Trump’s Rhetoric As A Tool of Social Control:  How Media Moguls’ Investment in Trump Reap Financial Profits

Trump’s Rhetoric As A Tool of Social Control:  How Media Moguls’ Investment in Trump Reap Financial Profits

By Rhone Fraser, Ph.D.

In his editorial in the New York Call magazine, Hubert Harrison wrote that “race prejudice” is “diligently fostered by those who have something to gain by it” (1911). It was “fostered” in the twentieth century in the mainstream media of newspapers. In the twenty-first century, the mainstream media of the internet and television continues to diligently foster “race prejudice,” however, in a more overt way. Harrison wrote that those who own the newspapers “must divide the workers and they find race prejudice a very useful tool to do this with.”  The mainstream newspapers in the second decade of the twentieth century were overtly promoting race prejudice; however, the news media of the twenty-first century promotes race prejudice more covertly by avoiding coverage of the racist and fascist function of the U.S. economy. The mainstream newspapers of the twenty-first century still use “race prejudice” and “divides the workers” subtly and more covertly by promoting the ideology of liberalism. Liberalism is defined by historian Domenico Losurdo (2011) as a system of exclusions of the working class, women, and Blacks from rights that exclusively belonged to white men.   Liberalism essentially approves the racist and fascist function of the U.S. economy and is promoted by the U.S. liberal press. Hillary Clinton’s popularity as a U.S. presidential candidate in 2016 is in part a result of her gender, even though, as president, she would preside over an economy that continues exclusions of the working class, women, and Blacks from rights that exclusively belonged to white men, notably education. The liberalism promoted by the liberal media functions to “divide the workers,” however, in a much more subtle and sophisticated way than the newspapers of the early twentieth century. A reduction in the coverage of presidential policy by both liberal and conservative news media allows the promotion of a candidate with questionable character and policy substance as a presidential candidate. The rise of Donald Trump’s popularity in 2016 since his being nominated as the Republican Party candidate for U.S. president is a testament to the success of those who own the U.S. liberal and conservative news media of the continued belief in the social construction of race, which is unique to the history of the United States of America. This success depends on both liberal and conservative white U.S. citizens seeing and understanding themselves as “white” and never publicly admitting it. The U.S. mainstream television and internet news media “divides the workers” and promotes the popularity of Donald Trump by doing two things: one, avoiding substantive discussion of Trump’s presidential policies as president and two, avoiding how U.S. presidential administrations since Nixon have widened the wealth gap in the United States. The mainstream media promotes Trump and divides the working people of the United States by continuing to assume a reality of “whiteness.”  Ta-Nehisi Coates (2015) writes to his son and defines the process of becoming “white” as one that happens through the pillaging of life, liberty, labor, and land, through the flaying of backs; the chaining of limbs; the strangling of dissident; the destruction of families; the rape of mothers; the sale of children; and various other acts meant, first and foremost, to deny you and me the right to secure and govern our own bodies (p.8). 

Whiteness is affirmed not only by Trump’s incendiary rhetoric during this presidential election year. It is affirmed by the superficial coverage of his campaign by both popular left and suitable news media in the U.S.  This coverage is superficial because it focuses on the parts of his public remarks that are perceived to be sexist and racist rather than investigating the increasingly racist and sexist function of the economy. The liberal media’s inability to discuss Trump’s policy and their focus on his public statements that have obscured the reality of an economy that, since Obama’s administration has provided fewer jobs, raised food prices, and made the Bush-era tax cuts permanent for the top 2% of income earners in the United States. The mainstream media’s focus on Trump’s public comments demeaning women and nonwhites also obscures the rightward shift of the U.S. economy that demeans women and nonwhites at a higher rate. Critical journalists, including Natalie Shure, Benjamin Norton and Kristina Rizga, have documented this rightward shift. This paper will discuss how the work of these journalists shows the media has been promoting “race prejudice” since the founding of the United States by using whiteness as a tool of social control. This tool is owned by what Assata Shakur (1987) has called the millionaires (some billionaires) who control “both the Democratic Party and the Republican Party” (p.190).   Their social control is not only exercised within the borders of the United States; it is exercised globally to justify U.S. military occupations in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries that are global forms of “social control.”

From the seventeenth century up to today, this idea of whiteness prevents U.S. citizens from being able to unite and see themselves as one people and work alongside citizens of color. Shakur, in her autobiography, points out: “Since we did not own the TV stations or the newspapers, it was easy for the news media to portray us as monsters and terrorists” (p.242).   By “us,” she means herself and the Black Liberation Army she was part of. However, there is a broader definition of “us” according to the mainstream media’s portrayal of Trump. “Us” means those who oppose the assumptions of the International Monetary Fund-Wall Street-run economy that promotes the construction of maximum security prisons over public schools. Shakur points to the ability of the owners of newspapers in the early twentieth century, and now television and internet news networks in the twenty-first century, to create a portrayal that presents their perspective, a white supremacist perspective as usual, assumes a concept of “whiteness” without ever really naming it.    

Historian Theodore W. Allen (1974) wrote that the invention of the white race began in the seventeenth century and that its “distinguishing characteristic” in human history was “the participation of laboring classes: non-slaveholders, self-employed smallholders, tenants, and laborers” (p.251). Allen wrote that “the ruling class took special pains to be sure that the people they ruled,” or these “laboring classes,” would be “propagandized in the moral and legal ethos of white-supremacism” (251). The ruling class, who “propagandized” the “laboring classes” in the seventeenth and later centuries, functioned in promoting white supremacy in the same manner as the owners of the mainstream internet and television news networks in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. These mainstream news owners, such as William Randolph Hearst of the twentieth century and Rupert Murdoch of the twenty-first century, are “diligently fostering” race prejudice by promoting and reporting Trump’s campaign. Their particular choice of headlines implicitly encourages their viewership to sympathize with Trump and encourage him to empathize with the wealthiest of society. Headlines such as those from NYTimes.com saying “Some Donald Trump Voters Warn of Revolution in Hillary Clinton Wins,” and ABCnews.com headline “Donald Trump Dismisses Barbs By Michelle Obama As Part of ‘The Game” intend to generate sympathy for Donald Trump. But the subtext of these headlines does what Harrison said that newspapers in 1911 do: build public opinion “in favor of race prejudice.”  The audience these headlines speak to is a white audience who are supposed to see Trump as a viable presidential candidate or a victim of racial prejudice. This kind of sympathy is part of a long line of owners, from television news media owners to newspaper owners, to Virginia landowners who invented the social construction of race to maintain social control and to prevent another type of rebellion that happened in 1666, which was Bacon’s Rebellion, where tobacco planter Nathaniel Bacon helped organize the indigenous, the enslaved African and the indentured European servant to reclaim land. The landowners, such as Governor William Berkeley of Virginia and Maryland, passed laws that gave privileges to the indentured European servants, such as state-granted ammunition and munition, to see themselves differently from all other cultural groups, not from Europe. The state of Virginia’s response to Bacon’s Rebellion is where the social construction of race begins and is continued by wealthy businessmen who support not only Hillary Clinton but also Donald Trump for president, and their money funds the barrage of media advertisements that promote one or the other as the future U.S. president. They use their wealth to encourage candidates who, on some subconscious level, assume the necessity of whiteness and who use coded language to disguise their allegiance to whiteness. 

The billionaire Sheldon Adelson reportedly gave millions of dollars to Trump’s campaign because he said Trump represents a successful U.S. businessman. He said (2016) that Trump “is a CEO success story that exemplifies the American spirit of determination, commitment to cause and business stewardship.”  However, this kind of “business stewardship” is based on the sale and ownership of African people for Western material profit. It is very similar to the attempt by the landed gentry to create a media that would encourage indentured servants to identify with the landed gentry. This economy from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries depended on chattel slavery. In the nineteenth, twentieth, and twenty-first centuries, this economy was run by the descendants of the same individuals who initially profited from slavery. We are going from chattel slavery to wage slavery, and part of being a “businessman” is coded rhetoric by Adelson to an audience that assumes “whiteness,” that continuing to function as a successful businessman who thrives in a business based on the murder and incarceration of Black bodies.    This coded language can be interpreted instead of “businessman” as “white businessmen” and has the same effect that laws passed immediately after Bacon’s Rebellion had on the state of Virginia. Allen wrote about several primary laws passed after Bacon’s Rebellion that were intended to dissuade indentured European servants from joining enslaved Africans or indigenous from popular uprisings in the seventeenth century: one, denying free African Americans from holding any office and a second forbidding African Americans from possessing any weapon (p.250). These were laws intended to help propagandize non-landowning Europeans to want to become landowning Europeans. The candidacy of Donald Trump for president assumes his supposed penchant for “business.” The wealthiest individuals depend on his image to help propagandize citizens who think they are white into believing that they, too, in the twenty-first century, can become millionaires and can profit from an economy based on, what Coates said, the “pillaging of life, labor, liberty, and land.”  Allen’s research shows that “in the world, the slaveholders made ‘hope’ depended on the prospect of social mobility into the ranks of owners of bond labor” (p.248). Trump in 2016 represents the kind of “hope” and promise for his supporters of one day, like him, to become a millionaire or billionaire. This rhetoric is related to the efforts in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries to believe in subconscious messaging in newspapers that encouraged their readership to identify with the wealthiest. This is precisely why “Bleeding Kansas” was bleeding in the nineteenth century. The landowning gentry used newspapers to encourage its readers to enslave a person to identify with the wealthiest. Historian Darlene Clark Hine (2013) wrote about “border ruffians” who settled in Kansas in the 1850s to ensure that the state of Kansas would not fall under the “dangerous” influence of members of the Free Soil Party and become a free state. Thousands were killed, including those at the hands of abolitionist John Brown and his sons, who murdered landless whites who sought to assert their manhood and their identity as “businessmen” by owning an enslaved human being. 

The mainstream coverage of Trump and his rhetoric promoting “race prejudice” strategically avoids discussing his policy as a president and the increasing wealth gap that the IMF-World Bank-run U.S. economy is promoting. In her article (2014) for Alternet.org, Natalie Shure quotes from a working paper by the London School of Economics that the top 0.1% of the United States now controls 22% of the aggregate wealth. The media disparages this wealth concentration and uses inflammatory language to discuss Trump. According to Julie Hollar’s article (2010) for FAIR.org, a March 2010 report called “Lifting As We Climb: Women of Color, Wealth and America’s Future” about the wealth gap was ignored by 600 plus U.S. newspapers of the Lexis-Nexis database. The wealth gap only benefits those who believe and have benefited from the privileges of whiteness, which were the same privileges that the Virginia Assembly passed in the seventeenth century to propagandize non-landowning Europeans to identify with and to aspire to landowning Europeans. The liberal news media is also complicit with the conservative news media outlets in avoiding substantive discussion on Trump’s presidential policy and the growing wealth gap in the U.S. economy. Amy Goodman’s November 1st, 2016 headline about Donald Trump reads: “NYT: Trump Avoided Paying Tens of Millions in Taxes Using Loophole Later Outlawed.”  This headline avoids substantive discussion on Trump’s presidential policy and the growing wealth gap and promotes fear of ultimately promoting Hillary Clinton as U.S. president. Goodman highlights the financial impropriety of Trump in filing taxes but ignores the financial impropriety of his funders, including Sheldon Adelson and the Wall Street bankers in general whom then-Senator Obama bailed out in 2008 who said banks “are too big to fail.”  Goodman reports Trump’s financial impropriety outside of the context of the Wall Street bankers who depend on Trump by depending on whiteness to appeal to his white supporters. She works in tandem with conservative news media and Wall Street bankers in appealing to a “white” audience that is supposed to see Trump as less qualified for not paying taxes when, in reality, executive leadership encourages wealthy white men to avoid paying taxes, especially when the Obama administration, during the year of the 2012 reelection, made the Bush-era tax cuts for the top 2% permanent. Goodman’s headline appeals to the emotion of fear in its audience to function in the way that most liberal news media outlets have functioned: to continue dividing workers. Goodman’s use of fear about Trump does two things: first, it avoids substantive discussion of Trump’s presidential policy and the similarities of it to what Obama’s presidential policy has done, including promoting a divisive foreign policy that has deported more Mexicans than any previous U.S. president. Secondly, Goodman’s promotion of liberalism also masks how the racism and militarism that Trump is shown to promote are being practiced by an acting liberal U.S. President Obama. Goodman does not report how Trump’s aggressive foreign policy does not compare to the number of regime changes that both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton carried out during Clinton’s tenure as Secretary of State. Clinton has led regime change in Haiti by helping to falsify presidential elections in 2010. Clinton has led regime change in Honduras by arming and funding a military coup against a democratically elected leader in Manual Zelaya. Clinton has led regime change in Libya by managing the NATO bombing of Libya in 2011 that murdered Moammar Gadafi. Goodman’s coverage of Trump is similar to Rachel Maddow’s coverage of Trump: stoking fear about his inept leadership presented as racist and sexist even though his presidential candidate has murdered more citizens following a racist and sexist military agenda of the IMF and the World Bank.  In its quest to convince voters using “whiteness” as a method of social control to vote for the continued function of an economy that promotes militarism, journalist Ben Norton writes that according to a study by scholars at Princeton and Northwestern Universities called “Testing Theories of American Politics: Elites, Interest Groups, and Average Citizens,” citizens do not elect U.S. Presidents. This makes the coverage of Trump by mainstream and liberal news outlets all the more obscene. Norton (2016) quotes: “Multivariate analysis indicates that economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on U.S. government policy, while average citizens and mass-based interest groups have little or no independent influence.” This lack of influence persists despite a decaying public school system initially set up after the Civil War. Early nineteenth-century journalist Pauline Hopkins (1901) wrote that “Negro legislators” from the South: “gave the South the first system of free schools that had ever existed in the land of King Cotton” (p.41). Hopkins also compliments the work of educators in the District of Columbia for establishing the first public schools immediately (p.159). However, in the twenty-first century, a new generation of Silicon Valley billionaires, such as Mark Zuckerberg, support a U.S. society with charter schools replacing public schools, ultimately destroying the public school establishment. Kristina Rizga has written how the numbers of public schools and public school teachers have dropped precipitously during the Obama administration:  “In Chicago, 4 out of about 500 schools were closed in 2013, and in Washington, DC, 38 out of 111 schools have been shuttered since 2008. And since 2002, 140 out of roughly 1,800 New York City schools have closed. In each of the nine cities the Albert Shanker Institute studied, a higher percentage of Black teachers were laid off or quit than Latino or white educators.”  Discussion of education policy by Clinton and Trump was dismal at best by both the liberal and conservative media establishments. By avoiding substantive debate of education policy, Trump’s proposed policy, and malfeasance of the bankers who fund Trump, the mainstream news media promotes a more covert kind of “race prejudice” that essentially works to “divide the workers” as newspapers did in the twentieth century by promoting whiteness without naming it. In this manner, Trump’s rhetoric becomes a handy scapegoat to avoid the racist and sexist function of the U.S. economy. As long as discussion remains on his comments calling Mexicans rapists and grabbing women’s private parts, then coverage of a U.S. economy that promotes racism, sexism, and a growing wealth gap can be conveniently avoided.


References

Allen, T. W. (1997, 2012). The Invention of the White Race: Volume Two: The Origin of Racial Oppression in Anglo-America. New York: Verso.

Coates, T. (2015) Between the World And Me. New York: Spiegel and Grau.

Harrison, H. (1911). “The Negro and the Newspapers” in J. Perry, ed. (2001) A Hubert Harrison Reader. Middletown (CT): Wesleyan University. 

Hine, D. Clark, W.C. Hine and S. Harrold. (2013) An African American Odyssey. New York: Pearson.

Hollar, J.  (2010)  “Wealth Gap Yawns—And So Do Media” FAIR.org. June 2010.   http://fair.org/extra/wealth-gap-yawns8212and-so-do-media/

Hopkins, P. (1901, 2012) “Famous Men of the Negro Race: Robert Brown Elliott,” in I. Dworkin, ed. Pauline Hopkins Daughter of the Revolution: The Major Nonfiction Works of Pauline Elizabeth Hopkins. New Brunswick: Rutgers.  

Losurdo, D. & G. Elliott (2011). Liberalism: A Counter-History. New York: Verso. 

Norton, B. (2016). “Illusion of Capitalist Democracy, In 2 Graphs: Study Shows Public Has No Influence on U.S. Gov. Policy” BenNorton.com. August 23rd 2016. http://bennorton.com/illusion-capitalist-democracy-graphs-study-public-no-influence-policy/

Rizga, K. (2016). “Black Teachers Matter.” Mother Jones. September/October 2016. http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2016/09/black-teachers-public-schools-education-system-philadelphia

Shakur, A. (1987) Assata: An Autobiography. New York: Lawrence Hill. 

Shure, N. (2014) “.1% of America Now Controls 22% of Wealth: The Wealth Gap Has Killed the Middle Class.”  AlterNet.org. 12 November 2014.  http://www.alternet.org/economy/1-america-now-controls-22-wealth-wealth-gap-has-killed-middle-class

Stone, P. (2016). “Sheldon Adelson To Give $25m Boost to Trump Super Pac.” The Guardian. September 23rd 2016. https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2016/sep/23/sheldon-adelson-trump-super-pac-donation-25-million

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Rhone Fraser, Ph.D.

RHONE FRASER, Ph.D., is a Visiting Associate Professor in African-American Studies at Penn State University. He taught on the faculty of Temple, Princeton, and Howard Universities. He is the author of Pauline Hopkins and Advocacy Journalism, which is a literary criticism of the four historical novels written by Pauline Hopkins. He is the co-editor of Critical Responses about the Black Family in Toni Morrison's God Help the Child. He edited a special collection on the meaning of the fiction of novelist Elizabeth Nunez for the Journal of Pan-African Studies. He published an article about Marlon James's novel entitled A Brief History of Seven Killings and is working on a manuscript about all of James's novels. In February 2024, he published To A More Positive Purpose: Critical Responses to the Scholarship of Tony Martin.

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