Trump and his supporters believe that he is a scapegoat. In their understanding of what that means, he is being blamed for things that aren’t his fault by “fake” news media and a “deep state” conspiracy that is trying to sabotage his presidency. It’s not entirely false. I actually agree that he is functioning as a scapegoat but in a different sense. Donald Trump is embodying the toxicity of white supremacy in a way synonymous to the symbolic role Bull Connor had in exposing the toxicity of Southern white segregationism several generations ago.
A few nights ago, CSPAN-3 ran a recording of the 1960 presidential debate between John Kennedy and Richard Nixon. In many ways, it showed what a dignified presidential debate ought to look like, which made me long for an age when honor still meant something. Though Kennedy and Nixon needled at each other throughout the debate, they did so with a decorum that belonged to an utterly different world than our political landscape today.
Kennedy and Nixon both shared the conviction that the role of the United States was to serve as the leader of the free world and savior of humanity against the evil menace of Kruschev’s communism. In some ways, Kruschev functioned as a cartoonish villain and grotesque caricature of communism similar to the way that Trump is a grotesque caricature of white supremacy today. The gift of Trump’s caricature is to bring to completion the utter invalidation of American exceptionalism (a.k.a. sublimated white supremacy) that was a respectable ideology in 1960.
The respectable white supremacy that Kennedy and Nixon represented was not less harmful to the world than the more easily lampoonable version that Trump represents. One reality that some of my social media friends have pointed out is that Trump is one of the few US presidents who has not initiated a major military intervention abroad during his presidency. One of Kennedy’s lines of attack during his debate was that the Eisenhower administration had been too soft on “communism” (even though it had clandestinely supported devastating coups in Iran and Guatemala). Kennedy himself escalated the buildup of troops in Vietnam and oversaw the Bay of Pigs disaster in Cuba.
The respectable white politics of prior generations was much better at compartmentalizing the brutality of the American empire. Trump is the first president to openly incite white supremacist paramilitary violence, but that doesn’t mean that earlier more respectable presidential administrations did much at all to clamp down on the KKK or racist police brutality. They were just part of the ugly underbelly of a more dignified version of white power.
The difference is that the full ugliness of white supremacy is being displayed shamelessly and openly now. Though Nixon invented the “Southern strategy” of speaking in dog whistles to draw white racist voters and Reagan exploited the myth of the black “welfare mama,” when Trump clumsily tries to appeal to “suburban” voters and condemn anti-racist “riots,” it’s obvious exactly what he is doing.
The savagery of Bull Connor’s firehoses made Southern segregationism ideologically indefensible. The segregationists had to regroup and reinvent themselves as a “family values” movement. The question is whether a significant enough portion of white America will be exorcised of the demon of white supremacy to create an analogous shift today. Now that the “pro-life” movement will have a 6-3 margin in the Supreme Court, it will grow increasingly difficult to cling to the single issue partisan narrative that has fueled the religious right for most of my lifetime.
It may be that a more comprehensive and devastating exorcism is necessary through the reelection of Trump and the full implementation of the fascist violence Trump has been toying with rhetorically. We may be entering a season like the years of the Argentinian dirty wars in which the “Antifa” bogeyman is deployed to imprison and murder anti-racist activists. If that happens, our country may enter a fully revolutionary situation in which whatever governance is possible after the civil war that would ensue is discontinuous with the legacy that preceded it in a way that our nation hasn’t experienced since our first Civil War.
Frantz Fanon wrote in The Wretched of the Earth that there can be no peaceful transition of power in a colonial state. It must be burned to the ground for the colonized to move forward in a fresh new political reality. I don’t want to see our social order burned to the ground because many people will be harmed and killed in the process. But whichever way this goes down, the exorcism will happen because the collective consciousness of white people requires it.
One of the basic lies of modern western thought is the presumption that consciousness can be experienced as autonomous individuals rather than as permeable selves always interpenetrated by and incorporated into a collective body in which spiritual disease is shared the way that all the cells of a human body share the toxicity of inflammation in response to an infection. White America as a collective body is in a state of spiritual sepsis right now and we will bleed and vomit and agonize spiritually all over ourselves and other people until the demon is released.
It’s true that individual white people can be collectivized in a number of different configurations of identity that don’t have anything to do with race. But the atomization of our society in late capitalism has made it so that my whiteness as a white man is a more salient aspect of my identity than my residency in a specific neighborhood or my sense of being a “Virginian” or even my sense of shared identity as a Christian.
Yes, I want to be more fundamentally a member of the body of Christ than I am a white person, but the paradox is that my Christianity becomes synonymous with whiteness to the degree that I try to repress and disavow my whiteness. This is basically what’s happened in white evangelical Christianity in which the sensibilities of whiteness have distorted Christian theology to the point that salvation has become an individualized ticket to the Disneyland gated community in the sky instead of a culture of collective repentence and atonement where healing and reconciliation happen.
I understand that what I’m doing here is simply asserting a narrative lens since I’m a poet, not a scientist. I don’t have a clear prescription for what healthy exorcism looks like or anything more than a desperate hope that somehow on the other side of this, white America will experience conviction of sin, cathartic healing, and restorative justice with all whom we have harmed. Earlier this spring, I read a line in a book on Zen that expressed the kind of hope that I’m clinging to: “Whether or not you practice Zen, wholeness will reveal itself in you.”
I’ve come to believe that we are all inside of the collective consciousness that is God, some of us in healthier alignment than others, and we are continuously though excruciatingly slowly evolving towards reconciliation and integration under the patient guidance of our source. One day, we will experience our full integration into God when the cancer of every demon has been removed from our collective consciousness. I don’t know how much or how many of us will have to be thrown into the “lake of fire” and/or “outer darkness” for this healing to occur.
In 2012, I received a prophecy that the white evangelical church would be exorcised in the way that the Gerasene demoniac in Mark 5 was exorcised of his legion of demons by Jesus who cast them into a herd of pigs who threw themselves into a lake and drowned. I believe that this is what I have seen happening around me for the past eight years. The pigs keep getting uglier and more grotesque as their demons are exposed, but once they have all thrown themselves into the lake of fire, we will somehow awaken fully clothed and in our right mind, standing in a graveyard. And perhaps that will be the dawn of the age of spirit and the heavenly banquet will begin.