White Men Under Attack: What ‘Trumper’ Republicanism Says About Whiteness in an Age of ‘Aggrieved Entitlement’
As accusations of witch hunting, lynching and inquisition fly among Trump and his Republicans, it is high time white men think more seriously about our whiteness and how we use it
While House Democrats sift through witness testimony to build an impeachment case against Donald Trump, his Republican cronies are rallying with thanatophobic desperation, calling the investigation an “inquisition” and recently interrupting a closed-door inquiry under the purported aim of upholding government transparency.
Keeping in mind Ambassador William Taylor’s bombshell report to House investigators, the irony is striking.
President Trump, true to form, is playing the mouthpiece for his political party’s collective death anxiety, going so far as to call the inquiry “the greatest Witch Hunt in American History” and equating the impeachment inquiry to a “lynching.”
The victimizer is suddenly the victim — a gendered and racialized one at that. His plight no less pressing than the plunder to which American blacks have been historically subjected by whites, or women of all races by white men.
At least that is Trump’s implication — if we are to take him seriously.
But Trump is doing what white hegemony does best: Appropriate the oppressed’s pain for the oppressor’s gain.
It is a recoding of historical practices, decontextualized and emptied of substance, to do the same work they did following the Civil War or in 17th-century Massachusetts: protect the veneer of white American male invulnerability.
In his characteristic double-speak, Trump flips the script on these elements of America’s shadowy past to suggest he is being flayed alive.
Only he’s a white male. And he’s not hanging from a tree.
Trump’s discursive trick, imbued with racial and gendered content, exhibits a classic case of what sociologist Michael Kimmel, in Angry White Men: American Masculinity at the End of an Era (2013), calls “aggrieved entitlement” — a social disease particular to swaths of up-at-arms American males who’ve resorted to incendiary racial and gender identity politics in defense of their masculinity, besieged by burdens like affirmative action and immigration.
Republicans, namely “Trumper Republicans,” as the President called his allies within the Party in a recent tweet, according to the AP, are the predominately white face of this new-old tribalism in America.
For them, as for Trump himself, the impeachment inquiry is yet another slight undercutting white male dominance, giving angry white men a reason to be angrier and more unified in their rage as their sense of entitled invulnerability comes under attack.
Trump’s ahistorical and wildly offensive accusations are the standard parlance among these men whose coded language of critique distorts the cries of the marginalized to suit their own ends.
Trump is their white American maleness embodied — an objective correlative for the resentment stewing inside the angry white male body, individually and collectively.
Relying on a peculiar ideology specific to whites burdened by a liberal agenda of political correctness threatening an irreparable tear in the American social fabric, Trump has garnered the popular support necessary to prop up his inflated self-image — one that signifies the highest achievement of white male invulnerability: the Office of the President.
In this worldview, President Barack Obama is an anathema. His blackness a blight on white might. Pelosi? Well, she’s the real witch.
To impeach President Trump is thus an assault on whiteness as an ideology of white, heterosexual, property-owning, Christian manhood. It is a veritable “lynching,” exposing the white male social body and in this, Trump’s individual body, as vulnerable before the very laws created to preserve it.
Trump’s reactionary response to the impeachment investigation reveals exactly what whiteness has historically concealed: a deep-seated fear of white male bodily and social death.
The same fear that produced slavery, genocide and witch trials to procure safety and security for white male life.
A fear that ultimately exaggerates white male worth and ability at some “other’s” expense, as whiteness studies scholar and Medium contributor Christopher Driscoll makes clear in his seminal White Lies: Race and Uncertainty in the Twilight of American Religion (2015).
A fear which magically turns white American manhood into victimhood and in the process victimizes others.
In light of such white male sorcery, the impeachment investigation, as it becomes more public, is an important moment of critical self-scrutiny for us who are white in general and for us who are white men in particular.
White manhood as we’ve known it is being denuded on a national stage. The interrogation of the President is an interrogation of this aspect of historical American whiteness. The curtain is being pulled back. And like the Wizard of Oz, whiteness as it has been will be seen for what it is: a bumbling, old, spray-tanned man with an inflated ego who is deathly afraid to lose his manhood.
That the emperor is wearing no clothes will be wasted on the willfully ignorant among us who are white — those of us who refuse the fact of our own mortality.
But that’s okay.
Trump’s sycophants cannot escape the one universal, as Driscoll reminds us in his text: We all die.
Their death knell is ringing from a not-too-distant future when the majority of Americans will look much different from them.
Donald will likely never wake up to this reality, though he seems scared — as do his flailing fanboys (and girls) — clapping back at accusations of infidelity to the oaths of his office in utterly absurdist fashion.
Like historical whiteness, his best self-defense is built on what theologian James Perkinson, in White Theology: Outing Supremacy in Modernity (2004), would call “a structure of denial.”
Shoddy scaffolding, indeed, for a wall in long decay.