PRIVILEGE, PC AND CHRISTMAS
A friend of mine, like thousands of others and not without reason, says that Donald Trump won the 2016 presidential election through ‘fraud, manipulation and outright lies.’ Others say it was a simple case of racism. Still others blame Hillary Clinton for running the wrong type of campaign—or for simply being Hillary Clinton. All of these may be contributing factors, but the truth, I suspect, is quite a bit more complicated.
After all, millions of people did vote for him. All of the excuses for Trump’s victory aside, the question remains, why?
The answer, I think, has a lot to do with these line from a 1934 Cole Porter song (based on original lyrics by Robert Fletcher), “I can’t look at hobbles and I can’t stand fences/Don’t fence me in.” That’s a real American attitude, one that has survived for centuries and that has lost no strength.
A huge percentage of Americans, perhaps somewhat equal to the number who voted for Trump (though that may just be coincidence), has long been feeling hemmed in by American politics, social policy and economics—and, until Trump came along, felt they had no outlet for their frustrations. They felt they had lost their voice in an America now dominated by a new type of special interests, by groups with particular identities different from that of the umbrella ‘white’ identity of what was once ‘most’ Americans. They felt fenced in by ideas and beliefs far removed from what they had grown up with.
Some of these feeling have validity. Others do not. Some of them have been enhanced by unscrupulous politicians and media exploiters.
Three of the many of these are (1) outrage at being told they have ‘white privilege,’ (2) disdain for those who try to constrain expression through promotion of ‘political correctness,’ and (3) anger at people who try to emasculate their traditions, who engage in, among other things, the ‘war on Christmas.’
There are others, all with varying degrees of validity. All arising outside of their own cultural base in the small towns and rural areas beyond the American East and West Coasts. All alien to the American ‘heartland.’ These three, though, are fairly representative and comprise a worthy starting point for those outside of the conservative Trump base in any struggle to understand the resentments that led to his political triumph.
‘White privilege’ was a poor choice of words from the very start as the title of Peggy McIntosh’s 1987 essay “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack.” It immediately put white people on the defensive, especially when added to the argument that there is nothing white people can do about it. For people descended from generations of poor and exploited farmers in the deep South, from Okies whose very presence brought out law officers in California, from the factory workers who had left Appalachia for the cities of Illinois, Ohio, Michigan and more and who had re-established lives among groups of people (including the other whites) who wanted nothing to do with them, the phrase wiped away the difficulties they and their ancestors had faced ever since the older colonists turned their noses up at them when they arrived from Ulster Plantation in the 18th century. No matter how true its claims, it insults them and the struggles of their families and their ancestors.
No matter the accuracy of McIntosh’s list, there was no way the concept, certainly not under that ‘white privilege’ designator, was going to get a hearing in white America. Over the past 30 years, the phrase has become an irritant to many who hear it, rejected on the face of it. To make matters worse, it has been used Privilege, PC and Christmas | One Flew East: