Twenty years after Myrdal published his report, and five years after King travelled to India, the dream of seeing aggressive anti-discrimination legislation in America was realized: President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act. Wilkerson emphasizes the recoil that followed this victory. No Democratic contender for President has won the majority of the white vote since. In her analysis, the arc of the political universe bends toward caste, as progressive legislative or electoral victories activate the threatened dominant group. Had observers better grasped white anxieties unleashed by the growth of America’s nonwhite population and the two-term Presidency of Barack Obama, Donald Trump’s victory in 2016 would have come as no surprise. In the voting booth, Wilkerson argues, whites across the board set aside considerations like gender affinity and such class concerns as access to health care in order to support a man who had signalled his commitment to the continued dominion of their caste.
Trump didn’t need to tweet out “You will not replace us.” Throughout American history, Wilkerson says, white-supremacist ideas deemed taboo have simply gone undercover. When, in the early years of the twentieth century, the Postmaster General banned the grotesque postcards that certain whites liked to send, featuring the corpses of the lynched (“This is the Barbecue we had last night”), the cards kept on circulating in envelopes. With Trump, a twenty-first-century version of these clandestine networks produced what Wilkerson sees as a “consolidation of rank among the historic ruling caste” following the disruption represented by a Black First Family.
Sunil Khilnani, “Top Down”, The New Yorker (17 August 2020), 61.