Trump's end may be just the beginning

Trump's end may be just the beginning
Comment: The racism and white rage that Trump came to symbolise are deeply entrenched. Biden must commit to ending America's institutionalised apathy towards white supremacy, writes Khaled Beydoun.
5 min read
19 Jan, 2021
Breaking with tradition, Trump will not attend Biden's inauguration on Wednesday [Getty]
Wednesday marks the end of the Trump presidency. But the inauguration of Joe Biden, the next American president, does not close the door on the Trump movement. 

The ominous air hanging over Biden's inauguration and the days leading up to it confirms that Trumpism - the culture of rage fueling his disparate base of supporters - will remain. And more than just remain, it will shape the turbulent and blurred landscape of American politics with its escalating culture wars.

Trump rode that rage into the White House four years ago. And today, sits at the eye of a falsely disputed presidential election, an impeachment, and a violent white storm that broke into and ransacked the US Capitol on January 6. Trump, the man, addressed and energised the motley crowd hours before their violent siege, while Trumpism, the ideology, galvanised them over four years, building the zeal to stage an attempted coup. 

The presidency was a potent platform. But for over 70 million Americans who regard Trump as their leader regardless of office or election results, the ideas he spews and symbolizes - from xenophobia to entitlement, racism and white rage - are deeply entrenched. They have taken root in the hearts of the hundreds of predominantly white men that waved Confederate flags and wore horns down the halls of the Capitol, and are entrenched in a political discourse where extremes have devoured what remained of the middle. 

Incitement of violence has become the Trump brand, repackaging white supremacy and white anxiety as righteous calls

The result is violence. Premeditated violence, and the events of January 6 in the Capitol may only signify the beginning. Since the insurrection, the FBI has been on high alert, anticipating the possibility of "war" at the Capitol and armed protests by Trump supporters in each one of the country's 50 states.

While these reports might have been regarded as hyperbole before Trump, the chaos he continues to sow during his final days in office has converted the absurd into the anticipated. Incitement of violence has become the Trump brand, repackaging white supremacy and white anxiety as righteous calls against "socialists plotting to take the country over." Or, after he lost the election, the fresh demagoguery that
threatened democracy: "Don't let them steal your country." 

The results are terrifying, and the conversations that followed the January 6 siege suggest a rising tide of "white terrorism". That "terrorism" label spurred immediate debate, pitting those seeking to disentangle the term's conflation with Muslims, against those who contend that branding whites' terrorists would invite increased crackdowns on Muslim communities.

The overnight shift in popular discourse that saw branding of the insurrectionists as "terrorists" was staggering, because violent white actors were previously largely distanced from such labelling. Calls from government officials were just as surprising, including John Miller of the NYPD counterterrorism operations, who
appealed for "an overarching statute that covers domestic terrorist organizations. And if nobody thought that was a good idea two weeks ago, they should probably be thinking about it again now."

Read more: For Arab and Muslim Democrats, Biden's victory means the fight has only just begun

In the wake of the Oklahoma City Bombing 25 years ago, Congress enacted anti-terror legislation after a group of white men planted explosives that killed 168 people. The law, dubbed the "Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act," was disproportionately enforced against Arabs and Muslims, and facilitated the enactment of strident surveillance policies following 9/11. 

Another peril associated with the terror label is that it flattens a Trumpian movement that is far more disparate and decentralised than mainstream news makes it appear. While broadly dubbed "white supremacists," the mobs that stormed the Capitol encompass a heterogeneous network of groups and organisations. This network includes the Proud Boys and Qanon believers, armed militia groups including the Oath Keepers and The Three Percenters, neo-Nazis and unaffiliated conspiracy theorists. They are distinct groups that coalesced in the capital and staged an attempted coup this country will not easily forget. 

Although independent, the far right ideology and overwhelmingly white, male composition of these groups helps them to form a salient bond. A kindred fidelity to Trump, who feeds their white anxiety and bigoted angst, is the most forceful tie between them. This is a tie that elevates Trump into a symbol of the "accosted whiteness" that pits itself against the brownification of America. A tie that makes Trumpism a lurid banner for these disparate groups to rally around, and under which they find common cover. It is a movement that will have legs long after the Trump presidency becomes history. 

Its overpowering whiteness bestows the insurrectionists with the privilege of racial invisibility

This distributed character of this movement, if it can be labeled as such, is one of its most menacing qualities. Its overpowering whiteness, which bestows the insurrectionists with the privilege of racial invisibility and freedom from collective guilt, is its most robust armour. This racial armour begs us to question, in the face of a history so resounding, if this government will ever stand up to the most violent source of terror that this soil has ever sowed? 

What comes next? What precisely is the future of "terrorism" and counterterrorism under the Biden administration? Indications convey a desire to expand surveillance and preventative "counter-radicalisation" measures against disparate white supremacist organisations.

But in order to effectively surveil and stifle violence from the likes of the Proud Boys and the Three Percenters, the Biden administration must make an unprecedented commitment to undo the institutionalised apathy to white supremacy that pervades the White House, the Department of Homeland Security and their adjoining halls of power. Effectively fighting these groups, who have shown the capacity for orchestrated violence, requires that structural divestment from whiteness that looms within government.  

Trump may be gone. But the deeply rooted hate he reinvigorated has only just begun to rise.

Khaled A. Beydoun is a law professor at Wayne State University in Detroit, and author of the critically acclaimed book, American Islamophobia: Understanding the Roots and Rise of Fear.

Follow him on Twitter: @khaledbeydoun

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Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.