How to defeat Trumpism in British Columbia over the long term

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      Yesterday at Vancouver's Stand Up to Racism Rally, writer Jessie Kaur Lehail said it's “not okay to be silent" and it's "not okay to be apathetic".

      Then she made a comment that is not often heard in the mainstream media.

      "Dismantling white supremacy has to be the work of white people,” she declared.

      Lehail has a point.

      White voters preferred Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton by a 21 percent margin, according to an exit poll by Edison Research. And that's been a wake-up call to nonwhites, who've been left wondering why so many white people got behind the candidacy of a crytpofascist racist.

      Recently as president, Trump even purported a false equivalency between white supremacists and antiracist demonstrators. What made this more insulting is that it came after a white terrorist rammed his vehicle into a diverse crowd of antiracists.

      In the last presidential election, two-thirds of whites who didn't go to college backed Trump. Trump also enjoyed a four-percentage point margin among whites with a college degree.

      That stood in marked contrast with nonwhite voters. There were even differences among young voters, who tend to be far more mistrustful of Trump than older voters.

      "Leading up to the election, polls showed that 67 percent of black youth and 36 percent of Latino youth were 'scared' of the possibility of a Trump presidency," wrote William A. Galston and Clara Hendrickson on the Brookings Institution website. 

      Yet they noted that 46 percent of white millennial males supported Trump, compared to just 33 percent of white millennial females.

      So who are these Trump supporters?

      A recent paper published in the Journal of Social and Political Psychology attempted to answer the lingering question about why so many whites backed Trump.

      The author, University of California Santa Cruz psychology professor Thomas F. Pettigrew, pointed out that the Trump movement is "not singular" within the United States.

      He cited the movement for segregationist U.S. presidential candidate George Wallace in the 1960s, the Know Nothing movement of the 1850s, and even the recent Tea Party movement as having something in common.

      "Moreover, other democracies have seen similar movements (e.g. Austria's Freedom Party, Belgium's Vlaams Blok, France's National Front, Germany's Alternative for Germany Party [AfD], and Britain's U.K. Independence Party [UKIP])," Pettigrew wrote. "In virtually all these cases, the tinder especially involved male nativists and populists who were less educated than the general population."

      But he noted that this "core" was joined by other types of voters. And they shared the following characteristics:

      1. Authoritarianism

      Pettigrew cited various academic research indicating that this syndrome includes several traits: "deference to authority, aggression toward outgroups, a rigidly hierarchical view of the world, and resistance to new experience".

      "Authoritarianism is typically triggered by threat and fear (Feldman & Stenner, 1997Stenner, 2005), and authoritarians tend to view the world as a very dangerous and threatening place (Allport, 1954)," he wrote.

      2. Social dominance orientation

      The U.S. president's supporters register high in this area, according to Pettigrew. And as the Republican presidential candidate, Trump exploited this.

      "Trump’s speeches, studded with such absolutist terms as 'losers' and 'complete disasters,' are classic authoritarian statements," Pettigrew noted. "His clear distinction between groups on the top of society (Whites) and those 'losers' and 'bad hombres' on the bottom (immigrants, Blacks and Latinos) are classic social dominance statements."

      3. Prejudice

      Pettigrew maintained that Trump's keenest foot soldiers have prejudices not only against immigrants, but against other groups.

      "He has repeatedly made unconcealed use of prejudice against outgroups ranging from 'dangerous' Muslims to Mexican 'rapists'," Pettigrew wrote. "His dedicated followers loved it; breaking with so-called 'political correctness,' he blared openly what they had been saying privately.

      4. Intergroup contact

      Trump's white supporters have far less contact with minorities than whites who voted for either Clinton or Green candidate Jill Stein.

      One of the strongest indicators of Trump's support was racial and ethnic isolation at the zip code level. People in exclusively white areas were far more likely to vote for him than those living in more diverse areas.

      "Consistent with this finding, these researchers also found that Trump support increased as an area’s distance from the Mexican border increased," Pettigrew wrote. "Throughout the world, intergroup contact has been shown typically to diminish prejudice by reducing intergroup fear and inducing empathy."

      5. Relative deprivation

      The median household income of Trump supporters was $81,898, which was higher than that of Clinton. So Pettigrew makes the case that the focus on unemployed angry white workers electing Trump is somewhat overstated.

      "Trump followers were less likely than others to be looking for work, unemployed or part-time employed," he wrote. "And those voters living in districts with more manufacturing were actually less favorable to Trump." 

      However, Pettigrew noted that "Trump adherents feel deprived relative to what they expected to possess at this point in their lives and relative to what they erroneously perceive other 'less deserving' groups have acquired".

      "Rapidly rising costs of housing and prescription drugs have aggravated their financial concerns," the psychology professor stated. "Their savings may not allow the type of ideal retirements they had long envisioned." 

      The slogan "Make American Great Again" played into these feelings that Trump voters had been shortchanged, even if they hadn't been.

      Jon Cranny

      Where to go from here?

      If whites elected Trump (and they did) and white supremacists are being encouraged by Trump's election (and they are), then what should be done by whites who oppose this mindset?

      For starters, they're going to have to tackle the fundamental underpinnings driving Trumpism. Because if they don't, more Trumplike politicians will likely try to tap into the same undercurrents to get elected in the future.

      This is most important to keep in mind: Donald Trump is the symptom, not the disease itself. Once he's gone, the problem won't go away.

      Educators, particularly in mostly white areas, will have to play a key role, as will the media.

      The schools are already doing a good job in B.C. in undermining the rise of authoritarian personality syndrome.

      The new focus on self-regulation as well as long-standing campaigns against bullying are a positive step in building empathy.

      The group Life After Hate is also helping by sending former white supremacists into the community to elevate understanding about the factors that drive vulnerable white kids into these groups.

      But more needs to be done in exposing students in almost exclusively white areas to diverse voices.

      As an example, when I studied journalism, guest speakers like Ujjal Dosanjh (before he was elected as an MLA) and Indigenous leader Bill Wilson visited my classes to talk about difficult issues within their communities.

      These were memorable events for the students and sparked curiosity to learn more. 

      The NDP government is bringing back the B.C. Human Rights Commission, which will have a mandate to advance awareness.

      The new commission needs to work with Education Minister Rob Fleming and school districts to get guest speakers and artists from minority communities visiting classrooms in the 250 area code, where there isn't nearly as much diversity.

      The new B.C. Human Rights Commission can make use of modern communications techniques, like the short video below, to encourage people to leave hate groups.

      Videos like these can help persuade young white supremacists to exit the movement.

      As the video above states, since September 2001, homegrown white supremacists have killed more Americans on U.S. soil than ISIS, al-Qaeda, and the Taliban combined. This is an extremely serious public-policy issue.

      But it's not just educators, politicians, and the B.C. Human Rights Commission who must carry the can. Anyone who's hosting a dinner party over the Christmas holidays can make efforts to be inclusive.

      Exposing white family members who live in a white-siloed world to articulate people of colour can also help undermine prejudice and beat back Trumpism. 

      Whites can think about taking a friend or a work colleague living in a white-siloed world to a foreign movie or a festival highlighting other cultures.

      And what about that real and palpable sense of relative deprivation that Pettigrew referred to? Here, more needs to be done to educate the public about the true causes of growing income inequality. It wasn't so long ago that the wealthiest among us paid far higher marginal income tax rates.

      There also used to be national standards for social assistance, preventing the race to the bottom among provinces. Those standards were obliterated in the 1995 federal budget.

      This has fuelled homelessness. This gives those with social dominance orientation a reason to feel superior to them. 

      Addressing the root causes of income inequality and homelessness can send a message that society is becoming more equal. This could diminish that sense of relative deprivation that comes from believing the deck is stacked in favour of the elites.

      In addition, it's imperative to educate kids in schools about colonialism—and how the looting of other countries heightened First World prosperity in the 20th century. 

      Surrey writer Phinder Dulai's book of poetry, dream/arteries, is but one example of a multitude of reading material that drives this point home. This would provide some much-needed perspective.

      In the meantime, the B.C. government is reviewing social studies curriculum for grades 10 to 12, which is a good thing.

      It's part of a broader redesigned curriculum that, we're told, will provide more opportunities for teachers to explore subjects in-depth in the classroom.

      Hopefully, this will help cultivate a more curious population in the future.

      In a penetrating essay on the bombing of Air India Flight 182, poet Renee Sarojini Saklikar pointed out that we Canadians "often lack a capacity for educated curiosity".

      "This lack of curiosity is a defining characteristic of ethnocentrism," Saklikar wrote in the Straight in 2010 on the 25th anniversary of the bombing. "It led to a failure to identify and know the risk of an extremist terror threat right in our midst."

      Poet Renee Sarojini Saklikar pointed to the lack of educated curiosity in Canada as a factor behind the bombing of Air India Flight 182 in 1985.

      Ignorance is nothing new

      This lack of educated curiosity has dogged the world for centuries.

      The Know Nothing Party of the 1840s and 1850s demonstrated the same fear about Catholics that we're now seeing among modern know-nothings when it comes to Muslims.

      The Know Nothing Party believed a Papist conspiracy was going to subvert all that was good about America.

      The modern know-nothings talk about Sharia law being imposed on Canada. It would be laughable were it not so dangerous. This is the kind of thinking that led to this year's massacre at a Quebec City mosque.

      This, in turn, raises questions about how to cultivate a more curious population.

      Psychologist Todd B. Kashdan at the Center for the Advancement of Well-Being at George Mason University has written extensively on this topic in the workplace. Business organizations could invite him to speak to their members about how building curiosity at work can spur innovation.

      He has outstanding ideas on how workplace leaders can model curiosity for their employees.

      One of the fringe benefits of his approach, which rejects authoritarianism, is that it can also encourage people to be a little less Trumplike at work.

      Meanwhile, there's no shortage of material available about how to encourage curiosity in schools, including Wendy L. Ostroff's Cultivating Curiosity in K-12 Classrooms.

      Both Kashdan and Ostroff make the case that curiosity already exists. They key is helping people find the motivation and not stamping out their enthusiasm for learning.

      People can change. That was demonstrated when a bunch of hillbilly Reform Party MPs from mostly white regions went to cosmopolitan Ottawa.

      Their thinking evolved over time, perhaps not to the degree that would satisfy liberals, but enough so that the most xenophobic candidate in the last Conservative leadership race, Kellie Leitch, only captured 7.95 percent support.

      This is from the same party's precursor that once wanted to ban turbans from the RCMP for offending Canadian values.

      Take this as a sign of progress.

      But it still doesn't take much to light the flame of authoritarianism in our midst. That was clearly demonstrated south of the border during the last presidential campaign.

      It's a long-term project building up sufficient critical mass to nip it in the bud, as occurred yesterday at Vancouver City Hall when thousands showed up for a counterprotests against Islamophobes.

      While those who cherish diversity can take satisfaction in this victory, there's never room for complacency. Especially when a former top Trump adviser like Steve Bannon has returned to quarterback Breitbart News.

      The new B.C. government has an opportunity and the resources to maintain the fight against Trumpism in our province.

      If it approaches this with intelligence and a keen sense of the root causes, there's no reason it can't be extinguished for generations to come.

      But it will take time, money, and commitment. And it will be well worth the effort over the long term.