The victory of Donald Trump in the 2016 Presidential Election has been fueling the ultra-right populism and nationalism in the United States. Charlottesville, the home of Thomas Jefferson and my University, the University of Virginia, was sieged by Neo-Nazi populists.
They gathered at Charlottesville, marched down streets with Nazi flags, and chanted the slogan of killing Jews. In the most recent incident, a Neo-Nazi drove the car into the opposing group, killed one and injured 19. White supremacy and racism have been a hidden social problem in the American society. However, the Trump’s victory unearthed and fueled this problem.
The pillar of Trump’s Presidential campaign was the concept of scapegoating, a highly dangerous and racist strategy to direct hates and blames on minority groups. The negative impact of this strategy is certainly devastating because the racism in President’s scapegoating legitimizes the Neo-Nazism and white-supremacy. This essay will dissect Donald Trump’s campaign strategy and show its disastrous effects.
Scapegoating is a widely practiced political strategy in every part of the world throughout history. Originally, scapegoating is directly tied to religious practice. In the early stage of all human civilizations, people believed the angry God sent natural disasters and diseases to punish the sinful human being. In this period of pre-enlightenment, people did not know plate tectonics cause earthquake, and the bacteria cause Black Death. Rather, people superstitiously blamed black cats, witches, lunatics, heretics, and Jews (this was not the first time, and certainly would not be the last time, Europeans blamed on Jews) for their suffering. Only their death would pleasure the God. Thus, sacrifices, such as burning heretics and witches on a stick and dropping black cats from tall towers, became a religious ritual. The immoral killing became justifiable because these killing are made under the name of God. This concept of purging under the great justice is the fundamental concept of scapegoating.
The scapegoating is the common trick for a government to establish the lost credibility during social difficulties and crisis. Blaming on social or racial minority groups is a simple solution that resonance with the majority. A group of “enemy of the people” not only explains the current hardship but also rallies the majority dissatisfied population behind the leadership. The Great Depression led to the high tide of Fascism in Germany. The Nazi Party blamed Jewish and other groups for the economic disaster and the defeat of WWI. The strong anti-Semitism in the German Society contributed greatly to the formation of the “Final Solution” and the Holocaust. After failing to fulfill promises repeatedly, the Chinese Communist leadership purged the landowners, rich farmers, anti-revolutionaries, rightist and “bad-elements,” the so called “black five kinds,” as well as the capitalist roaders within the party during the Cultural Revolution. During the economic disaster caused by the radical collectivization process in the 1930s, the Soviet Leadership purged the rich farmers, landowners, the Czarist officials and Stalin’s political opponents, the so called enemy of the people. This scapegoating trick re-directed the public dissatisfaction hardship toward minority groups and enhance the support of the leadership.
Usually, scapegoating is done under the name of protecting the indulgent culture and values. The populists hold strong nationalism and chauvinism and believe the superiority of its indulgent culture. This concept raised during the formation of nation states and social Darwinism in Europe during the 19 century. It reached the peak during the 1920s and 1930s. The Aryan-supremacy and the concept of Volk in Nazi Germany and the glorification of Roman Empire in Fascist Italy dragged Europe into World War II. The Serbian-Chauvinism in Yugoslavia and Russian-Superiority in the Soviet Union caused the massive internal suppression on minority groups. The supporters of scapegoating view the minority groups as the threat of the traditional values and culture. For example, the populist movement in Europe views the Muslim immigrants as a threat to their traditional social norms, cultures, and values. Populists try to use this approach to “defending values” as a way to legitimize their purge. It shares the same concept of burning witches and heresies under the mighty name of God during the medieval period.
All political movements start in the lower class and target uneducated people living in poverty; there is no exception in this one. Majority of the white supremacists are Trump supporters who are blue collar workers with low education and struggling against poverty. Fascism only grows in the earth of poverty and low education. Despite the fascinating statistics and great progress after the Great Recession, there are real problems in Obama years’ economic performances. The expanding seasonal and part-time jobs drive down the unemployment rate but increase the insecurity of households. The new wave of technological improvement replaces unskilled labors with the machine. The loss of comparative advantage and increasing globalization lead to outsourcing and the loss of American blue collar jobs. The creation of new jobs demands skilled labors, but the work-training program does not suffice this demand. After these blue collar workers lost their job, their lack of education deprives their chance to re-enter the job market. Therefore, the stagnating blue collars demand a way to move upward and out of this dead-end situation. Scapegoating brings them hope and allows them to escape reality. They believe by purging minorities and keeping immigrants away; they will take their country and welfare back. They believe Trump’s protectionist agenda and “American First” policy will bring back their job and provide a solution to the existing problem.
Partially because of his lack of understanding of domestic and international politics, Donald Trump often provides overly simplified answers that echo to these blue-collar workers. We are losing jobs because Mexico and China are stealing them. We have to put America first and save our jobs, so we quit Paris and TPP. The crime rate and drug use are high because illegal immigrants from Latin America are flushing into the United States. They are all criminals. We need to deport them and build a wall to make sure they do not come again. Terrorism is targeting the United States, so why don’t we just ban Muslims? There are problems in African-American communities in the inner city; then we need to employ more police forces to control them. These are not political agenda; they are cultural statements. Trump made these promises because his supporters want to hear them. Problems are way more complicated than these simple statements. However, the working class Americans resonate to these statements. Because of their lack of education, they cannot understand long and detailed political analysis. They support Trump’s statements because compare to the analysis they cannot comprehend, they believed in short statements they can understand. Statistics show this approach is effective. Trump won 80% of counties where less than 10% of the population graduated from college. Trump offers simple solutions to complicated problems other candidates and politicians failed to offer for decades.
The lack of education and understanding of the political process leads to the strong anti-intellectualism and anti-elitism among the populists. Statistics from Pew Research Center shows that an alarming 58% of Republicans believe that universities have a negative impact on the American culture. The populists believe in the protection of their “American values,” especially their “Old South values.” Therefore, they rally behind Trump’s promise to “take American back” from Muslims and immigrants and strongly support the Muslim Ban and the tight border control. Their claim of being “the defender of American value” legitimized their purge against other minority groups. However, the populists mistakenly defined their core thoughts, the concept of American culture and values. American has been champion as the land of freedom and the melting pot. Their white populist culture cannot represent American culture. The only true American culture is Pluralism, and the Framers already coined the true American spirit through Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution. These populist does have the rights that have been protected by the Constitution and repeatedly defended by the Supreme Court: the rights to rally, the symbolic speeches and the freedom to carry their Confederate Flag. However, their claim to “kill Jews,” their self-proclaimed supremacy over other minority groups and their efforts to deny other group’s civil liberties and civil rights violated the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment. It is ironic to notice that these self-claimed “indulgent American” populists, who ought to take America back from the immigrants, are the dissidents of immigrants as well. When they chant “America is ours,” they did not realize that America is not theirs; they drove the real “indulgent Americans,” the Native Americans, to the Reservation Land. Therefore, these early comers have no more superiority over the last comers, because we share the same American Dream.
The practice of scapegoating brings horrendous effect to our politics. It shreds the national unity, encourages injustice and distracts the public effort away from formulating the solution. The essence of scapegoating is to wage an internal war against the public enemy. This internal war deteriorates the social order, deepens the social cleavages and dismantles the rule of law. Scapegoating is by nature injustice, it is the greatest crime on a group of people. In A Theory of Justice, John Rawls states that every individual entitles the primary rights of basic human rights and freedom of choice. Not a single group should be subjected to sacrifice for the “common good.” Using his famous “veil of ignorance” theory, scapegoating can never be justified, because if one group of people can be sacrificed and scapegoated, then no one in the society will be safe. Scapegoating also distracts and diverts the political process and public efforts to solve the existing problems. Scapegoating provides an overly simplified and toxic solution that wins the support of the majority. By offering this solution, politicians rally people behind him and enjoy the reputation of solving the problem while the scapegoat takes all the blame. The scapegoaters acquire a sense of security from attending a zealous parade and tearing the victims apart. After the purge, people obtain a false sense that problems are all gone, but this feeling is nothing different from ostrich sticking its head in the ground. The problems still exist and left untouched. The entire scapegoating process has no contribution to the problem solving; it only distracts public attention and political efforts from solving the problem and delay the problem-solving process significantly.
Just as David Duke twitted, the white supremacists and populists pushed Donald Trump to the presidency. Donald Trump rides this high tide of white-nationalism by making bold cultural statements and emotional appeal, and scapegoating is certainly his most important technique. In this year of populism, we find scapegoating in Brexit, in the rise of Marine Le Pen during the French election, and in the Neo-Nazi groups around the world. People love scapegoating; the participants release their anger toward the victims through purges in exchange for a sense of security and power. The participants can avoid the harsh reality, just like an ostrich sticking its head in the ground, and blame all the problems on others. The politicians, on the other hands, take credits, gain supports and avoid blames for their failures. The only thing that left permanently damaged is the democratic system. As this tide of populism is shaking and threatening the western democracy, the process of counter offense will start by recognizing this dirty trick and not falling into it. By unmasking this populist technique, we are dismantling the biggest weapon of populism.🔷