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Thomas Zimmer on the “extremist ethno-religious movement that has galvanized behind Trump” and how “mainstream political discourse” Perpetuates It

Here in Virginia, we saw this exact type of thing in 2006, with George Allen's references to a supposedly "real," overwhelmingly white Virginia vs. the highly diverse place we actually live in.


Another day, another brilliant thread by Thomas Zimmer (historian at Georgetown University). This time, Zimmer discussed the “Fascistic Myth of Trump’s Special Connection to ‘Real America’” and how “mainstream political discourse is perpetuating ideas that form the bedrock of the extremist ethno-religious movement that has galvanized behind Trump.” According to Zimmer:

  • “The ideology of ‘real Americanism’ provides the foundation for the anti-democratic radicalization of the Right, forms the basis of its normalization in the mainstream political discourse, and helps explain why the response to the authoritarian threat has been lacking.”
  • “There is a widely held view that the mainstream media has a duty to provide a prominent platform to Trump and his base because Trump embodies and gives voice to a populist uprising of ‘regular folks’ who had supposedly been unfairly ignored by arrogant elites in 2016.”
  • “Trump voters are assigned a special importance: As they are overwhelmingly white and share certain reactionary sensibilities, they qualify as ‘authentic’ Americans. If you speak for them, as Trump supposedly does, it is your prerogative to have your message amplified.”
  • “This claim manifests, for instance, in the pervasive ‘heartland’ idea, which isn’t a place as much as it is a heavily ideological concept implying authentic Americanism for some people in certain regions, but not for others”
  • “‘Parents,’ ‘working class,’ ‘Christians’ – whenever such categories are used without any qualifier, they basically come with a silent “white.” Because “white” is still widely seen as normal, as the norm: as what really counts and defines the nation.”
  • “Think of the way angry white reactionaries who storm school board meetings are described as ‘concerned parents’ – but Black parents are special interest groups and progressive educators are ‘activists.'”
  • “Since Trump’s base aggressively displays all the racial, ideological, cultural, and geographical markers that are coded as “authentic” within the ideological construct of ‘real Americanism,’ it is assumed to be representing the essence of the nation. By extension, Trump, their leader, is treated as if he, who speaks for them, has a special connection to the heart and soul of America. This assumption has shaped the coverage of Trump and the way America’s political and civic institutions have approached him. “
  • “Such ideas are very much in line with the fascistic assumption that Trump personifies the real Volk (I am using the German term deliberately here): He speaks for it, it speaks through him. He is not just the tribune giving voice to the people, he is one with the people.”
  • “In a democratic society, the media should strive to reveal, question, and criticize – rather than perpetuate – those anti-democratic ideas that privilege a certain group as the real Volk and the claims by pseudo-populist leaders to be representing the ‘authentic’ people. However, the problem extends well beyond the media ecosystem, as most mainstream institutions of America’s political and civic life have proven similarly unwilling and/or unable to question their assumptions and change their approach.”

Scary stuff. Also note that we’ve seen this exact phenomenon here in Virginia, such as in the 2006 U.S. Senate campaign, when George Allen talked about how a location in Virginia (Breaks/Dickenson County) that is 99% white is “real Virginia,” while apparently more racially/ethnically diverse, urban/suburban parts of Virginia are NOT “real Virginia.” Allen’s comments, of course, were not surprising coming from someone who had long admired the Confederacy, had called an Asian-American member of the Jim Webb campaign a “macaca” (which turned out to be a racist slur), etc. In response, Allen’s “real Virginia” racism spurred a countermovement by Webb supporters (including filmmakers Annabel Park and Eric Byler) called “Real Virginians for Webb,” which – in stark contrast to the exclusionary, white supremacist vision of George Allen and his ilk (today, Donald Trump is the leader of this movement in America) – CELEBRATED the amazing diversity of Virginian, and the fact that “real Virginia” is EVERYWHERE – in cities, suburbs, exurbs, rural areas, you name it. Because, as Democrats, our view is that America is made STRONGER by its diversity. In stark contrast, Trumpists falsely believe that diversity makes America (specifically, white/male/straight/Christian America) WEAKER. That’s the battle we’re in the midst of today – and the battle we must win – even if the “mainstream media” rarely spells it out as clearly as Thomas Zimmer just did.


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