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Flyover Politics

Last week, The Huffington Post decided to move their coverage of Trump from the Entertainment section back to Politics. Considering Trump’s “extreme and irresponsible messages,” Arianna Huffington wrote, the HuffPost is “no longer amused” by Trump’s campaign.

Editors had — with much winking and nudging from the internet — relegated coverage of the campaign to the paper’s Entertainment section in July, labeling the campaign a “side show.”

I was also amused by their move at the time, as was much of my newsfeed, so it’s important at this moment that we read Mahroh: White liberals’ horror over Trump’s most recent spout of bile is — while, duh, the correct reaction — both delayed and totally incomplete. Inherent in this dual amusement/horror is a lot of the class snobberies of white elites.

This isn’t my idea. There have been a number of pieces lately about Trump mania, white terror, and the white working class. These pieces (the best of which — natch — are by Feministing writers) more or less argue that some combination of declining economic security and white fear of the increasing power of people of color movements in the United States plus demagogic, nauseatingly rich shit heads at the lead = Trump mania.

When it comes to white people, however, the main point a lot of these essays make is about class and education. It’s a tension that often underlies the culture wars. But there’s a boogey-in-the-closet thing going on here, as in: It’s convenient for white liberal coastal elites (like me and a lot of my counterparts in the media) to pretend that racism and xenophobia and Islamophobia are the problem of people who look like us but voted for Dick Cheney.

It’s easy for people like me — white, affluent educated parents, fancy BA, maybe a funky haircut and some feelings about gender — to pretend that rejecting the blatant racism articulated by Trump and supporters makes us totally super-duper completely progressive. (We are not as bad as those stupid white people!) Which I don’t need to say is mostly hogwash. If our baseline for being a good person is not transparently calling for an even more racist state, that’s a shit baseline. If our supposed anti-racist politics depend on scapegoating working class people who express the racism that we don’t fight, they’re shit politics.

The hyper-educated rich-as-God white people (and a lot of the brown and black people, for sure) I went to college with are in a position to fuck up the world far more thoroughly than the Tea Partiers I grew up around. No dearth of racism and class exploitation there.

Business suits are not exculpating.

And then, to what degree do feminist rhetorics themselves, however righteous they are at base, seemingly remove wealthy white liberals from responsibility? I grew up in the kind of hyper-white, very-Tea Party suburb that could never pass a school budget (too “big government”), where “Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve” was considered rhetorically and morally compelling, and where half the cars in the high school lot were mud-splattered Confederate-waving pickup trucks (the other half were at the Jersey shore). People liked to hunt. The coolest girl in school had a Jersey orange tan, played soccer, and showed sheep at the 4-H fair.

Growing up queer there during the Bush era was not the most fun ever, but then again, there are far less fun ways to spend a childhood. What I remember from that time (and maybe part of this is just the cruelty of childhood) was a sense of threat: The sense of being trapped in insidious logics that wanted to tell me what to do with my womb and my vagina; that told me I was too articulate, too liberal, too smart; that ridiculed my friends who needed abortions; that harassed the poor kids and the queer kids and the fat kids and the brown kids and the kids with intellectual disabilities as mercilessly as they possibly could.

This is a feeling of threat that formed a lot of my feminist politics and my queer politics, and it’s a threat that imbues a lot of the contemporary political landscape. I think there are a lot of white feminists and queers who have been on the lucky side of our era’s economic insecurity and who have felt, as I have at times, actively oppressed by the right. And not just the right establishment: By our cousins in Jersey City and the kids we grew up around and the people we stereotype in “flyover country.”

Which, you know, comes from a place of righteousness: There are women’s health clinics literally being shot up by fundamentalist Christian white men, and I know a lot of people who are probably, in their hearts of hearts, just fine with it. That is fucked up. When the country has been for decades at a seeming standstill over whether or not I (and, more importantly, people with less health care access than me) should be able to eat something to prevent pregnancy, or end a pregnancy that’s already started — and when those seeking to limit our rights are literally armed — a sense of threat is warranted.

And yet. I do not live where I grew up. I have the kind of college degree that opens bank vaults. I can live safely in New York and Boston and New Delhi. I have access to the media. I fuck who I want, and I’m usually (usually.) not assaulted in the process. Most of the time, in my daily life, Adam-Eve-Steve logic (plot twist: steamy threesome) does not oppress me.

What I’m saying is: It maybe feels superior and exculpating for liberal white people who do have resources and education, who do come to understand sexuality as fluid and racism as structural and Trump as bad, to either write all this shit off as a joke or look at it with vague, appropriate horror and shake our heads at how shitty some white people who are not us can be.

That is a fucked response. It is a fucked response because it uses classism to ignore the racism that we inherit, perpetuate, and benefit from. It is a fucked response because it is easy, if you’re a white elite, to act like you’re taking the “moral high ground” and distance yourself from the more obvious racism of people less educated than you — as though you’re the one who’s going to suffer their racism anyway, as though it was ever targeted against you, as though your feminism aligns you with righteousness without the leg work, as though your privileged queerness is under attack from people your company exploits. As though you’re not benefitting from the racism of the people you look down on.

Make no mistake: Trump means fascism, and he means it hard. So do white people of whatever class who turn their words and their guns onto people of color. I’m not calling for sympathy toward the experience of threatened white heteropatriarchal supremacy. I hope it dies, and good fucking riddance. But white, coastal, left-of-center elites also need to think really hard about how we politically benefit from letting other white people do the ugly work of upholding white supremacy. We disavow responsibility for right-wing xenophobia and racism at our own peril. But more importantly, we do so at the greater peril of people who are not us, who will not feel that our diplomas are exculpating.

Header Image Credit: Barbara Kruger, “Untitled” (Questions) 1991

Reina Gattuso is passionate about empowering conversations around queerness, sexual ethics, and social movements with equal parts rhapsody and sass. Her writing has appeared at Time, Bitch, attn:, and The Washington Post. She is currently pursuing her masters.

Reina Gattuso writes about her sex life for the good of human kind.

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