When Trump Says ‘People,’ He Means ‘His People’
Fifty years ago, reviewing Toni Morrison’s novel “Sula” in The New York Times, a critic wrote that Morrison was “far too talented to remain only a marvelous recorder of the Black side of provincial American life” — that to “maintain the large and serious audience she deserves” and transcend the “limiting classification ‘Black woman writer,’” she had to “address a riskier contemporary reality.”
Morrison, who would go on to win Pulitzer and Nobel prizes, bristled at reviews like that, which seemed to suggest that she needed to write about white people. She chafed at the notion that writing primarily about Black people was a limitation rather than a liberation. In a 1981 New Republic interview, Morrison put a point on it: “From my perspective, there are only Black people. When I say ‘people,’ that’s what I mean.”
This idea, that the parameters of the word “people” can be defined by a speaker or writer, came rushing back to me recently as I was reviewing the increasingly erratic posts and comments of Donald Trump.
Intellectually and creatively, Trump is the antithesis of Morrison, but if I come to understand that when Trump says “people,” it is confined to his people, then his inane utterances make more sense to me. In fact, the whole of the MAGA universe begins to make more sense to me.
There’s a reason Trump never attempted to govern as a unifier and isn’t running for reelection as one. Instead, he’s deepening his attachment with loyalists. He wants to reshape America into a nation where his will rules, the law is his tool to punish others, and he is exempt from punishment — where his throngs are rewarded for their adoration.
It isn’t as simple as saying that Trump wants to drag the country backward. He wants to bend his brand of straight white male nationalism into a kind of totalitarianism.
A Trump autocracy would redound to their credit, and they would be rewarded for it.
He and his people, the true people, are the new civil rights victims, in need of a defensive mobilization to prevent continued injury. Trump defense becomes self-defense.
He spoke to and for “the people.” He tailored a particular form of populism, one aimed at xenophobes and subversives.
They don’t worry about Trump torching the country if he’s reelected, because they believe that they will frolic in the ashes. They believe that whatever benefits Trump will eventually benefit them. Trump has deceived his people into believing in trickle-down tyranny.
文／Charles M. Blow 譯／陳曉慈