Tuesday, August 11, 2015

The Watts Rebellion: Has Trump Figured Out a Reboot of White Backlash Fifty Years On?

Today is the fiftieth anniversary of the Watts rebellion. Usually referred to as the "Watts riots," in terms of importance the uprising in Watts over six days in August of 1965 is on a level with the Whiskey Insurrection or the Haymarket affair, if not more so.

Watts is where the civil rights movement ran aground in the 1960s, black nationalism became au courant and white backlash as the main political force in the country took hold. The politics of Negrophobia, as articulated in Kevin Phillips' seminal The Emerging Republican Majority (1969), recreated the Republic Party, helped elect Ronald Reagan and enshrined neoliberalism as the decades-long paradigm governing the Western world.

There is a decent opinion piece by Jeanne Theoharis, "50 Years Later, We Still Haven’t Learned From Watts," in today's paper which reminds us that racism is not confined to the criminal justice system; rather, it pervades the entire society, thereby maintaining the persistent underdevelopment of black communities that make uprisings in Baltimore and Ferguson inevitable.
The refusal to recognize the black freedom struggle pre-Watts became a way to avoid responsibility for an unjust, unequal city, long highlighted by black Angelenos, and an excuse to demonize them for the outpouring of anger during the uprising.
A similar framing exists today. While recent uprisings in Ferguson, Cleveland and Baltimore have prompted extensive reporting on injustice in law enforcement, municipal policy and the courts, few stories have focused on the groups and people in these cities that have been highlighting these problems for years. 
Such silences are comfortable. It is easier to cast people as “thugs” than to grapple with the ways we as a society haven’t listened and wouldn’t change. It is easier to frame the situation as regrettable but outside our control (the actions of certain bad cops) than to grapple with our responsibility in maintaining an unjust criminal justice system. In doing so, we cast these tragedies as discrete incidents — and escape our larger social responsibility.
This conclusion while not explicitly stated is perfunctorily limned in Jennifer Medina's frontpager, "Watts, 50 Years On, Stands in Contrast to Today’s Conflicts." The jaw-dropper that Medina delivers is that Watts in now 70% Latino:
This is not the same Watts their parents grew up in. While the area remains persistently poor, demographics have transformed it from an African-American enclave to a neighborhood that is more than 70 percent Latino. Many blacks have moved to the suburbs in the Inland Empire and the desert north of Los Angeles. Those changes have brought their own tensions; many black residents talk of feeling pushed out while Latinos have struggled to rise to political leadership.
One glaring blind spot in Kevin Phillips' otherwise downright oracular The Emerging Republican Majority is his failure to foresee the rise of the Latino voter. Latinos now dictate presidential elections in the United States. No Republican can win the White House polling 30% of the Hispanic vote (Mitt Romney won 27%). That is why there was a collective gasp of horror in the corporate suites of the Republican National Committee when Trump kicked off his presidential campaign by tagging Mexican immigrants rapists.

Say what you will about Trump, it should be apparent by now to everyone who follows politics that he has got game. Republicans even with Marco Rubio as the nominee are unlikely to win more than 35% of Latino voters. So Trump immediately attacked them in a bid to coalesce the white working class, ever jealous of its rapidly disappearing prerogatives, around his candidacy, not to mention a number of blacks as well. (Blacks, to risk an overly broad generalization, tend not to be huge fans of Mexican immigrants.) Laura Ingraham promptly declared Trump's anti-immigrant rhetoric the coup de main of the GOP contest to date.

What this means in a general election campaign if Trump is the eventual nominee is difficult to suss out. Hillary says she is relying on a strategy of returning the Obama coalition to the polls. The Obama coalition path to victory is juiced turnout among blacks, Latinos, women and youth. Hillary cannot do this. Even if she is paired up against The Donald, I don't see her arousing much enthusiasm among Hispanics; on the other hand, I do see Trump cutting into black support for the Democratic ticket.

Maybe Trump has figured a way to reboot white backlash fifty years after the Watts rebellion.

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