The American Mean Season

Cross-posted with TomDispatch.com

It's the American mean season. No question about it. Racism. Xenophobia. Refugee bashing. Seemingly endless blatant police killings (and other kinds of mistreatment) of black citizens. All of it out in the open for anyone to see and denounce -- or cheer. And at rallies nationwide, Republican candidates, especially Donald Trump, are indeed being cheered (and protestors ejected, spit upon, or beaten up) by large, almost totally white crowds for saying whatever comes next on the downward slope to hell. Even on the right, a few commentators and pundits are starting to raise the ugly word "fascism" when it comes to prospective federal registries of Muslim Americans and the like.

We know now that election 2016 is increasingly an open portal into an age-old American dark side of slavery, repression, internment, and know-nothing-ism that couldn't be grimmer. And behind it all, running like an interstate highway through our history, is a powerful sense of white skin privilege that has traditionally extended even to those who were relatively powerless. Much attention these days is being given to the next outrageous statement, whatever it might be, from Donald Trump, Ben Carson, or Ted Cruz. Far less attention is being paid to those cheering them on in their collective folly or to the media which is, post-Paris, pounding the drums, 24/7-style, when it comes to the threat of Islamic terrorism, which has since 9/11 been one of the lesser dangers in American life. The "news" has become, in essence, a fear-creation machine and so, despite all Donald Trump's attacks on it, a promotion machine for the likes of him.

Of course, in the 2016 campaign season, it couldn't be clearer that the billionaire version of white privilege is going great guns, but as for working class whites, not so much. As Barbara Ehrenreich, founding editor of the Economic Hardship Reporting Project, notes today in "Dead, White, and Blue," the sense of white privilege has taken a hit in America and that's not surprising. A recent study she cites suggests that middle-aged whites with no more than a high-school degree now have death rates that, in developed countries, come close only to those last seen among Russian men after the collapse of the Soviet Union. In other words, whole cohorts of white Americans have ever less to cheer about in their lives, which may help explain all those public cheers for Trump et al.