Race, history, and Trump

Adam Serwer’s long essay on race, history, and how we got here with Donald Trump is really, really good.  I think it goes a little far in arguing that the media was all “economic anxiety!” as I did read plenty of coverage of what social science has definitively revealed (and Serwer nicely summarizes), i.e., it’s racism (or, racial resentment, as I like to say), stupid.

So many different aspects of this are worth addressing (really, just read it), but I couldn’t help thinking a lot about the fact that “racist” seems to mean very different things to liberals and conservatives today, and that’s a big part of the problem.  Liberals are well aware of structural racism and see how things like Voter ID laws, birtherism, and Muslim bans are, at their core, a furtherance of racially-motivated attitudes.  But for many conservatives, as long as you don’t go around saying the n-word and are nice enough to the minority people you encounter, than, obviously, you are not a racist:

The reason many equated Clinton’s “deplorables” remark with Trump’s agenda of discriminatory state violence seems to be the widespread perception that racism is primarily an interpersonal matter—that is, it’s about name-calling or rudeness, rather than institutional and political power. This is a belief hardly limited to the president’s supporters, but crucial to their understanding of Trump as lacking personal prejudice. “One thing I like about Trump is he isn’t afraid to tell people what the problems in this country are,” said Ron Whitekettle from Lancaster. “Everything he says is true, but sometimes he doesn’t say it the way it should be said.”

Anyway, so much good stuff in here.  Do read it when you get a chance.

About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State http://faculty.chass.ncsu.edu/shgreene

7 Responses to Race, history, and Trump

  1. R. Jenrette says:

    A really powerful, fact based essay. There must be a way to resolve this schizophrenia in the American ethos without having to wait for the catastrophic failure of it to produce the economic and social “utopia” it promises.
    I can’t see that the Democrats sticking just to economic issues in future campaigns does anything to address the contradiction in the founding of this nation on the equality of all humans while constitutionally legalizing the inequality of slavery.
    Does the center and left have the moral courage to undertake a great revival of the spirit of equality and humanhood of all humanity? Are we all the children of God or not?
    How sad that we cannot even count on many of the self identified religious citizens to support this cause.
    Is this the real ultimate battle that humanity faces, the battle between those who accept equality for all humans and those who don’t want it to be so?
    Some say the arc of history bends ever so slightly toward progress. Can humans avoid killing off humanity before that arc bends enough?

    OK – Prof Greene, you gave me a lot to think about today.

  2. Nicole K. says:

    I think for many of these working-class, rural Americans they see society changing and leaving them behind. When all the factories have left town and your only option (aside from moving, which they don’t want to do) is a service job at a retail store that pays a fraction of what you’re used to, I can see how you might feel embittered.

    Since our natural human inclination is to blame “others” for our problems, I see how this leads to people feeling resentful towards people who aren’t like them. I don’t think it’s specifically racism. I think they dislike and resent white liberals just as much as they dislike the other groups. It’s always easier to blame “them” whenever things aren’t going the way you’d like. I think they’re pretty much OK with blaming whatever “them” is the current easy target.

    I think the way that we fix this has to be acknowledging that the situation in rural america is not very good at the moment and doing what we can to address the declines they have faced. These voters have been written off and ignored by liberals because they don’t represent a favored minority constituency, and Republicans are more than happy to continue making use of their resentment. Until this changes and someone actually figures out a way to improve things for these people, they’re going to continue being upset and looking for other targets to blame.

    • itchy says:

      In what way is a silver-spoon New York City builder not an “other”?

    • Steve Greene says:

      Hmmmm. Democratic policies are not perfect, but they offer economic policies far more likely to help than what’s in the current Republican tax bill, for example. More affordable health care, higher minimum wage, more affordable college and job training are all Democratic policies to help these people. And, don’t forget the evidence is supremely clear that racial attitudes are a huge component of this.

      • R. Jenrette says:

        If Democrats choose an economic appeal to voters only, aren’t they in danger of normalizing the underlying racial attitudes of many voters? I know some people think the Dems will lose if they address the underlying racial and religious views of many Republicans but if the Dems ignore the issues isn’t that a tacit approval?

      • Nicole K. says:

        You don’t win elections by telling people they are racist. Just look at what happened with the deplorables comment or when Obama accused people of “clinging to their guns and religion”. You win elections by convincing people you are going to improve things. The GOP obsession with cutting taxes for rich people and gutting health care for the sick and the poor provide excellent avenues that Democrats can potentially appeal to these voters.

        My grandma always used to say “you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar”. Telling people they’re bigots isn’t going to win any votes. Getting enough votes to win gives you the ability to implement policies that address problems like racism. Lecturing people doesn’t do any good if you end up losing the election.

  3. R. Jenrette says:

    Of course you don’t tell them they are racists. You appeal to their better natures. You show them how much better things would be if another path was followed and the rewards that would follow.
    Most don’t recognize that they are anyway.
    In running for office, you can’t just say you are going to make things better, you have to explain what better means and how you are going to get there with their help.And you live your own life as if you believe what you are telling them.
    I’m not asking for lectures. I’m asking for inspiration, passion and leadership.
    I sure do miss Bobby Kennedy.

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