Trump and white identity politics

Great Comment from George Packer in the latest New Yorker:

Trump also grasped what Republican élites are still struggling to fathom: the ideology that has gripped their Party since the late nineteen-seventies—anti-government, pro-business, nominally pious—has little appeal for millions of ordinary Republicans. [emphases mine] The base of the Party, the middle-aged white working class, has suffered at least as much as any demographic group because of globalization, low-wage immigrant labor, and free trade. Trump sensed the rage that flared from this pain and made it the fuel of his campaign. Conservative orthodoxy, already weakened by its own extremism—the latest, least appealing standard-bearer was Ted Cruz—has suffered a stunning defeat from within. And Trump has replaced it with something more dangerous: white identity politics.

Republican Presidential candidates received majorities of the white vote in every election after 1964. In 2012, Barack Obama won about forty per cent of it, average for Democrats in the past half century. But no Republican candidate—not even Richard Nixon or Ronald Reagan—made as specific an appeal to the economic anxieties and social resentments of white Americans as Trump has. When he vows to “make America great again,” he is talking about and to white America, especially the less well off.

Meanwhile, Yglesias calls out a NYT article for explaining the rise of Trump without once ever mentioning race (journalistic malpractice, I daresay).  Packer mentions “economic anxieties and social resentments.”  I think even solidly middle class Americans may well have ecnomic anxieties, but Yglesias make the case that we’re such more of the social (i.e., racial) resentments:

As best we can tell from the data available in exit polls, the median household income of a Trump supporter is about $72,000 a year. It’s true that this makes Trump voters more downscale than John Kasich voters ($91,000 a year) but it’s essentially equal to the median household income of Ted Cruz voters ($73,000 a year) and well above the $61,000-a-year median household income of Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders supporters.

Note that the median household income in the United States is only $52,000 a year and most people don’t vote in primaries, so all of the major 2016 candidates turn out to have supporters who are more affluent than the typical American. Trump, in particular, built his big primary wins on the backs of people who are economically comfortable…

What they don’t consider is that one reason Trump is an unlikely spokesman for the grievances of the financially struggling is that he isn’t a spokesman for the grievances of the financially struggling. Some of his supporters are poor, of course, but they mostly aren’t. And most economically struggling Americans aren’t supporting him. To understand the patterns of support and opposition to Trump, you have to talk about race…

It’s taboo in the United States to throw around accusations of racism. And obviously nobody can be sure what’s in the heart of Donald Trump or his voters.

But we do know that the unusual geographic pattern of Trumpism — stronger in the South and Northeast than in the Midwest or West — corresponds to the geography of white racial resentment in the United States. We also know that Trump rose to political prominence based on the allegation that America’s first black president wasn’t a real American at all, and launched his 2016 campaign with the allegation that Mexican immigrants to the United States are largely rapists and murders.

We know that this kind of rhetoric does not resonate with nonwhite Americans but hasappealed to white voters in the kinds of places — some poor, others affluent — where the level of racism among the white population is unusually high…

It’s polite to both Trump and his supporters to sweep this all under the rug with hazy talk of “anti-establishment” feeling. But to do so completely misses a huge part of what the conflict between pro- and anti-Trump forces is actually about — is the Republican Party going to be an ideological party or an ethnic one?

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