Big Lies and Endless Grievances by Hugh J. Curran (OpEdNews Op Eds) 1/23/2021
The strident arguments put forward that “voter fraud” has taken place in the recent election continues to resonate with a segment of the population. What do the deniers really want? Is it a return to a status that kept blacks and indigenous in a secondary role? Is it that those who have, up to the present, been possessed of majoritarian status are convinced that an authoritarian government is necessary, or is it that the ideology of white supremacy is uppermost in their minds?
In a World Values Survey (WVS) in 1995, 25% of Americans believed in a “strong leader who does not need to bother with election results”, whereas by 2017, “38% of Americans considered this non-democratic result as acceptable”. This belief has now been adopted by one-third of the population, and Donald Trump's claim regarding the election being stolen has found an electorate willing to accept his “big lie”. Why is this sense of privilege and victim-hood so pervasive? Is it a recent phenomenon?
According to sociologist Jacqueline Battalora, white rights and white privileges are historically based. The use of the term “white” was invented following Bacon's Rebellion in 1674, as a strategic way of dividing the laboring classes from the privileged land-owners. Such property-owners decided on a “divide and conquer” policy to prevent further rebellions. In addition, an anti-miscegenation law had been passed in 1664, which was not discontinued for three hundred years. By diverting white grievances from class-based to race-based, the strategy adopted made white laboring class believe themselves possessing a higher status than African-Americans.
The anti-miscegenation law was deliberately contrived to prohibit free blacks from possessing weapons and from testifying against whites. “White”, as a designation, was built on the idea that white people were freeborn and deserving of rights and privileges denied to non-whites. In other words, “whiteness” became a political tool whose intention was to maintain control. The result of this was that the 1st Congress in 1790 decided that in order to become a citizen of the U.S. one had to be white, a stipulation that continued for 150 years. This stipulation made sure that, not only blacks, but also Native Americans, as well as Asian immigrants were not allowed to become citizens, which also meant they were not allowed to vote nor to have political clout.
This attitude became embedded in the body politic to such an extent that a man with authoritarian pretensions such as Donald Trump could gain considerable support with his attempts to invalidate the elections in key states. His legal efforts never gained traction in the law courts, and even the Supreme Court, which Trump had convinced himself would support him, refused to do so since there was absolutely no evidence of voter fraud.
Although the causes of white privilege extend back several hundred years, our present dilemma has a more recent history. In the 1920s Lothrop Stoddard became a popularizer of the Nordic Theory of race superiority while Madison Grant was known as the author of “The Passing of the Great Race”, published in 1916. Grant's book was translated into other languages and read by a future German Fuhrer, who praised the book as “my bible”. Grant used the term “master race” to designate white supremacists and later became one of the directors of the American Eugenics Society, a society that encouraged sterilization as a means of controlling populations deemed unsuitable. This was also true of Lothrop Stoddard, whose 1920 book, The Rising Tide of Color: The Threat Against White World-Supremacy, had an introduction by Madison Grant. Lothrop Stoddard's views were decried and derided by WEB Dubois in a 1929 Chicago debate with several thousand in attendance.
Grant's and Stoddard's discredited theory is contrasted with the current science behind genetic studies, which asserts that human differences in intelligence are relatively minor and all humans share most traits in common and that differences within racial groups are far more similar than differences between racial groups. The basis of whiteness as a mark of distinction was at one time prevalent and such expressions as Aryans and Nordics were widely used. In fact, the term “Nordic” was resurrected by Donald Trump when he asserted that non-white, non-Nordic countries were “s*hole countries”.
The fear of losing status and privileges to non-white citizens continues to be pervasive among a substantial portion of the population. The repetitive use of the “big lie”, with “voter fraud” as an underlying theme, suggests that real voters are white Americans while non-white voters are not real Americans. The Republican Party now represents this white American Party, while Democrats are branded as “far left” because they are more inclusive of the concerns of blacks, whites, Asians, Native Americans, Mexican-Americans, etc.
Even as “voter fraud” is shown to be demonstrably false the repetition of the phrases “fake news” and “Make America Great Again” have become political ploys that will eventually lose their virulence. Such expedient phrases have a 300-year history but by looking back we are allowed to see the history of our political world with some degree of comprehension. We can realize that creating divisiveness based upon race is no longer sustainable since global communication and rapid transportation has begun breaking us out of three centuries of pathological manipulation of racial differences.
The 21st century encompasses us in a global world where the usual emotional politics, based on invented prejudices, are no longer viable. Although we may experience reversions to older forms of politics, as in the resentful, angry Republican administration that is now, fortunately, out of office, we are in a far greater need of entering a multi-cultural, multi-colored world. The legacy of a racist past and the demagogues who take advantage of past antagonisms, with the support of such groups as QAnon, the proud boys and the Boogaloo Bois, will become only irritants when their roles are no longer magnified by the media, even as they continue to cling to resentments, victim-hood and grievances.
Hugh J. Curran is on the faculty of the Peace & Reconciliation Studies Program at the University of Maine.