Race, Gender, and George Soros

Neni Panourgiá

It’s been a few days since the victory of Donald Trump on the Electoral College. Numb from the results, shaken and panicked all of us who did not vote for him—and I mean this globally, not just in the strict confines (physical and imaginary) of the United States— are trying to understand how the unthinkable happened, how the elections were won by a candidate who is to the right of George W. Bush and who, for the first time in the history of the country, has no prior experience of public service—not only has he ever not been a mayor or a county clerk, but he has never even run for office, he has never served, and has no idea about the basic operations of the country and governance (meaning that he does not know that a law can only be repealed or overturned by the legislature, that the President cannot simply order such an act). 

Explanations about the victory, both on the level of procedures and institutions and on the level of affect abound. Before anything else is said, though, we need to keep in mind that as I am writing these words Hillary Clinton has won the popular vote by 400,000 votes over Trump. Even for an electoral system such as the US one this is a numerically large difference. But the President is not voted by popular vote but through the Electoral College, and there Hillary Clinton lost. 

The Republican Party, over the last fourteen years, has engaged in radical rezoning of the electoral districts so that instead of the mixed districts that include Democrats and Republicans, whites and People of Color, upper, middle, and lower economic classes, progressives and conservatives, they have produced new districts that are cut through ideological lines. The practice leads to the creation of electoral pockets that lead straight to a guided electoral result; in other words it is a practice that helps the Electoral College and not the popular vote. In this way no one can declare a rigged election even though the results are institutionally rigged. This is what is called gerrymandering. In Greece we know it as a “baklava” or a “triphasiko” and all we have to do is think back to the elections of 1956 to see what results it produces. 

The practice in the US has been in place since 1788, it was prohibited by law after the Voting Rights Act of 1965 because it canceled, de facto, the Black vote, but under different guises and different names it is still in place.  The two maps below show the results of the 2012 gerrymandering (first map) and what the map would really look like if redistricting was based on the actual census of 2010 (the second map). I am not arguing that Trump won as a result of gerrymandering, but there is no question about the fact that gerrymandering has been a factor in his victory. 


And, of course, the elections were not free of electoral violence. I do not mean here physical violence but an institutional violence—voters who belong to visible minorities, i.e. Black and Brown people, were discouraged or disallowed to voted. Many of them were asked for non-existent IDs—for instance a Latina voter in Connecticut who went to vote with her daughter was asked by the voting officials to show her ID. She did not have a driver’s license but a state-issued non-driver’s ID. She was told that she could not use that because it said on it that this is not a federal document while the elections are federal. It took the intervention of other, white voters, who had their driver’s licenses with them which also say that they are not a federal document, so that the officials allowed the voter to vote. How many such instances have happened around the country? We will never know. But even that, by itself, did not produce the Trump victory.

As it has already been pointed out (see Kostis Karpozilos, Chronos) there were a number of organic factors that led to Trump’s victory: he had a very specific (even if vociferous) message to offer while Hillary Clinton, despite her immense political experience, her fierce intelligence, and her abilities, lacks both message and imagination. We saw that in her first run against Barack Obama, in her run against Bernie Sanders, and in the final confrontation with Trump. She rested on her (wrangled from Sanders) laurels of being the first woman nominated to the candidacy, on the (virtually) invincible Clinton machine, and on the accomplishments of the Obama administration which, I suppose, she thought that no judicious citizen would dare to put in jeopardy. Accomplishments that were the culmination of decades of struggles (such as the Equal Pay Act, the repeal of DADT, of DOMA, LGBTQ rights, Affordable Care Act, the Paris agreement, the Iran Agreement, to name only a few).

And I think that that is precisely the key to the Trump victory: it is the return of the repressed. Or, rather, of two repressed—the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the outcome of the American Civil War that the Act sought to address. To put it bluntly—the Trump victory is proof that the American Civil War has not finished. Not only has it not finished but its subterranean ideology has acquired an expanded armature with new structures of exclusions—gender, sexuality, ethnicity. Despite all that, though, what we are seeing now prevail, as result of the Trump candidacy and election, is a raw, genuine, internalized racism; not just general exclusion but focused racism that targets Blacks and other people of color. It becomes painfully obvious if we think that Trump was elected on the vote of 53% of the white women (62% of the working class white women) and 63% of the general white male population. These numbers underline the racial truth of Trump’s voters: their racial repulsion transcends both gender and socioeconomic class. The percentages are almost interchangeable. That explains how on Trump’s stump it was thought as legitimate to chant slogans such as “shoot the b*tch, hang the n*gger”  (http://politicaldig.com/shoot-the-btch-hang-the-ngger-unfiltered-rally-videos-show-trumps-america/), slogan that makes safely transparent the sociopolitical position of his electorate (where if your dog does something wrong you shoot it, and if an African American bothers you, you hang him) that predates both the 14th and the 19th Amendments (of 1868 and 1920, respectively) and the Civil Rights Act of 1964. In other words, it is a slogan that categorizes both the woman candidate and the Black president as not-human-enough, places them in the category of beings whose life can be taken with impunity, where their killing would not constitute a homicide. And here is the point where the entire issue becomes even more complicated for the woman and is precisely the point that allows me to claim that racism transcends and overcomes gender—because this was a slogan chanted by both men and women, together. “Kill the b*tch, hang the n*gger”—a slogan chanted by 53% of white women without any hesitation. (The only marker that this racism does not transcend – and this with the exception of Florida – is education. The higher the degree of education, the lower the percentages in Trump votes.)

In an article published in The New York Times on Friday, November 11th that addresses specifically the women’s vote, a number of women voters were asked why they voted the way that they did. The women gave a number of reasons for having voted this way: because Trump is a successful businessman (even though that has come under great questioning, how successful he is exactly), because he has brought up his children correctly (and here would need to problematize what “correctly” means), and especially his daughter Ivanka (the women thought that Ivanka Trump’s forceful presence proves that Trump is not a misogynist), because they consider the Obama government and Hillary Clinton responsible for globalization (and there is truth to that, even though globalization precedes both by a few decades). But they also said that they voted for Trump because they “can’t understand the Black Lives Matter movement, wondered why the Democrats seemed so fixated on transgender bathrooms. . . . and were troubled. . . . by an America that seems to have embraced multiculturalism and political correctness without question.” Women voted for Trump not despite his positions (on Black and Brown people, on women, on minorities) but because of his positions on these issues. That’s what comes out from the responses of these women. And, as Vito Laterza pointed out a couple of days ago, we have to look with some suspicion at the reasons why it has been claimed so forcefully that the working class, as an economic force, voted for Trump, by looking at the South African example (https://vitolaterzaen.wordpress.com/2016/11/10/the-dangers-of-the-myth-of-trumps-white-working-class-support/). 

What the Civil Rights Act managed to do was the criminalization of racism, a gesture that managed to put in motion the social machine so that in time the structures that had solidified social and political exclusions would be placed under control. This is how the women’s movement managed to take over the multiple fronts that it was fighting, how the gay movement managed to criminalize anti-gay violence, how a number of legislations were put in place that protected the disabled, prisoners, immigrants, etc. But these legislative bills, just like the 14th Amendment, put the institutional structures in place without managing to transfer the spirit of the laws onto the population so that the rights would become conscience. This way, all those who felt comfortable calling African Americans “n*ggers” in their immediate and protected environment , now, having taken license form their candidate behave as if the Amendment never happened, as if it is, again, the time of “then.” This is what Kostis Karpozilos called “an again” that never was, an again of a then that never existed. Only, in the case of the Black population, unfortunately, it did exist, that “then” for which  these voters are longing. What Trump unleashed was precisely the anger for the imposition of boundaries—boundaries of civilization, understanding, being and acting. What we are experiencing right now is the return of the repressed—of the repressed anger, fear, hatred. Many, then, voted for Trump because they thought that he would shake up things, these things; that he would move the tectonic plates of politics (look at this also https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2016/11/08/a-new-theory-for-why-trump-voters-are-so-angry-that-actually-makes-sense/?wpisrc=nl_most-draw10&wpmm=1).

There is yet another point that has two dimensions, which proved to be advantageous to the Trump campaign, and that is the issue of the relationship between the electorate and politicians in general. The first dimension is that many voters saw Hillary Clinton as a continuation and extension not only of Obama but (and this is the point of greater consternation) of Bill Clinton. And they are not wrong to think that, especially as far as the Clintons are concerned. My students in the maximum security prison where I teach know this on their bodies, as it were. In their overwhelming majority they are in prison because of the draconian measures passed by the Clinton administration in 1995. As one of them who is serving 25-to life for murder told me “I am here because I killed someone, I am guilty of the crime that I have been accused of. But the guy in the cell next to mine is serving the same sentence as me for having been caught with some grams of coke on him.” 

The other dimension, which is perhaps even more interesting, is that a large segment of the electorate considers that all politicians are puppets of George Soros (see the comments on the previous link), who say one thing on the campaign trail and another thing after they are elected, and that Trump will be just like everyone else and that his revolting and shameful promises will never materialize. But both of these dimensions find common ground in a strange co-incidence, namely in Trump’s supporters and in the anti-authority movement of the youth who took the conscious decision to abstain from voting, with the objective that this would lead to the destabilization and collapse of the system and that in its wake radical new arrangements of power would appear that would reorganize the relationship of the citizen to the state and to the concept of the political in general. If the Trump voters appear naïve as to what he might or might not implement, there is an equal measure of naiveté, criminal naiveté, on the part of the “conscientious political objectors.”  

We thought that we had hit hard bottom with the Bush presidency, but what we see now is that there is no bottom. I would never think that I would say this at my age but Nikos Kazantzakis seems pertinent here—god, don’t give me all that I can bear. 

Since Tuesday night (11/8) the world has changed. New York has changed. The feel in the streets is eerily reminiscent of that after 9/11—quiet, people crying without apparent trigger, concerned friends holding each other tightly in silence. On Thursday evening a Palestinian friend leaving her house in the West Village was confronted by a passer-by who yelled at her “Get your stuff and leave; Trump’s train is coming for you” (look at this, too http://www.lgbtqnation.com/2016/11/21-heartbreaking-things-happened-people-color-one-day-trumps-win/#.WCTBE9TrlME.facebook). Slogans against non-whites, non-straights, non-Christians have started appearing everywhere: at university halls and dormitories, at primary and secondary schools, at churches, mosques, and synagogues, on the cars of private citizens, on the walls of various institutions. Are there pockets of safety left? No one knows. No one knows since Trump’s public discourse legitimized the transgressions of racism and social exclusion. There is only one hope at this point—that politicians rarely keep their campaign promises.


(first published in CHRONOS magazine, 14 Nov. 2016)


ΧΡΟΝΟΣ #43, 14 Νοεμβρίου 2016

Neni Panourgia

Visiting Associate Professor of Anthropology at the New School for Social Research and faculty at the Department of Classics and the Institute for Comparative Literature and Society, Columbia University. Has taught at Princeton, Rutgers, New York University, and as University Professor at Université de Paris VIII, St Denis. Has been Research Fellow at the Center for Advanced Holocaust Studies at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, at Princeton University, at Ohio State University, and at Panteion University (Greece). She is Social Sciences Editor for the Journal of Modern Greek Studies.Her articles and reviews have appeared in American Ethnologist, American Anthropologist, American Historical Review, Cultural Anthropology, Journal of Modern Greek Studies, angelaki, Al-Jazeera, and elsewhere. She is the author of Fragments of Death, Fables of Identity. An Athenian Anthropography (1995) co-editor with George Marcus of Ethnographica Moralia, Experiments in Interpretive Anthropology (2008)and Dangerous Citizens. The Greek Left and the Terror of the State (2009, also at www.dangerouscitizens.columbia.edu). 

Το κλειδί της νίκης Τραμπ βρίσκεται στην επιστροφή του απωθημένου. Ή μάλλον, των δύο απωθημένων: της Πράξης Πολιτικών Δικαιωμάτων του 1964 και του αποτελέματος του Αμερικανικού Εμφυλίου που εκείνη η Πράξη στόχευσε να εξομαλύνει. Δηλαδή, για να το θέσω σαφώς, η νίκη Τραμπ είναι η απόδειξη ότι ο Αμερικανικός Εμφύλιος δεν έχει τελειώσει. Όχι μόνο δεν έχει τελειώσει αλλά το ιδεολογικό του υπόβαθρο έχει αρματωθεί με μία σειρά άλλων, νεότερων δομών αποκλεισμού – φύλου, σεξουαλικότητας, ιθαγένειας. Παρά ταύτα, όμως, αυτό που βλέπουμε στις αμερικανικές εκλογές να κυριαρχεί είναι ο ωμός, πηγαίος, ενστερνισμένος ρατσισμός – φυλετικός ρατσισμός.