Trump’s Commitment to “Positive Polarisation” and the Riots in America

Electing Donald Trump to the post of president in the US expressed from the onset the philosophy and strategy the US inherited from Europe, which is built on white racial centrality and superiority. With a clear view towards the next election, Trump is deliberately escalating the anti-racist protests and riots in America over the killing of a black man, George Floyd by a white policeman, in line with a controversial political strategy termed ‘Positive Polarisation’ promoted under former Republican US President Richard Nixon which aims to reach out to the majority ‘white Americans’ through racial polarisation and fear.

Trump’s racist mindset has been clearly observed and was in full show during his election campaign with respect to Obama, where he specifically attempted to question his ‘Americanness’ with respect to both his African race and Muslim parentage. The tension between the two was on show to the world post and prior to the inauguration. So much so, that during his presidential inauguration ceremony, Donald Trump surrounded himself with white men in a move seen as a reaction or rectification of the mistake in appointing an African American, Obama to the White House.

Trump’s accession to power reflected a shift from political diplomacy to the strategy of confrontation which is characterised by imposing the fait accompli, shunning common concepts and adopting an obstinate stance. This policy is built on the thoughts of Kevin Phillips, one of President Nixon’s chief strategists, and is known as “Positive Polarisation” which was described by the US Congress in 1970 as follows:

The Administration is working the hidden veins of fear, racism and resentment which lie deep in Middle America. Respect for the past, distrust of the future, the politics of ‘againstness’.

Phillips views were detailed in his book published in 1969 entitled ‘The Emerging Republican Majority’, which charted the success of Richard Nixon’s strategy campaign in reaching the Whitehouse and seen as a blueprint for how Republicans, using the so-called Southern Strategy, could build a durable winning coalition in presidential elections for the foreseeable future. As Dan Carter points out in his book, the ‘Politics of Rage: George Wallace, the Origins of New Conservatism and the Transformation of American Politics’ (1995);

Philips realised…the critical role of fear in general and white fear of blacks in particular would play in guaranteeing the emerging Republican majority. Phillips [concluded that] the Republicans should use the emotional issue of culture and race to achieve what Phillips mentor and boss, John Mitchell, called a ‘positive polarisation of American politics. By ‘positive’ Mitchell meant that the Republicans would end up with fifty percent of the votes once the electorate was divided into warring camps (p.112)

According to Richard Weems in his book ‘Business in Black and White’ 2009;

One of the manifestations of this so called ‘positive polarisation’ was Nixon’s use of the code words “law and order”. While Nixon made a conscious effort to reach Southern whites, his campaign goal of activating the “subconscious connection many white Americans made between blackness and criminality, blackness and poverty and blackness and cultural degradation”, also resonated with many northern whites. Thus, during the 1968 presidential campaign, Nixon “clearly followed the advice of his advisors and courted the white majority…because he saw political fortune in the simple fact that there were more white people than black (Carter, 95:112)

The slaying of George Floyd in this manner specifically, corroborates the concept of white race centrality in the societal psyche of the US because the police officer pressed his knee on George Floyd’s neck deliberately so as to respond to the action of former San Francisco 49ers star, Colin Rand Kaepernick, who in August 2016 knelt down during the national anthem in protest against the killing of a number of black citizens by white police officers. That incident triggered the racist hatred of Donald Trump and led him to label Colin Rand Kaepernick a “son of a bitch” and called for his dismissal together with the players who supported him.

Nevertheless, the killing of George Floyd was not the only racist incident perpetrated by the US police force, who have killed 1252 citizens of African origin since 2015, which is more than double the rate of white citizens killed by the police. However, Floyd’s killing came in the midst of the tension caused by the coronavirus pandemic and its economic and societal fallout on the American masses. It also came amidst the political tussle and the intense electoral jostling between the Republicans and the Democrats who have been trading accusations that have led to exasperating popular resentment and evoking racial tension, such as Joe Biden’s tweet in which he incited the black Americans against Trump and the Republicans. This was followed by a scathing attack by Donald Trump and his party on their opponents, leading to fanning the flames of the protests.

As Donald Trump attempts of exploit the protests to divert attention away from his mishandling of the coronavirus crisis, shore up his authority, purge the state’s institutions from his opponents, as he did with the judicial sector, and as he attempts to seize the moment and end the lockdown, speed up the return to normal life, invest in the crisis by propagating himself by holding the bible outside St John’s Church and by announcing himself, on Monday 1 June on the lawn of the White House, as being “the president of law and order” (Nixon’s code) to consolidate his position among his powerbase and those averse to seeing the country plunge into chaos and street wars, the Democrats have been attempting to ruffle him, prove his incompetence in crisis-management and hold him responsible for the deteriorating situation.

Although the unfolding events are not currently proceeding in Trump’s favour, they do not however give Joe Biden any advantage; Trump may be compelled to resort to conjure up a host of domestic and foreign surprises just before the elections to reverse the situation in his favour, just like he did with Hilary Clinton in the 2016 presidential elections. And despite the statement of the US defence secretary confirming the military institution’s commitment to protecting the citizens’ rights and properties, and expressing his aversion to using force to disperse the protesters, and despite the White House spokesperson’s refusal to comment on his statements, thus alluding to a division among decision-making bodies, the crisis will surely be contained once the masses have vented their anger and once they have been sedated with a host of patchwork solutions, and the issue will settled by forming a host of committees and offering a few police officers as scapegoats.

Nevertheless, change in democratic systems is not brought about through the ballot boxes; what is in fact occurring cannot be deemed as change. It is chaos and a cry of pain. Hence, Obama and George Bush issued their statements with the aim of containing the anger of the masses and steering them towards expressing their views through elections and preserving the mechanisms of liberal democracy and the gains of capitalism.

The hidden racism and hatred in America, expressed in the Congress report (1970), are facts epitomised by the unfolding events, and they tend to destroy the structure of societies.

Copyright © LCIR 2020

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