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Thursday, May 31, 2018


The Dread

by Tom Sullivan

Existential dread is such a chronic malady among white people it is surprising Big Pharma is not already marketing a colorful pill expressly for it. A dozen years long ago, Mark Steyn screamed a claxon warning in the pages of the Wall Street Journal that the West's low birthrates relative to the Muslim world portended the end of western civilization before the century is out. Our "lack of civilizational confidence" meant slow suicide by immigration and, I guess, too much sex for recreation rather than procreation. Meaning white women needed to stop taking their monthly pills and white men needed to stock up on the little blue ones.

The Dread grew more slowly among non-readers of the Journal. It's been out there, building slowly, subconsciously for years. White people would eventually become just another minority in the United States. Still quite a large plurality, to be sure, but, short of a parliamentary-style coalition with Others, lacking the electoral clout to rule as God intended. White people know well how this country treats minorities. They have been the ones doing the treating for centuries.

September 11 was a gut-punch to our civilizational confidence. But it was the one-two combination of electing the first black president followed by a white nationalist to unleash The Dread in the land. Donald Trump openly campaigned for president by calling it forth like Imhotep from the undead.

No wonder white people are angry and self-medicating. On the political right especially, the alphas cannot admit to feeling threatened. (It's an authoritarian thing.) Another way must be found to treat the fear. Kicking down will do in a pinch.

A study in Social Forces released on Wednesday by researchers at two California universities puts data behind what we already knew (Washington Post):

White Americans are more likely to favor welfare cuts when they believe that their status is threatened and that minorities are the main beneficiaries of safety net programs, the study says.
In other news, the sky is blue.

Co-authors Rachel Wetts of UC Berkeley and Robb Willer of Stanford examined 10 years of data on attitudes towards race and social welfare programs. One survey found "whites' racial resentment rose in 2008, the same year of the Great Recession and election of Barack Obama, suggesting that perceptions of increased political power among minorities were leading whites to sense a threat to their group's status." The data showed opposition to social welfare programs rising over the same period among all Americans, but sharply among whites whose scores on racial resentment also tracked upwards. The sociologists designed three experiments to determine if the two were linked:
White Americans called for deeper cuts to welfare programs after viewing charts that showed they would become a racial minority within 50 years. They also opposed welfare programs more when they were told that people of color benefit most from them.

Those results show that the push to cut welfare programs is not driven by pure political motives, such as decreasing government spending or shrinking government bureaucracy, Wetts said.

“We find evidence that these shifts [in sentiment against welfare programs] are specifically directed at programs people see as benefiting minorities instead of whites,” she added.
Other factors might be at play as well, Wetts admits. Anxieties over the pace of change, for example. Still, say political scientists Adam M. Enders and Jamil S. Scott. "More and more, white Americans use their racial attitudes to help them decide their positions on political questions such as whom to vote for or what stance to take on important issues including welfare and health care."

Sean McElwee covered some of this same ground in 2015:
Similarly, in absolute terms, whites do better under Democratic than under Republican leadership. But that doesn’t really matter. People weigh their well-being relative to those around them. There is strong evidence that whites often oppose actions against inequality because of “last place aversion,” the desire to ensure that there is a class of people below oneself. Among white voters, racial bias is strongly correlated with lower support of redistributive programs. For example, research shows that opposition to welfare is driven by racial anger. Approximately half of the difference between social spending in the U.S. and Europe can be explained by racial animosity.
What people underestimate is the power of power in social relationships. As Lyndon Johnson once said, "If you can convince the lowest white man that he’s better than the best colored man, he won’t notice you’re picking his pocket. Hell, give him somebody to look down on, and he’ll even empty his pockets for you."

The Social Forces study follows others demonstrating that in a period in which they feel their position on the social ladder challenged, the last thing many white people want is to help anyone on a lower wrung move up. Even if they themselves are harmed in the process.

So in pursuit of maintaining white power requiring identity cards for voting is a popular enthusiasm among (disproportionately white) Republicans even if the laws deny the vote to their own partisans.

A 2012 survey from University of Delaware’s Center for Political Communication showed people “harbor negative sentiments towards African Americans” are more likely to support voter ID laws. (This includes Democrats who score high in racial resentment.) That such laws disproportionately impede voting by students, racial minorities, and the poor who tend to vote with Democrats is not a bug, but a feature.

But the laws drawn to bolster declining white electoral clout among Republicans impact Republican voters as well. Women, in particular.

Dahlia Lithwick speculated in 2013 that since Republican voter ID laws impact women disproportionately, the wave of new laws might be seen as "the next front in the war on women." But since "women in red states ... have much higher divorce and remarriage rates. And women in the South have especially high remarriage rates," Republican women may be harmed as well as Democratic voters.

I found just this problem in North Carolina with the state's VIVA omnibus voting law bill. The actuaries designing voter ID laws know this. They just don't care:
See, GOP leaders are playing the percentages. They figure that VIVA's voting restrictions will hurt more Democrats than Republicans -- and they will hurt Republicans. Still, Republican leaders calculate that, in the end, the net result will help them hold onto power. Indefinitely.

But the real story North Carolina and the rest of the country misses is that Republican leaders consider any of their own voters hurt by these vote suppression measures collateral damage. Acceptable casualties. Expendables.
The Dread has white people both lashing out at minorities and eating their own. Coming to grips with the existential fear on a policy level means acknowledging that race and class are inextricably intertwined.

Rev. Dr. William Barber, co-chair of the Poor People's Campaign, told PBS NewsHour on Wednesday that racism, poverty and militarism are indeed interconnected:
We are saying there are five interlocking injustices that America has to face, because they continue to cause policy violence.

That is systemic racism, particularly seen through the lens of voter suppression, where people use voter suppression to get elected, and then, once they get elected, they pass policies that hurt the poor, mostly white women, children and the working poor.

Systemic race — systemic poverty, ecological devastation, the war economy and militarism, and the false moral narrative of religious nationalism that says, you don’t have to address those issues.

We are saying, yes, America is going to have to face these five interlocking injustices and change them.
Anat Shenker-Osorio (Don't Buy It) tweeted in response to the Social Forces study, "This is why we must treat race and class as they are: inextricably linked. Divide and conquer is the trick they use to turn us not merely against people of color but the very idea of shared fate and with it government."

E pluribus unum may be out of fashion on the right, but it is inevitable, Dread or no Dread.

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For The Win 2018 is ready for download. Request a copy of my county-level election mechanics primer at tom.bluecentury at gmail.