restricted access Fighting Back
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Fighting Back
The Bigot: Why Prejudice Persists

Stephen Eric Bronner

Yale University Press
248 Pages; Print, $25.00

inline graphic The political atmosphere surrounding the election and reelection of President Barack Obama led Stephen Bronner to write this short but insightful examination of bigotry. The election of Donald Trump makes Bronner's study, and the solutions he offers, even more important now than when it first appeared in 2014. Bronner offers insight into the hateful rhetoric, disregard for truth, and hysterical paranoia that have increased over the past year and culminated into what was, for many, the shocking choice of American voters last November. He also shares his thoughts on resisting the reactionary and divisive policies pushed forth since the rise of the Tea Party immediately after Obama's election—efforts that will only increase in the coming years.

Bronner begins with a promise to "educate the bigot's enemies" with "a phenomenological sketch that explains why prejudice appeals to him, how he chooses his targets, and what impulses are common to his worldview." The simple answer is that the bigot fears change and directs hatred toward all who threaten his privileges, be they race, class, or gender based. He seeks a return to a world in which he was comfortable and felt at home. The bigot resents efforts by any subaltern to strive for betterment because he sees life as a negative sum game in which any gain by the subaltern is a loss to himself. While much rhetoric following the recent election has focused on disenchanted and bigoted white workers, Bronner supports the findings of a number of social historians who have long claimed that the bigot most commonly ranks among the nonurban lower middle class, including small business owners, bureaucrats, individual contractors, and farmers. Suffering from a fragile ego and eager to narrow the public sphere so as to keep subalterns out, the bigot prefers fascist or authoritarian regimes.

To further his efforts to exclude the "other" from positions of autonomy and self-rule, the bigot recasts history in a way that makes himself the victim rather than the persecutor, seeking to "re-create the normality of prejudice" and undo all social progress associated with modernity and the democratic revolutions that occurred from 1688 to 1789. Threatened by the liberal education, toleration, and cosmopolitan sensibility that lead to progress, the bigot resents others having the ability to shape their own fates by choosing their own priorities, participating in the governing structures of their society, and making their own decisions about religion. His agenda, then, is to "constrict pluralism, civil liberties, economic equality, and (literally) disenfranchise the subaltern," and he relies upon "inherited privileges sanctified by tradition such as gender, skin color, ethnicity, or lineage" to justify his entitlement.

To mask his selfish designs to both himself and others, the bigot tends to build rationale for his belief and behavior by playing three key roles—the true believer, the elitist, and the chauvinist. Bronner's "true believers" represent politicians of the dominionist persuasion who seek to bring God's dominion to earth through legislation, regardless of the nation's core value of the separation of church and state. His "elitists" represent the out of touch conservative who, blinded by his own privileges and self-satisfaction, insists that egalitarian efforts work against the subaltern's best interests, for example by arguing that welfare deprives people of incentive to work and harms their character. Finally, the "chauvinist" has visions of himself at the top of "an organic community in which each knew his place." He celebrates the "good old days" without regard to how "good" those days were or were not for others. Tending to come from "an authoritarian family structure, sacrosanct traditions, and an insular community," the bigot assumes his own community is superior to others and the values of that community must not only be protected but also be spread to others, whether they want to share them or not. The more anybody challenges this assumption, or suggests the possibility of "hope" for a different type of community, the more aggressive the bigot becomes.