Trump and the White Man’s Burden

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump shakes hands during a visit to the Canfield Fair, Monday, Sept. 5, 2016, in Canfield, Ohio. (Evan Vucci/AP)

Recently, Donald Trump has begun to pursue the African-American vote in anticipation of the November election. His effort has consisted of farcical and patronizing quips, most notably: “What do you have to lose” by voting Trump-Pence? The answer to that question is “everything”; however, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, as quoted by the New York Daily News, argued “it’s unacceptable to him that members of the African-American community — and I’m sure he will say this about other communities as well — who live in violence, who are subject to that, or who do not have the educational opportunities that every child in this country should have…” 

Trump’s sincerity is dubious, though for his supporters, the message is clear—they see African-Americans and other minorities as needing the support of the archetypal Trump supporter, the middle aged white male, to guide them to safety and prosperity. While Trump and his cronies argue this “What do you have to lose?” line is rooted in the noblest of intentions, in reality, this is a modern incarnation of the “White Man’s Burden,” marking yet another callback to an absurd mindset of the past.

Though Rudyard Kipling’s original poem spoke of colonialism as a divine cause for white European civilization, the same sentiment existed throughout American history; institutionalized racial superiority mirrored the oppression of minorities and non-white citizens, making it no surprise that Trump supporters are shown to be nostalgic for 1950s society.

Perhaps, as Ester Bloom of the Atlantic argued, one cannot assume those who yearn for the 50s are thinking of the Jim Crow south and widespread disenfranchisement, instead dreaming of national economic prowess and recent victory in WWII. However, it cannot be denied that the “greatness” of this period was isolated to a socioeconomic segment that rung every drop of labor and freedom from all others.  

Trump is spewing nativist language in order to scapegoat immigrants—the chief concern of Trump voters— creating a voting bloc aligned via racial, not economic concerns. West Virginia is 93.6 percent white, with 18.3 percent of the population living in poverty; yet, the state has a 27-point advantage for Trump according to polls collected by RealClearPolitics. When impoverished white workers come together to vote for a billionaire real estate tycoon, the sincerity of their economic concerns collapses.

An August Pew Poll found that 66 percent of Trump supporters viewed immigration as a “very big problem” in America, as compared with 17 percent of Clinton voters. While 70 percent of Clinton voters see economic disparity as concerning, only 31 percent of Trump voters agreed. His message has been so effective that Trump voters now cast anger down the pipeline to migrant workers, instead of up the economic food chain to the wealth disparities perpetuated by Trump and others.

This ties into his message to African-Americans, as Trump attempts to pit all disparaged groups of Americans against immigrants and the “establishment,” in hopes of creating enough intoxicating anger to come out ahead. The candidate is becoming engrossed by his own lies and tactics, using a xenophobic message of nativism, while simultaneously trying to appeal to African-American voters through paternalism.

Donald Trump has realized that, unlike in the “great” period of the 1950s, it is not possible to win an American presidential election without some segment of the minority vote. Instead of trying to get to real issues in these communities, he has come to rely on his role as savior, descending like Cecil Rhodes on the inner city, to bring “prosperity” and peace.

If Trump is elected in November, one can be sure that his attempts to solve the problems of minority communities and economic disparity will fail. In using the same narrative of the white man’s burden, Trump has proven himself without a shred of grounding in reality, floating in a dream of his own making. He is seeking to squeeze usefulness from the African-American and minority community in the form of votes, just as he is seeking to capitalize on the anger and despair of working-class white voters. If Clinton is as the media depicts, the candidate of more of the same, Trump is the candidate for the destabilization of our fragile progress.


Christopher Sacco is opinion editor for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at christopher.sacco@uconn.edu. He tweets @ChrisPSacco.