. Yet, Trump’s election victory is not an aberration, but an emerging pattern in
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  Race, Gender & Class : Volume 25, Number 3-4, 2018 (43-67) R ACE TO THE B OTTOM :   O BAMA ’ S P RESIDENCY ,   T RUMP ’ S E LECTION V ICTORY ,  AND THE P ERCEIVED I NSIDIOUS G REED OF W HITENESS Paul Banahene Adjei School of Social work Memorial University of Newfoundland, Canada Abstract:  The election of Donald Trump as the 45 th  President of the United States,despite his long-list of disturbing scandals, came as a surprise to many people. Yet,Trump’s election victory is not an aberration, but an emerging pattern in Euro-American/Canadian societies, where far-rights political candidates with racist,xenophobic, Islamophobic, anti-Semitic, and homophobic attitudes are gettingelected into public offices. The purpose of this article is to place President Trump’selection victory in a broader context of examining critically the extent to whichmany White people will go to protect whiteness. It is argued that the concern withmany White people is not their whiteness but their possessive investment in it.Thus, even against their moral judgement and principles, many Whites are willingto vote for far-rights candidates inasmuch as these candidates promise to protectWhites’ interests and privileges. The article argues that there is racial greed inEuro-American Canadian societies to protect Whites’ dominance and interest nomatter the cost. Contrary to the popular narrations, the White working class votersdid not elect President Trump; Whites in every social category of the United Statesvoted overwhelmingly for Trump. For many White voters, the future safety andsecurity of Whiteness is more important than any personal discomfort they mayhave about far-right candidates and their racist, sexist, xenophobic, Islamophobic,anti-Semitic rhetoric. Keywords:  Insidious greed; President Trump; President Obama; far-rightcandidates; xenophobic; Islamophobic; United States electionneeded Paul Banahene Adjei  is an Associate Professor and the Chair of the PhD programat the School of Social Work, Memorial University of Newfoundland, Canada.Paul’s research and scholarship draws on anti-black racism theory, critical racetheories, critical whiteness studies, and anti-colonial theory to ask new and difficult   Paul Banahene Adjei44 questions as well as to identify potential answers to what W.E.B. Dubois (1903)describes as “colour-line problem” (p.v) in Euro-American, Canadian, African, andCaribbean society. He also draws on African Indigeneity as rich cultural sourcesof knowledge to (re)imagine a new future for social work education. Dr. Adjei hasreceived several research grants for research projects that examine the integrationand resettlement experiences of people of African descents in the global north andthe global south. He has published over 22 articles and essays in refereed journalsand as book chapters. Address:  Memorial University of Newfoundland, Social Work-J4004, St. John’s NL, A1C 5S7, Canada. Ph: (709) 864-4512 (office), (647) 866-4551 (cell), Email: “ Donald Trump is certainly a different kind of candidate,” said Senator Mitch McConnell when MSNBC asked him what he thinks of theracist comments Candidate Trump made about the Mexican-American Judge Gonzalo Curiel. The racist attack on judge Gonzalo is one of themany examples of the racist, ableist, xenophobic, sexist, and Islamophobic attitudesand behaviors that characterized Candidate Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign.While any of these scandals is enough to destroy the political career of other candidates, Trump defied logic and political pundits to become not only the presumptive presidential nominee of the Republican Party but also the 45 th President of the United States. What possible reasons can justify the election intothe highest office of the United States a candidate, who exhibited the most racist,sexist, Islamophobic, and xenophobic rhetoric and attitudes? Is it possible that therules somehow do not apply to Donald Trump as Senator Mitch McConnellsuggests? Is President Trump’s election victory an aberration or a pattern of mainstream politicization of racist, xenophobic, and Islamophobic thoughts and practices in Euro-American/Canadian society? The present article attempts to usehistorical and contemporary scholarly publications and online newspaper articlesto critically examine these questions. The purpose of this article is to place thediscussion of President Trump’s election victory in a broader context of the myriadways mutated and recycled forms of racism, xenophobia, and Islamophobia have been mainstreamed in the politics of the United States, the United Kingdom,Europe, and Canada. I conclude that among many factors, President Trump’selection victory can be linked to perceived “Insidious greed of Whiteness” in theUnited States. I further postulate that this insidious greed is also being playing outin Europe where section of White voters are voting for far-right political parties thathave promised to protect white interest. In the next section of the article, I willcritically examine the various explanations offered for President Trump’s electionvictory.   Race to the Bottom45 ‘Trump Is Certainly a Different Kind of Candidate’:When Some Are More Equal than Others In George Orwell’s allegorical novel,  Animal Farm , readers are introduced to ahypocritical system that speaks absolute equality of all yet gives excessive power and privileges to the select few. So when the animal revolution at the Manor Farmlater revised and abridged the Seven Commandments of Animalism into a single phrase “All animals are equal but some animals are more equal than others”(Orwell, 1944), readers become instinctively aware that the Pigs have declaredthemselves  primus inter pares . I have revisited George Orwell’s Animal Farm as segue to unpack thecomment of Senator Mitch McConnell that “Donald Trump is certainly a differentkind of candidate.” Over the years in the political history of the United States, wehave witnessed the political careers of many people destroyed by less disturbingscandals than what characterized Candidate Trump’s election campaign. EliotSpitzer, then Governor of New York and the former Attorney General of New York State, had his political career cut short when his involvement with Emperors ClubVIP, an escort agency was exposed. John Edwards, a successful US Senator andonce Democratic nominee for Vice-Presidential in 2004 as well as a candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2004 and 2008, had his political career crashing from the top when he was caught cheating on his wife with a filmmaker Rielle Hunter. Anthony Weiner, the House of Representative of New York’s 9 th Congressional District from January 1999 to January 2011, saw his politicalambition destroyed when he was caught sexting a sexually suggestive picture of himself to a 21-year-old woman from Seattle. Eric James Joseph Massa’s, the thenUS Representative for the 29 th  Congressional District of New York from January2009 to March 2010, political career died prematurely when he was accused of allegedly making sexual advances toward his younger male staffers. There may beexceptions such as the case of President Bill Clinton, whose extramarital affair and publicly lying about it did not destroy his political career; although the scandaldestroyed the credibility and trustworthiness of the Clintons as many Americanshave since held the view that the Clintons too often act as if rules do not apply tothem (Cilliza, 2016; Daly, 2016). Whereas American voters have shown in the past that they are unforgivingwhen it comes to the scandals of politicians, Donald Trump became the 45 th President of the United States despite the long-list of disturbing scandals thatcharacterized his 2016 presidential election campaign. Trump launched his politicalcampaign with a speech that was nothing other than racism and xenophobia towardsMexicans. From then onwards, almost everything Candidate Trump said or didentailed elements of racism, xenophobia, Islamophobia, and sexism. He evenopenly mocked a disabled reporter and also attacked a Gold Star family—Khizr andGhazala Khan. He made several sexist remarks towards Secretary Hillary Clinton;Megyn Kelly, former host of Fox News; Elizabeth Warren, the Senator of Massachusetts; Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a Supreme Court, and Carly Fiorina,a fellow Republican presidential nominee. He also told many half-truths and   Paul Banahene Adjei46  untruths during his presidential campaign (Dale, 2016a; 2016b) and insulted many people, places, and things on Twitter (see Lee and Quealy’s, 2016). When a 2005’srecorded video conversation of Candidate Trump bragging in vulgar terms aboutsexually assaulting a married woman appeared in public (Fahrenthood, 2006),followed by twelve women publicly alleging that Candidate Trump made unwantedsexual advances towards them (Hale, 2017), many people believed that Trump’s political fortune was over. Trump defied predictions to become the 45 th  Presidentof the United States. Perhaps, Senator Mitch McConnell’s statement “Donald Trump is certainly adifferent kind of candidate” is not a capitulation to Trump’s racist, xenophobic,Islamophobic, and sexist behavior but a candid acknowledgement that the politicalrules of the United States do not to apply to Donald Trump. In fact, Trump braggedabout his invincibility to scandals in this way: “I could stand in the middle of 5 th Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose voters” (Diamond, 2016:para.2).What is it about Donald Trump that rules somehow appear not to apply to him?Many social and political commentators as well as comedians have attempted toexplain President Trump’s invincibility to scandals. The explanations have beencategorized into these themes: (1) ‘the bed of nails principle,’ (2) Trump is a B.S.artist, (3) Media complicity, (4) Trumpism, and (5) President Obama’s presidencyand White resentment and paranoia. I will now critically examine evidence thatsupports each of these explanations: (1) The Bed of Nails Principle John Oliver, the HBO comedy host of  Last Week Tonight,  uses the ‘bed of nails’ principle to explain why many scandals could not hurt President Trump. A bed of nails is an oblong piece of wood with many nails (100s) pointing upwards.From a mere observation, one would assume the nail will hurt anybody who stepson them, yet individuals are able to lie on a bed of nails with bare backs or evenstand on it with bare feet without injuring themselves. The explanation is that thenails on a bed of nails are arranged evenly to the extent that the pressure exerted byeach nail is not sufficient to harm anybody who steps on them. Relating the bed of nails principle to Trump’s election campaign, John Oliver argues, “Donald Trumphas said countless awful things throughout this campaign, any of which woulddisqualify any other candidate. He hasn’t said one ‘crazy’ thing; he’s saidthousands of ‘crazy’ things, each of which blunts the effects of the others” (Oliver,2016:n.p.). John Oliver’s explanation suggests that American voters were overexposed toTrump’s consistent racism, sexism, xenophobia, and Islamophobia to the point of  becoming numbed by them. The only limitation to John Oliver’s theory is that itdoes not explain why President Trump lost overwhelmingly to the groups who wereoften the targets of his racism, xenophobia, and Islamophobia—Blacks,Hispanic/Latino, Asian, and Muslims. Exit polls show President Trump lost by 74 percent among non-Whites (CNN, 2016). If American voters were numbed byPresident Trump’s racism, xenophobia, Islamophobia, and sexism, then it appears   Race to the Bottom47  the phenomenon did not affect non-White voters. (2) Trump Is a B.S. Artist In something similar to John Oliver’s bed of nails’ principle, Fareed Zakaria,the host of CNN’s Fareed Zakaria GPS   and a Foreign Affairs columnist of TheWashington Post  , uses Harry Frankfurt’s article “On Bullshit” (1986) to explainhow Trump’s many inaccurate, non-factual, half-truths, and sometimes false claimscould not destroy his presidential ambition. In his brilliant Opinion  “Theunbearable stench of Trump’s B.S,” Fareed Zakaria describes Candidate Trump asa ‘Bullshit’ artist. Harry Frankfurt differentiates between “lies” and “bullshit” inthis way: telling lies requires “a degree of craftsmanship, in which the teller of thelie submits to objective constrains imposed by what he [she] takes to be the truth.The liar is inescapably concerned with truth-values” (Frankfurt, 1986:93). On thecontrary, people who undertake to bullshit their way through things have muchmore freedom. They are not limited or constrained by what they perceive to be thetruth because they are always willing to fake the context so far as the faking suitstheir purpose (Frankfurt, 1986:93). According to Zakaria (2016), Frankfurt(1986)’s understanding of bullshit encapsulates Trump’s mode of life and operation.Whether describing his businesses, buildings, educational background, wealth,intelligence, children, wives, and even the size of his male organ, Donald Trump, just like “the Kardashian effects”—anybody who watches Kardashian reality TVknows that everything in it is exaggerated to make the show exciting—engages inhyperbole. But there is more: a bullshitter does not care about the truth and has no desirein telling it. Those who lie must concern themselves with the truth because withoutknowing the truth, one cannot lie effectively. On the contrary, bullshitters need nosuch conviction because they are “neither on the side of the truth nor on the side of the false” (Frankfurt, 1986:94). In Eric Ambler’s novel,  Dirty Story , the maincharacter Arthur Simpson   learned from his late father: “Never tell a lie when youcan bullshit your way through” (Ambler, 1967:22). As it became apparent to thosewho paid attention to Candidate Trump during the 2016 election campaign, he didnot concern himself with the truth. He provided his own statistics of the crime ratesin Chicago outside what is provided by the FBI and even claimed that Muslim-Americans in New Jersey cheered the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center (Berenson, 2015). In fact, Daniel Dale of Toronto Star of Canada counted 34 of such false claims in the first presidential debate, 33 in the second debate, and 37 inthe third and final debate (Dale, 2016a; 2016b). What is disturbing is that evenwhen facts are offered to him, they do not change his position. Instead, CandidateTrump continued peddling the same falsehood. In her Opinion article published onthe website of CNN, Frida Ghitis writes, “Donald Trump’s peculiar relationshipwith the truth—his penchant for promoting unfounded stories and conspiracytheories—represents not just a curious quirk or a character flaw. They are a much- practiced technique that has paid dividends as self-promotion in his business career and in his political rise” (Ghitis, 2017:para.1).
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