During Lent, I have been preaching a series about living fear-free lives because I am frustrated that politicians for too long have been motivating and manipulating us by exploiting our fears. Regardless of how you feel about Donald Trump, he brilliantly used white America’s fear, anger, and resentment to get enough electoral votes to be selected president.
In an NPR interview last Friday, a professor observed that Trump used NAFTA to attack Hillary Clinton because it was passed during her husband’s presidency. He blamed the trade agreement for the loss of American jobs in the manufacturing centers of the Midwest. White people who had been laid off because plants moved to Mexico were ready to respond to Trump’s angry message, and enough of them did, allowing him to acquire the needed electoral votes.
According to the professor interviewed on NPR, though, the anger was misplaced. He noted that if NAFTA had not allowed these jobs to move to Mexico they would have moved to China. The bottom line is that manufacturers were seeking low-wage workers that they could exploit, as well as a setting in which safety wasn’t a big concern and which they could pollute to their hearts’ content. More than that, mechanization and technology have greatly reduced the number of human workers that are needed in any country.
However, stirring up anger and fear against mechanization and technology doesn’t benefit politicians. Railing against a treaty that ostensibly benefited people with brown skin who speak a different language, though, is a powerful manipulator. Racism has been a long-time tool of politicians, especially in the South. It was Nixon’s “Southern Strategy,” and it alone explains the grip his party has had on Southern states. We have allowed them to divide us and to use anger and fear to motivate a base that votes more passionately than mushy liberals and moderates.
The bottom line is that this strategy will continue to work if we don’t learn how to recognize it and name it out loud. Why is it that the first time I heard anyone name the attack on NAFTA as racism was months after the election? Why have we not been asking the president and the congress if we are going to build a wall on the Canadian border or if only Mexicans have taken economic advantage of us through NAFTA. Really?
Rev. Michael Piazza