The Best Essay I Read This Month: “How Trump Made Hate Intersectional,” by Rembert Browne

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The Trump takes came loud and fast in the wake of the election, and there were so many and we—lots of us, anyway—were so shocked and overwhelmed and tired that I’m sure we all missed some that were extremely good. But Rembert Browne’s “How Trump Made Hate Intersectional,” which appeared at New York Magazine on November 9, stood out to me for not just being a good writer’s personal reaction to what happened, but for being useful, for having a larger point.

Historically, we tend to think of bigots as somewhat narrow in vision—people are Islamophobes, or they are homophobes, or misogynists, and so forth. But Browne rightly points out that the engine behind Trump’s last eighteen months of momentum has been his willingness to target any marginalized group without discretion, to unite his base through an undifferentiated, broad-spectrum hatred of anyone who appears Other, no matter what kind.

Progressives talk a lot about intersectionality—meaning, thinking about race and sex and class simultaneously—but Trump won the presidency by making hate intersectional. He encouraged sexists to also be racists and homophobes, while saying disgusting things about immigrants in public and Jews online. Hate, like love, is infectious, and it is contagious. And for so many, the adrenaline felt by blaming one group for one’s personal ills bled into blaming all the others.”

The idea of blame is key—part of the reason liberals were so catastrophically wrong in their estimations of what mattered to the class of disenfranchised white voters we refer to as afflicted with “economic anxiety” was that we believed their blame was identify-specific. That certain people blamed, say, Mexican immigrants for their lost jobs, while others blamed gay people for their perceived loss of “traditional” culture. But Trump swept away any such distinctions—he mainstreamed the idea that they could simply blame everyone who did not look like them.

“[Trump] rearmed the white working class with a confidence that both an ignorance about and intimidation of others was a sign of patriotism. And he weaponized that ignorance: His base of voters, egged on by foul statements in rooms across the country, did not have a single target. For over a year, their hatred was a revolving door. The did not discriminate: They hated black people, they hated women, they hated immigrants, they hated Muslims, they hated Jews, they hated gay people, they hated Hispanic people — and if you could be white and any of those things, they hated you, too.”

On the other end of that microscope is the general tendency of oppressed groups to focus tightly on those who specifically oppress them—African Americans fear white nationalists, members of the LGBTQ community fear homophobes, women fear misogynists. And so those discrete groups are the targets of their activism.

“This created a complicated ecosystem for the historically abused—a shared understanding of what it means to be discriminated against, but also a quiet resentment over who has it worse. Because if you’re the worst off, you’re at the bottom, but you have a reason to scream the loudest, avoiding perhaps the most frustrating status: invisibility.

Now we’re faced with a clear reality: one group that hates us all.”

That last sentence is illuminating, but what comes directly before it should really not be overlooked. People who hate and mock liberals and so-called “social justice warriors” often purposefully distort their activism into a love of being victimized—so for Browne to acknowledge that victimization has its own kind of appeal is a bold, clear sign that he doesn’t care about providing additional ammo to people already inclined to twist his words, because he’s not writing for them. He’s writing for the marginalized, the people who understand that feeling and can unite over it, against what Trump has revealed to be largely one common enemy, rather than a loose connection of hateful sub-groups.

The single convincing argument for optimism I’ve found in the wake of the election is the idea that white nationalists in America are a dying breed, and they know it. Our country is on too irreversible a course to becoming more educated, more ethnically and culturally diverse. Browne argues that as this united class of bigots makes their final stand, we need to approach our resistance with a similarly intersectional perspective—recognizing that indiscriminate hatred means that we likewise must support each other across our own lines of race and class and gender.

“You don’t see America, the melting pot of cultures, genders, religions, beliefs, as a good thing if you can’t keep up. You hate it with an aggressive irrationality — typically while being unable to explain why you feel the way you do — if you’ve never met anyone who isn’t just like you. And you resent it when the systems you created to make people become overqualified just to attain near-equality come back to threaten your relevancy, your status, or your power.”