Ever been the designated driver or sober at a party?
I feel like I have been at that party for almost seven years, ever since the national news media began covering Donald Trump’s political career on a daily basis.
This past week, the party was off the hook. There was a celebration with an Antisemitic, white nationalist theme, with exclusive invites to Nick Fuentes, Donald Trump, Kanye West, the national media, and the Twittersphere.
Mediated outrage about the meeting ensued. Platforms from the Twittersphere to the Washington Post Opinion page demanded that the Republican party denounce Trump. Political pundits and democratic elites proclaimed the moral necessity of calling out any act of racism that Trump or the MAGA movement engaged in, this being one of them. In the process of such proclamations, these pundits and politicians implicitly staked their claims in the righteous indignation of Trump and his MAGA followers.
This discursive frame, where those on the side of social justice condemn those who are silently complicit in racism, if not overtly supportive, however, gets us nowhere. Even if correct, the discourse of moral condemnation against bigotry is, to extend the metaphor, the booze at the party. We need some distance, some sobriety, to see the discourse clearly, and ask a few simple questions: Why is this dinner, attended by a proven New White Nationalist, joined by guests who themselves are New White Nationalists, to talk about their New White Nationalist ideas, a story at all?
People have dinner with like-minded allies. To be candid, the more they eat together, the fewer times those of us who are antiracists have to worry about them eating at some other folks’ tables.
Still, in the throes of the mediated/manufactured controversy about New White Nationalists convening with one another, there are some who claim they would be comforted by politicians in the Republican party speaking out against their ex-president. The desire for a Republican outcry against The New White Nationalism is misguided for two reasons.
First, there is no groundswell of MAGA Republican officials speaking out against a racist, Antisemitic, homophobic, or sexist belief system because that is a belief system they adopt. We have known this for quite a while—and it is not limited to the past seven years. However, the catalog of racist, Antisemitic, homophobic, sexist, and Anti-democratic events, statements, and policies by the MAGA movement are quite extensive. To paraphrase Maya Angelou, when people show you who they are, believe them. Sometimes the simplest explanation is the truest: The reason MAGA Republican condemnation of Trump’s dinner guests is absent is that Republicans see no problem with Antisemitism or racism and its intersections.
I am not suggesting anything revelatory here. Indeed, the notion that Antisemitism, racism, sexism, and homophobia are new to the MAGA Republican party is simply not true and is an ahistorical view of the party. If, for instance, in the early 2000s, I was asked which political party would be infiltrated by a movement focused on, at its base, hatred for others, it would have been easy to choose an offshoot of the Republican party. It was that party that then ran on a platform banning same-sex marriage in the Constitution. This platform followed three decades of dog-whistle politics vilifying and imprisoning Black people through, among other foci, the Southern Strategy.
The second reason these calls for MAGA Republican condemnation of hatred is misguided is that such condemnation, at this point, is meaningless. Soundbites are not activism. Twitter feeds and Twitter wins do not equate to systemic change. Demands for condemnation are not the same as demands for social justice. Hence, even if a statement condemning Antisemitism, racism, sexism, or homophobia came from the superstars of the MAGA elite, would anyone take such statements seriously at this point? If not, what is the point of demanding such a statement?
There seems to be a drunken desire not for the condemnation but for what an unprovoked statement would reveal: that the MAGA Republican party could see the errors of its ways and have a change of heart as a result of an actual change in spirit and mindset. But, to paraphrase Dennis Green after a loss to my beloved Chicago Bears: The MAGA Republican party members are exactly what we thought they were. So why pretend they are something else?
I empathize with those who want the MAGA Republican party to be different. If it was not so Antisemitic, racist, sexist, and homophobic, American politics may actually function for the common good because there would be a foundation from which to align efforts. But there is no such foundation. At this point, the constant shock, manufactured as it may be, says as much about those who are shocked as it does those engaging in contemptuous behavior. Moreover, the collective energy spent on demanding apologies or illuminating the hypocrisies of MAGA Republicans is simply, wasted.
The recognition that there is no common ground between those interested in social justice and MAGA Republicans not only needs to be acknowledged but also can be a truth from which to springboard collective energy. There is no reason to wring our hands wondering if a rational point about hypocrisy, freedom, or democracy will change a MAGA Republicans’ mind. It won’t. There is no reason to continue being Charlie Brown to Lucy’s holding the football as we hope this next time will be different. It won’t.
Just as importantly, we can begin to embrace that a broad swath of America desires to oppress their brothers and sisters. In the process, we can begin to see that our outrage is not against Trump and MAGA specifically. Our outrage stems from the recognition that there is so much hate; and sadness that nothing can change that fact.
These revelations also suggest that we no longer have to attend this party. Rather than continuing to engage in this binary discourse that pits liberal/conservative, Democrat/Republican, and MAGA/Woke against one another, we who are interested in social justice need to start their own dinner parties.
Let’s embrace the strategy our black feminist philosophers espoused when seeing how racist patriarchy wielded its power: Coalition building. From democracy to social justice, the responsibility of the future lies not with showing others how and why a group of racists is wrong but instead with finding those among us with common desires to overpower and overwhelm the systems and structures that have continuously oppressed. We must overwhelm with love. It may seem trite, granted. But what if our collective energy moved from railing against a foe toward embracing a friend? What if, instead of romanticizing the possibility, we found that our obsession with exposing the hatred of MAGA was, in fact, obstructing the permeation of love throughout our systems and structures? What if, in letting go of our obsession with this tired party, we acknowledged there is no news in hateful people gathering with each other; but their power is deluded when those who love ignore them?
Dr. Michael H. Gavin
Dr. Michael H. Gavin is the President of Delta College. He is the author of two books; the most recent, The New White Nationalism in Politics and Higher Education was released this summer.
Known nationally for his administrative leadership that focuses on academic excellence and equity, Dr. Gavin has over twenty years of experience at large community colleges with enrollments of over 35,000 students. Prior to becoming an administrator, Dr. Gavin was a tenured professor of English at PGCC. He earned his doctorate in American Studies at University of Maryland the same year he was promoted to full professor.
Whether serving on national or local boards, working on a committee, or through his scholarship, Dr. Gavin is committed to the notion that community colleges have the capacity to reshape the inequities in society through open access education and teaching excellence.