Harris showed exactly why she was picked. She is polished and warm, an excellent communicator and, most important, an expert in holding Trump accountable. As she put it, the case against Trump and Vice President Pence is “open and shut.” She aptly laid blame for the pandemic on Trump, who failed to show leadership, misled Americans on the urgency of the crisis and refused to come up with a plan for the country. Speaking about the economy, she wisecracked, “Like everything else he inherited, he ran it into the ground.”
It was a powerful event, drawing a sharp contrast between the multiracial, multiethnic, gender-inclusive Democratic Party and the Republican Party of grouchy old White men. The language is telling.
“Make America Great Again” is the perfect crystallization of white supremacy, as opposed to the visible incarnation one sees in torch-carrying neo-Nazis, hooded Ku Klux Klan marchers or even the grainy black-and-white photos from 1963 of Bull Connor unleashing dogs and opening fire hoses on Black children. We deceive ourselves in thinking that only overt examples of racism constitute white supremacy.
As Robert P. Jones, head of the Public Religion Research Institute, wrote in his new book, “White Too Long: The Legacy of White Supremacy in American Christianity”: “Because of this radical narrowing of our understanding of white supremacy, the term paradoxically functions to soothe rather than trouble most white consciences.” Jones explains that the essence of white supremacy is that Whites are entitled to “hold positions of power over black and other nonwhite people.” And with that, they demand control of the culture (Merry Christmas, gosh darn it!), the exclusion of “dreamers” from the American identity and the power to decide who can vote. When Fox News’s Laura Ingraham says she does not recognize America any longer, and when her network colleague Tucker Carlson says immigrants make America “dirtier,” they are saying the quiet part out loud. (Disclosure: I’m an MSNBC contributor.)
In fact, white supremacy is the mind-set that posits the United States as a country defined by its whiteness and by Christianity. Others may be tolerated, thanks to the beneficence of the ruling group, but they are a deviation from the norm. The presence of these outsiders in neighborhoods — let alone in positions of power — threaten to overturn the structure which Whites have taken for granted. As Isabel Wilkerson describes in her book, “Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents,” this is the “sentiment of returning to an old order of things, the closed hierarchy of ancestors.” In America, that is the White-dominated and Christian-dominated order of things.
That was the message of MAGA, a stated determination of White, aging America to preserve the final embers of dominance as the country glides toward a non-White, non-Christian majority. Trump’s border wall is the physical manifestation of this dream; voter ID laws are the weapons to extend dominance. Even the poll tax has made a comeback in Florida, where emancipated felons were required to pay fines before voting. The defiant embrace of Confederate imagery and nonchalant use of crude racist language (“s---hole countries”) are simply the continuation of a tradition of Whites demeaning and frightening Black and Hispanic Americans with impunity.
Along comes former vice president Joe Biden, who served at the side of the Black president whom Trump has sought to delegitimize. Now, Biden elevates as his running mate a woman, an Indian American, a Black woman, a child of immigrants, a person raised in the cross-religious tides of the Black Baptist Church and Hinduism. You can almost see the collective freakout among Trump’s base.
In such an atmosphere, Harris sure seems “nasty" to the MAGA crowd. She challenges White males. She shows “no remorse” for debating aggressively. Her very existence on the stage with Biden is a rebuke to MAGA — proof that the quest to maintain white power in a country increasing populated by Black and Hispanic people is futile.
That may be why there is such a sense of joy, relief and accomplishment among Democrats, disaffected Republicans and anti-Trump independents. Hillary Clinton was not able to silence the MAGA movement’s bullhorn, and the media’s denunciation of their racist rhetoric surely did not muffle them. Now, anti-Trump forces have a response, not merely an argument. The response is the unabashed embrace of power by someone White males once had the power to exclude. The voters in November can deliver the final blow. Trump’s whining and incoherent insults are nothing more than the death rattle of white supremacy. It is long overdue.