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Trump's White Mob

by Jeffrey Sachs Monday, Feb. 01, 2021 at 6:38 PM

Trump may have been unusually heavy-handed in his race-baiting. But his approach fits perfectly with the party's approach, which it has taken at least since Republicans adopted the "Southern Strategy" in the 1968 election in the wake of the Civil Rights Acts.

Trump's White Mob

by Jeffrey Sachs

Trump's white mob

In U.S. history, mob violence has usually come not as a spontaneous explosion of protest from below, but rather as structural violence from above. The instigators have been white politicians who exploited the fears, hatred, and ignorance of the white underclass.

By Jeffrey Sachs

[This article published on 1/12/2021 is translated from the German on the Internet,]

Black and white image of men in white robes and hoods marching away from the Capitol, which can be seen in the background. in a parade.

In 1926, the white supremacists of the Ku Klux Klan were still openly marching through Washington, even parading down the street to the Capitol.

The storming of the Capitol in Washington on Jan. 6 is easy to misunderstand. Many members of Congress shaken by the test of nerves made statements that America is a nation of laws, not mobs. That is to say, the riots fueled by President Donald Trump are something new. They aren't. The U.S. has a long history of mob violence fueled by white politicians serving wealthy white Americans. The only unusual thing this time is that the white mobs were directed against the white politicians, not blacks, who are usually the victims.

In the past, mob violence has been directed against blacks

Of course, the circumstances of the Washington riots are extremely important. Their goal was to intimidate Congress into stopping the peaceful transfer of power. It has been an attempt at subversion. By inciting it, Trump has committed a capital crime.

In the past, mob violence has been directed at traditional targets of white hatred: it has been directed at African-Americans who wanted to vote and opposed segregation on buses, at blacks who peacefully protested discrimination in housing, at food counters or in schools. Hatred was also directed against Native Americans who sought to protect their hunting grounds and natural resources, against Mexican farm workers who demanded a safe work environment, and against Chinese immigrants who had previously built the railroads and worked in the mines. All of these groups were targets of white mob violence - fueled by Americans like U.S. President Andrew Jackson (1829 to 1837). He instigated the forcible removal of the five major Indian nations with untold deaths. Fueled by Kit Carson, who waged a brutal war against Indians with his unit in the 19th century, and fueled by Alabama's racist Governor George Wallace in the 1960s.

In this historical light, there was something familiar about the Capitol-storming mob of righteously indignant "good old boys." As Trump put it in his riot-fueled speech, they wanted to "save America." "Let the weak [politicians] go away. This is a time for strength," the president declared, using familiar motifs. "They also want to indoctrinate your children in school by teaching them things that are not true. They want to indoctrinate your children. It's all part of an all-out assault on our democracy."

Men in white robes and hoods stand next to suits walking up the steps to the Capitol.

Members of the Klan didn't miss the opportunity to visit the Capitol in 1926, either. Unlike today, they didn't even have to storm it. Their racist agenda was the majority of the country and politics anyway.

Throughout U.S. history, mob violence has usually come not as a spontaneous explosion of protest from below, but rather as structural violence from above. The instigators were white politicians who exploited the fears, hatred, and ignorance of the white underclass. As historian Heather Cox Richardson documents in her brilliant new book, How the South Won the Civil War, this version of mob violence has been a crucial part of the U.S. white upper class's defense of a hierarchical society for more than 150 years.

Rich whites incite against blacks to distract poor whites from their real problems

America's culture of white job violence goes hand in hand with its gun culture. The hundreds of millions of privately owned firearms in the U.S. are disproportionately owned by whites, and as historian Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz convincingly argues in "Loaded: A Disarming History of the Second Amendment," vigilante white mobs have traditionally invoked "gun ownership rights" to oppress blacks and Native Americans.

Wealthy whites, in particular, like to incite mob violence against blacks. This is a typical way to distract poor whites from the real issues. Trump did not invent this tactic; it is the oldest trick in the tactics manual of American politics. If you want to pass a regressive tax cut for the rich, you simply tell economically struggling whites that blacks, Muslims and immigrants are on their way to usher in socialism.

Throughout his presidency, Trump has done just that, warning that Americans would have to "learn Chinese" without him in the White House. At his rallies, he routinely appears as a champion of the 2nd Amendment, which guarantees the right to own guns - and rails against non-whites. For example, he has urged female members of Congress from immigrant families to go back to the "totally broken and crime-infested places they came from." Trump has called on his supporters to use physical violence against opposition protesters; they should throw them out - and not just from his rallies, but from the country itself. He has called white supremacists "very decent people." After his Confederate flag-waving mob stormed the Capitol, he declared, "We love you, you're very special."

Protesters from behind running toward the Capitol with U.S. and Trump flags.

That's what it looked like on Jan. 6, just before the white mob stormed the Capitol, killed a police officer and tried to kidnap the vice president and other pols. The mob wanted to prevent Joe Biden from being finally confirmed as a future president.l

The Republican Party gave unqualified support to Trump and his inflammatory policies-until the afternoon of Jan. 6, when the mob flooded the Capitol. But the Republican leadership's allegiance to Trump was not merely due to his strong support among the Republican base. Trump represents the quintessential American right. The role that fell to him was always clear: pack the judiciary with strapping Republicans, cut taxes for corporations and the rich, and fend off demands to increase social spending and environmental regulations, all the while inciting the baying mob to fight "socialism."

Trump lost the election, not because he was racist, but because he failed Corona

On January 6, things got out of hand because the white mob turned on the white politicians themselves. This was not unpredictable - and no longer acceptable to Republicans. Trump has repeatedly told his supporters that they are losing America, and the loss of the two Senate seats in Georgia to an African-American and a Jew no doubt added to the anger.

Trump may have been unusually heavy-handed in his race-baiting. But his approach fits perfectly with the party's approach, which it has taken at least since Republicans adopted the "Southern Strategy" in the 1968 election in the wake of the Civil Rights Acts. Until last year, Trump did the work for his party's plutocratic donors, bosses and economic allies in an intended way. He could only lose the 2020 election himself - and he did. But the reason was not that he was too racist, but that he was overwhelmingly malicious and incompetent in the face of a deadly pandemic.

In the grand historical scheme of things, America is actually moving past its past of racism and white mob violence. Barack Obama was elected president twice, and when Trump won in 2016, he received fewer votes than his opponent. Given the election of Kamala Harris as vice president and this week's Senate elections in Georgia, there is much to suggest that America is gradually turning away from white oligarchic rule. By 2045, non-Hispanic whites will make up only about half the population, down from about 83 percent in 1970. In subsequent years, minorities will collectively be the majority in the U.S., and by 2060, non-Hispanic whites will make up only about 44 percent of the population.

For good reason, younger Americans are more aware of racism than previous generations. The Trumpian virulence evident in the Capitol may be disturbing. However, it is nothing more than the right's desperate, pathetic last gasp. Fortunately, the America of racist white supremacy is increasingly becoming history, though still far too slowly.

Jeffrey D. Sachs

is an economist and has been a special advisor to the Millennium Development Goals since 2002. He is director of the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network and director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University.

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