It’s unsettling when the particulars of violent incident fit so perfectly with the larger societal forces behind them. Such is the case with Trayvon Martin, a 17-year-old kid walking home from a convenience store in Sanford, Florida, with candy, an iced tea, and a cell phone. He was confronted by George Zimmerman, a 28-year-old prototypical case of white resentment run amok. Zimmerman shot and killed him in what is becoming increasingly clear was cold-blooded murder.
Keeping in mind that at its core, this is just a really awful and sad case in which an innocent kid was shot for–I guess–walking while black, it’s hard to ignore the implications because Fox News has made them so clear with its weirdly naked coverage.
Fox News taps deeply into what John McCain called “the ugly side of American populism.” Part of the fuel it runs on is the white racial resentment that is so disproportionately responsible for Republican electoral success over the last forty years. Fox not only failed to cover the murder of Trayvon Martin at first, but has made a bizarre pivot to using the incident to attack proponents of gun control.
Zimmerman is almost the physical embodiment of the stereotypical white male that conservative media caters to: threatened by the demographic reality that whites are becoming a minority, fueled by resentment that his opportunities are vanishing not because of a globalizing world and failed American economic policies (largely decided by the political faction he supports) but because of racial boogeyman at every turn. A member of a gated community’s “neighborhood-watch” project, Zimmerman had made upwards of 50 calls to police to report suspicious activity and ignored the advice of the dispatcher to not confront Martin.
Without pointing to “gun rights advocates” (because the last time I did that on this blog I got some responses that were borderline “file a police report”), one can draw such an easy line between outlets like Fox and the behavior of a certain core of white crusaders, that I feel like you have to be delusional to not see it. Fomenting racial hysteria has a long history on the American Right, and over time that tactic has had to be applied much more carefully–Fox’s bread and butter.
For instance, it’s absolutely impossible to separate the Right’s hatred of Obama from his background. Many conservatives do have honest disagreements with his policies (although even this is kind of stupid given that by one of their favorite metrics, spending, Obama has actually been more conservative than Reagan), yet Republican politicians and propaganda outlets like Fox took way too long to tamp down coded slurs that tossed kerosene on the delicate situation of the first black president. The birth certificate nonsense, his secret Muslim religion, his “Kenyan anti-colonial” behavior–all of this amounted to kind of coded language Lee Atwater so famously described:
You start out in 1954 by saying, “Nigger, nigger, nigger.” By 1968 you can’t say “nigger” — that hurts you. Backfires. So you say stuff like forced busing, states’ rights and all that stuff. You’re getting so abstract now [that] you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is [that] blacks get hurt worse than whites… Because obviously sitting around saying, “We want to cut this,” is much more abstract than even the busing thing, and a hell of a lot more abstract than “Nigger, nigger.”
That so many white Americans don’t understand this con is both sad and shocking (sort of). The Age of Obama did not create this situation but it has certainly exacerbated the last gasps of the white male majority, and the connection between Fox and Zimmerman, Atwater and Trayvon Martin, Obama and the decline of the white male vote all comes from this same long line.