You cannot explain Trump without race

There was a recent piece in Business Insider on “how Donald Trump broke the conservative media” that was widely shared.  There were plenty of interesting insights, but I did not recommend it because of a glaring hole.  There was no mention of race whatsoever.  Trying to explain anything about the politics of Donald Trump is like trying to explain how a nuclear power plant works without talking about uranium.  Zack Beauchamp is all over it:

There are a lot of reasons why Donald Trump managed to take over the Republican Party. One big reason, as Oliver Darcy notes in a recent Business Insider piece, is the conservative media establishment. Darcy argues that Republican elites encouraged conservative voters to embrace alternative, hard-line right-wing media outlets — which made them powerless when those outlets turned on them by backing Trump. [emphasis mine]

Darcy’s piece is thoughtful and well sourced, and you should read it in full. But it misses a basic part of the story. To see why, look at this list of words that don’t appear in Darcy’s story: “race, racism, Mexican, Latino, black, African Americans, minorities.”

Race and racism are a huge part of the Trump story, inseparable from any meaningful account of how he succeeded. That’s because race remains a hugely important motivating force, independent of class or partisanship, in American voters’ political behavior. Ignore that almost entirely, as Darcy does, and you end up with a distorted analysis of Trump’s success…

To explain why conservative voters embraced Trump, you need to look at what actually distinguishes Trump from other Republican candidates. And the key distinguishing factor here is race: Trump is just far more willing to overtly engage in racist rhetoric than any Republican in decades.

This mirrors the conservative media outlets that have most nakedly embraced him. Ann Coulter, perhaps the most consistently pro-Trump commentator, has a history of comments like there’s a cultural acceptance of child rape in Latino culture.”

If you look at Breitbart News, definitely the most consistently pro-Trump outlet, you seea long history of ugly rhetoric about Latino immigration and “black crime” (an actual category tag on the site). These outlets do racist stuff because they know their audience enjoys it. The racism brings the readers, listeners, and viewers.

This also tracks with what we know about Trump supporters.

Of course, I’ll stop writing about Trump and race when we are not in a situation where roughly 40% of the public is planning on voting for a presidential candidate who is about as close to being an avowed racist as you can get.

About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State

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