It has become quite clear that Trump’s electoral strategy is built on mobilizing racism and anti-immigrant nationalist xenophobia. It seeks to create a narrative framed around the threat that “they” pose to “us”. He knows that his base of support, while remarkably durable and fanatically committed to him, is much too small to insure his re-election. Thus, in addition to insuring their maximum mobilization, he needs to draw many uncommitted to his side, while engaging in systematic voter suppression of constituencies that oppose him. Thus his strategy is to turn that “we” v. “they” mobilization into a “white” v. “black and brown” electoral strategy. Trump knows that, in a country that is about 65% “white”, if he can do that he wins.
The challenge for progressives is to counter this Trumpian strategy without falling into the trap of making this a fight between the races. We know that Trump will continue to stoke the racist and xénophobic fires. And that he will be able to control a significant amount of public air time and tend to dominate social media and the public debate. Progressives will not be able to avoid this issue, and must not fail to combat his racism and xénophobia clearly and directly. The challenge for us is to know how to do that without falling into the trap he is trying to set of making this a “color war,” a fight of white against black and brown. For that is a war we will lose. And we cannot afford to lose this fight.
The stakes could not be higher. It is not an overstatement to say that if we do not stop Trump in 2020, we may not be able to stop America’s slide into neo-fascism. And the reason is clear. The strategy of the now Trumpian Republican Party is to re-write the rules of the electoral process so that it becomes practically impossible for even significant majorities of the population to influence policy. From voter suppression, and extreme gerrymandering, to unlimited campaign expenditures and drastic constitutional revisions, their strategy is clear: protect corporate wealth and disempower the populace. While I cannot dwell on those details here, a detailed understanding of that strategy and its historical development can be obtained in Nancy MacLean’s brilliant book Democracy in Chains: the radical right’s stealth plan for America.
Thus, I repeat, progressives must not fall into the Trumpian Trap of letting him make this a fight between the white majority and the black and brown minority. We must confront his racism and xenophobia head-on with a multi-racial, multi-ethnic, inclusive program of economic and social justice. We must address the sufferings of all Americans, and advocate clear progressive programs that speak to the needs and offer practical solutions to the problems that are felt by working people across this country. From global warming to opioid addiction, from outrageous income inequalities to the failing social safety net, Democratic candidates need to present an inclusive vision and program that transcends racial, ethnic, and regional divides and offers all Americans a realistic hope for a better future. That can be a winning message. We cannot afford to fail.