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  • Reverend James Squire

Newton Was Right

Updated: Feb 12, 2021



Sir Isaac Newton’s most famous words were “For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.” During a recent post I suggested that the best book on race is Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents by Isabel Wilkerson. She makes the point that America has a caste system much like Nazi Germany under Hitler and India with its lowest cast, the Dalits. One of her points regarding America as a caste system is that white people must have someone in the lowest caste so that there is always someone that they feel are inferior to them. That is Wlkerson’s reaction to today’s racial conflict.

Newton’s words ring true in understanding the opposite reaction of the popularity that President Trump has as we move into the final week before the election. It was pointed out that Trump’s comment to women that they “should love him for getting their husbands back to work” was certainly offensive to many women, but it was a welcome statement for many white men who feel threatened by anything that further threatens their status in life such as the Black Lives Matter Movement. Institutional racism, according to Wilkerson, is designed so that white people feel that they are better than somebody.

Why in these final moments of the election campaign has President Trump continued to have such a strong showing in the polls when he has offended more groups than I can name? 82% of Republicans approve of his response to the Pandemic. How can that be as he has done nothing to stop it?

The answer is that white people in general and white men in particular are feeling attacked. If they read Caste, they would be frozen in fear and anger as an opposite reaction to Wilkerson’s point of view. The Atlantic Magazine published an article to address this issue titled “Why Many White Men Love Trump’s Coronavirus Response” (10/20) by Olga Khazan. It reflects some of my thinking after reading Caste and helped me to see the issue very clearly in terms of why Trump is still in the running for another term. Khazan referenced a 1954 study which I went on to read in more detail. The study is about a football game between Princeton and Dartmouth. It was hard fought. Subsequently students from each school were asked questions about the game. The answers reflected that they saw two different games depending on your being from one or the other school. It documented something that we all know. The study pointed out “my side bias” in such a situation. We see our school team being honorable and the opposition as lacking in honor. This exists with political parties as well. It applies to people who voted for Trump in 2016 and are reluctant to change “team”.

But there is something else going on that I wrote about when looking at gender issues. When men have exchanges with other men, these exchanges are generally usually done for “status”. When women have exchanges with other women, they are generally about intimacy.

Trump understands “status”. Everything is the best, greatest, and something “like you have never seen before”. It is why Black Lives Matter produces such a negative response from Trump and a great many white men. They need to feel superior to others who they consider are beneath them. Trump becomes their hero to restore white men to a safe position that they have held. Khazan’s article is about how Trump feeds the “emotional self-interest” of white people. One aspect of human nature is to feel that if others have a lot means there is not going to be enough for me. The great disparity in wealth in our country only makes this feeling stronger.

In her book, Strangers in Their Own Land, Professor Hochschild of UC Berkeley lists the grievances of white men including “women competing for men’s jobs”, that society “punishes men for just acting like men”, and “Doesn't affirm that I am proud to be an American again and a manly man”. Hochschild goes on to make the point that white men’s economic prospects are bad, and American culture tells them their gender is too. They have turned to Trump as a folk hero, one who can restore their sense of former glory. Exposing themselves and others to the coronavirus is part of their heroism.”

As one person put it (regarding elites),”Trump speaks the way people do at a barbecue, not a dissertation defense.”

You may say that white men shouldn’t feel this way. Remember my axiom for behavior, “How you feel is how you feel. You shouldn’t have to justify it.”

Many of Trump’s followers feel that degrading white men has become an acceptable thing to do. I believe that our answer to our divided nation rests in two words, empathy and trust. That doesn’t start with “You shouldn’t feel that way.” We need to address caste and class in a public forum. We need to understand what it means to be a different race from another whether you are white, black, or brown. We need to address the vast discrepancy of wealth and opportunity. We need to work toward a shared purpose, such as a sports team or the military does, of understanding people who are different from us. If this happens we will have the opportunity of living out E pluribus Unum, one from many. That’s who we are. That has not changed.

Otherwise the events In Charlottesville with overt displays of white supremacy will not just be our nightmare. It will be our reality! It will be the extreme opposite reaction to what America should mean for all.

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