Sarah Kendzior is a St. Louis-based commentator who writes about politics, the economy and media.
Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump swept the primaries Tuesday night, but before the first votes were cast, the losers were already known. They are the American people, battered from an election season that has been politically, financially, and spiritually destructive. It is an election both built on and bolstered by a climate of fear, leaving its prospective winner with new problems to solve – or to savour. It is an election fuelled by financial desperation, with hate peddled as a salve to a false economic recovery.
All candidates focus on money: the erosion of the American job market, the corruption of campaign finance. But behind the rhetoric over money lies the issue no national economy founded on black slave labour can ignore: race. It has long been proclaimed that the American Dream is dead – whether from wage stagnation and factory closures that chipped away at the middle-class in the 1970s, or the brutal devastation of the 2008 economic crisis. But in truth, the American Dream was never everyone’s dream.
When Mr. Trump speaks of making America great again, he appeals to nostalgic visions of white security in a segregated land, one where his KKK backers could preach with less stigma. When Ms. Clinton speaks of making America whole again, she peddles a fantasy which ignores that for much of American history, black citizens were not even considered whole, but three-fifths of a person. When Bernie Sanders launched his America campaign video, he portrayed an almost entirely white America, capped by the fervent fans of his lily-white rallies.
Last night, Mr. Trump swept a geographically diverse array of states won by no other Republican primary candidate in history, ranging from the south to New England. He did it after promising to evict Mexicans and create a database of Muslims (when not shooting them with bullets soaked in pig’s blood). He did it a few days after receiving an endorsement from David Duke, and one day after booting black voters from a Georgia rally. He did it as news stations – as cash-strapped and panicked as their audience – aired his racist rhetoric around the clock, showering him with private town halls. Mr. Trump dominates the media like a dictator, only our press’s acquiescence is voluntary. The media feeds the hand that bites them - despite Mr. Trump’s professed contempt. While white Americans – his core constituency, regardless of location – lap the loathing up. His win shatters the illusion that American bigotry is geographically relative.
On the Democratic side, voters were fractured along racial lines, with black voters assuring Ms. Clinton’s dominance much as it had in the South Carolina primary. (Latinos, too, rallied for Ms. Clinton by a 2-1 margin.) Mr. Sander’s wins were in the whitest states, where he attracted large numbers of young, white men and lost in nearly every other demographic category. His loss followed a series of campaign gaffes which included counting the number of times he has said the word black (51), dismissing the black deep south vote, praising a book that slammed President Barack Obama, cultivating a fan base who attacked black voters online and on the phone, having supporter Susan Sarandon scold Latino activist Dolores Huerta, and failing to produce compelling evidence that he had advocated for non-white voters in this millennium. Mr. Sanders is called a one-issue candidate, but he is really a black-and-white candidate – in that nearly every photo of him advocating for civil rights is a black-and-white image from more than 50 years ago.
Seizing on that inability to connect with non-white voters, Ms. Clinton’s campaign has become more inclusive, stressing marginalized groups and noting that solving economic problems does not end racial bias. Her statements have been challenged by black activists who questioned her use of the word “superpredator” in the 1990s, prompting her to grant an uneasy apology.
Whether her rhetoric translates into meaningful action remains to be seen, but unlike her rivals, she portrays herself as someone who is listening to non-white voters. Her sweep among southern blacks has unleashed a new wave of bigotry, with outraged Sanders supporters comparing southern blacks to battered wives.
Super Tuesday was a racial referendum, with the knowledge that many more months of threatening words and actions from candidates and their fans are to come. Eight years of crying out in pain from economic instability has a large swath of white America longing for predictable disorder – a clear premonition of victims. Mr. Trump provides a target list, while Mr. Sanders’ campaign sometimes treats voters like targets.
Ms. Clinton has reaped the benefits, but the likely Clinton-Trump battle – a showdown between two of the most hated people in America – promises nine vile months to come, played out in a climate where a KKK endorsement is no longer something rejected outright.
The American Dream is long dead. What we are left with is the mainstreaming of nightmares.Report Typo/Error
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