Political Rallies as an Act of Repudiation
By Alejandro Armengol (Cubaencuentro)
HAVANA TIMES – It’s an old and effective strategy. We are seeing it repeated in the run-up to the 2020 presidential election in the United States. Donald Trump has already made successful use of it, and he hasn’t hesitated to use it again.
“Send her back, send her back!”. This is what supporters shouted during Trump’s hour-and-a-half speech in Greenville, North Carolina. He let them. Then, on Thursday, he tried to disconnect himself from the events: “I didn’t say that, they did.” He made a point of stressing that “I wasn’t happy” when he heard the crowd shouting.
The news is way too recent to try and make a hypocritical response. However, during the 2016 presidential campaign, Trump followers would chant “Lock her up, lock her up!”, referring to Hillary Clinton. Ironically (or not?), one of the people shouting the loudest back then and inciting others to do the same, is now behind bars: Michael Flynn. He isn’t the only one.
On Wednesday, the verbal onslaught was essentially against Muslim congresswoman Ilhan Omar, who arrived in the US from Somalia as a child and became a naturalized US citizen when she turned 17 years old.
In his speech, Trump accused Omar of pleading for compassion for Isis recruits and of being proud of Al Qaeda. Lies, on both counts. (If you wish to know what it was the congresswoman exactly said about this, years ago: click here.)
The president says he doesn’t feel responsible for his followers’ words. That’s also a lie. Last weekend, Trump wrote some tweets in which he told the four Democrat congresswomen in the House of Representatives that they “can go back [to their countries]”. Truth be told, they are all US citizens, three of them were born on US soil: Ayanna Pressley, from Ohio; Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, from New York and Puerto Rican parents; Rashida Tlaib, from Detroit; the third, Omar, was naturalized.
What all four of these women share is their “divergence” from the stereotypical white, Anglo-Saxon and Protestant, US citizen (although this is a definition that is established in a very broad sense): the so-called WASP (White Anglo-Saxon Protestants), a popular sociological term rather than a scientific one.
For their part, the congresswomen Trump was referring to are Black, Latina or Muslim.
Referring to otherness has been a constant in Trump’s political campaigns ever since he decided to run for US President as a Republican candidate, while he was loyal to the concept (attitude, behavior) a long time before. Trump has always been afraid of the foreign, the incomprehensible, the world beyond the end of his nose, whether that’s been because of his limited IQ, knowledge, a result of his class standing or his environment.
However, if, WASP defined a privileged social sector once upon a time, who pulled the strings of US political and economic hegemony (the famous establishment); over time, and as the reigning white class saw the pragmatic need to share power, fear of the foreign gained greater emotional weight among the white population who didn’t enjoy the privileges of wealth, but believed they were the heirs of national identity (white trash).
Thus, the “W”, which used to identify wealth in the beginning (wealthy), was changed to define the racial element (white).
Lessons from Cuba
When you look at the exact and repetitive choreography of Trump’s political rallies, the initial feeling you get is that the plebs in the back (I’m sorry, I can’t find a better definition), is nothing more than a group of paid impostors. However, this impression boils down to an error of clarity, which those who have gained experience in Cuba with “acts of repudiation” have saved themselves from: going beyond an alleged or real obligation, it always had the appeal of immunity: the power to shamelessly insult others. The freedom to degrade someone, scot-free, who isn’t understood or who has chosen a different path in life.
Devoid of modesty and decency, people who took part in Cuba’s acts of repudiation jumped at the chance to degrade someone they knew (who they had always talked to, greeted, shared their concerns as neighbors, colleagues, even relatives, and then they instantly became the enemy because the government said so). Likewise, for strangers, who stirred feelings of bitterness, fear, even envy, when they didn’t even know them: all of which shaped a liberating act, from an emotional standpoint.
This has always been characteristic of Fascist governments, of course.
It is still too soon to say that Donald Trump’s administration is fascist (although we also can’t deny that it seems to lean towards this at times, because of the electoral frenzy rather than a totalitarian vocation based on an ideology: in character, not doctrine). Pressure to integrate into the group, society, the country and race via social compulsion (and violence, as a last resort) was a constant in Fascism and Nazism.
While it’s unfair to limit all of Trump’s voters to this irrational group, it is still just as important to highlight this group of advocates, with great influence (which is normally characterized by an easily manipulated social group) echoing the current US president and his scorn for liberal democracy, Rule of Law, different and foreign opinions on the whole.
Therefore, we can pick out the fanatics who feed off shouts and insults in pictures of these rallies, as well as the more traditional WASP representatives, especially among the youth, who are more tolerant towards those they scorn (because they lack money, a good education and a comfortable home) for a couple of hours, believing that the effort is justified so they can hold onto their privileges. While those shouting are happy just to vent.
Trump has always fostered hate for otherness, as the pillars of intolerance and detraction, even if he has to resort to ill-intentioned rumors and the most clumsy lies. It seems that he will invest hard in this strategy again, so as to keep his place in the White House.