If there was any doubt that American politics pivot on the issue of race, that was swept aside with the White-rage fueled nomination of Donald Trump as the standard bearer for the new Republican Party.
For decades, union membership among Whites has declined, along with their access to jobs and overall standard of living. This is particularly true for Whites who lack a college education. Suicide rates for older White males are at an all time high.
Whites, of course, are not the only ones who have been affected by the globalization of the job market. Black male unemployment under the age of 25 neared 50 percent a decade ago.
The 30-year war on drugs and the criminalization of Black communities has brought enormous expansion in incarceration rates, with Blacks, Hispanics and Native Americans being hardest hit.
Previous gains in Black education rates, life expectancy and class mobility have been wiped away by attacks on affirmative action, the social services safety net, discriminatory hiring practices and more. Even voter’s rights, the cornerstone of a democratic society, are under direct attack.
Declining standards of living have been the norm for poor and working people since the late ’70s, as has the rise in radical inequality. Since 1979, the incomes of the top quintile of wealthiest Americans grew by 42 percent.
Incomes in the middle grew by a mere 9 percent, while costs of housing, education and health care — the things that make us middle-class — rose out of reach for many.
And among the poorest Americans, incomes fell by nearly 3 percent. Among Blacks and other minorities that face daily discrimination and institutional barriers to success, the impact of rising inequality has been more profound.
In 2013, 9.6 percent of White Americans lived in poverty. The poverty rate of Black Americans was 27.2 percent.
In 2010, White households on average held eight times the average wealth of Black households. According to a 2014 study by Pew Research Center, the wealth disparity between Whites and Blacks rose to a factor of 13 in just four years.
And yet, Donald Trump isn’t speaking to the economic loss felt across most of the class and race spectrum. He is against a raise in the minimum wage. He offers little or nothing in terms of policies that address the erosion of the middle class.
When Trump says, “Make America Great Again,” his base hears “Make America White Again.” His well-known appeals to xenophobia and racism have even emboldened old guard White supremacists such as David Duke, who just announced his Senate bid by saying, “My time has come.”
The American middle class is a sinking ship, and appeals to long held White privilege are the only life raft being offered to those who believe they deserve better.
Movements for racial justice such as Black Lives Matter, along with increasing rates of racial disparity in opportunity and income have placed race front and center in American politics.
This is reflected in both local and national politics. Our own law enforcement, here in White liberal Seattle, has become increasingly violent and militarized, and trust between police and minority communities is at an all time low.
Within this environment of declining public resources and racialized economic disparity, the city of Seattle has proposed building the most expensive police station in America.
This three-story, $160-million building will exclude members of the public while cops hunker down in their bullet- and bomb-proof concrete bunker.
The message here is: It’s us against you, and we’re armed and ready. That sounds a lot like the message of the Trump campaign, and now, the Republican Party.
American politics have always revolved around race, from colonial Virginia, where race was invented, to Nixon’s Law and Order to Willie Horton and Clintonian welfare “reform,” right up to the present moment.
There can be no economic justice in America without confronting the racial injustice that divides us. This election is a referendum on White privilege, and whether White-racist backlash will prevail.
And the stakes are higher than ever. For all of us.