What Do We Do?

Early in my lawyering career, the partner I was assigned to said something I still remember: “There is only one legal question, and that’s ‘what do we do.'”

That is also the basic question at issue in all policy debates. We citizens can only hope that what policymakers will decide to do will be informed by fact, rather than by emotion, partisanship, disinformation from those with a stake in the outcome, or fixed ideologies that make reasoned decision-making impossible. In less hot-button matters,at least, that goal still seems achievable.

But what do we do when we are faced with distasteful realities about the electorate–realities that determine the behaviors of elected officials chosen by those voters? Dylan Matthews at Vox recently addressed one such unpleasant reality.

Noting the efforts of essayists and pundits to “take the concerns of Trump voters seriously,” he pointed out that, in fact, these would-be sympathetic observers are actually tiptoeing around the real concerns of Trump supporters, which are not rooted in economics:

There is absolutely no evidence that Trump’s supporters, either in the primary or the general election, are disproportionately poor or working class. Exit polling from the primaries found that Trump voters made about as much as Ted Cruz voters, and significantly more than supporters of either Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders. Trump voters, FiveThirtyEight’s Nate Silver found, had a median household income of $72,000, a fair bit higher than the $62,000 median household income for non-Hispanic whites in America.

It is very hard to disagree with what Dylan pinpoints as the actual motivation of a troubling number of Trump supporters:

So what is driving Trump supporters? In the general election, the story is pretty simple: What’s driving support for Trump is that he is the Republican nominee, a little fewer than half of voters always vote for Republicans, and Trump is getting most of those voters.

In the primary, though, the story was, as my colleague Zack Beauchamp has explained at length, almost entirely about racial resentment. There’s a wide array of data to back this up.

UCLA’s Michael Tesler has found that support for Trump in the primaries strongly correlated with respondents’ racial resentment, as measured by survey data. Similarly, Republican voters with the lowest opinions of Muslims were the most likely to vote for Trump, and voters who strongly support mass deportation of undocumented immigrants were likelier to support him in the primaries too.

In April, when the Pew Research Center asked Republicans for their views on Trump, and their opinions on the US becoming majority nonwhite by 2050, they found that Republicans who thought a majority nonwhite population would be “bad for the country” had overwhelmingly favorable views of Trump. Those who thought it was a positive or neutral development were evenly split on Trump.

Matthews notes–with examples–why policies providing more substantial economic security (which he supports) are unlikely to ameliorate racial animus, and then he addresses the “what should we do?” question:

One thing this analysis decidedly does not imply is “Hey, Trump supporters are just racists, let’s give up on them.” Trump’s nomination is a threat to America that must be addressed and never allowed to happen again. Giving up is not an option. We have to figure out some way to respond….

Any solution has to begin with a correct diagnosis of the problem. If Trump’s supporters are not, in fact, motivated by economic marginalization, then even full Bernie Sanders–style social democracy is not going to prevent a Trump recurrence. Nor are GOP-style tax cuts, and liberal pundits aggressively signaling virtue to each other by writing ad nauseam about the need to empathize with the Trump Voter aren’t doing anyone any good.

What’s needed is an honest reckoning with what it means that a large segment of the US population, large enough to capture one of the two major political parties, is motivated primarily by white nationalism and an anxiety over the fast-changing demographics of the country. Maybe the GOP will find a way to control and contain this part of its base. Maybe the racist faction of the party will dissipate over time, especially as Obama’s presidency recedes into memory. Maybe it took Trump’s celebrity to mobilize them at all, and future attempts will fail.

But Donald Trump’s supporters’ concerns are heavily about race. Taking them seriously means, first and foremost, acknowledging that, and dealing with it honestly.

Agreed. But how?


  1. How? For starters how about soundly defeating the R folks all the way up and down the ballot. Unless they are soundly kicked to the curb, they will keep doing this crap.

  2. Electing President Barack Obama – twice – our first African-American president, set off a firestorm of racism which, like the proverbial snowball rolling downhill, gathered momentum and grew in size. Other races were added to the African-Americans (whose ancestors didn’t all come from Africa); along with religions, immigrants and sexual orientation. The Trump supporters, backed by the GOP, are better organized; if we “others” would begin coming together in a common cause, we would outnumber Trump’s racists by millions. Organization is the key; women “began” gaining ground when they began organizing their support and their efforts. We get nowhere till we take that first step toward coming together to reach the decision as to “What Do We Do?”

    We do not have to ALL agree on every issue; we do need a firm foundation and strong alignment on our primary goals. Lesser issues can be worked out when and IF we come together with a basic common cause…such as upholding the Constitution of the United States of America as it was written to be “a government of the people, by the people and for the people…” as President Abraham Lincoln so eloquently stated. The current government has begun to perish as he forewarned us so long ago in the same small Pennsylvania town where Donald Trump spewed his venomous message yesterday.

  3. And assuming that Hillary wins, the “white nationalists” who were so outraged because an African-American was president will be just as angry that a white woman is. I guess that also makes them “male nationalists.”

  4. How do we deal with it?
    It being the racial element in this political year.
    Expose it for what it is and go forward with faith in the sloppy democratic system working.
    It will.
    More importantly we also need to get like minded friends to work within this system so we can champion their structure.
    Action from those within the system will allow us to move forward.
    Everyone’s vote counts, just vote.

  5. Living in North Carolina, I am appalled by the thousands of Trump supporters who adore him and his agenda. Between two and three thousand of them showed up a couple of days ago at the Western North Carolina Agriculture Center in Asheville.

    More and Confederate flags are waving from cars and trucks.

    Clearly these misguided folk would have benefited from a better education – one that concentrated on the morality of political decisions.

    Sadly, there is illegal political pandering being spewed from many a pulpit in this part of the country and lots of churches should lose their tax exempt status.

  6. It will be very hard to go forward in any kind of political way. The disinformation and distrust of government/intellectuals/experts of any kind sown over decades will not be erased quickly. We will have to experience a deep financial/social/physical threat or crisis that may, indeed, burn it all down before it is over and we realize that working together is a far better option. Common, public good has been forgotten or rejected by a large segment of the voting population.
    Racism is a cancer. Combine it with xenophobia and misogyny and administer into an already suppressed immune system and you have total collapse.
    The information about the incomes of those who support Trump comes as no surprise. Drive around some neighborhoods in the donut counties of Indianapolis and you will find lots of his supporters in high income areas. Racism is alive and well in Indiana.

  7. Sheila: “But Donald Trump’s supporters’ concerns are heavily about race. Taking them seriously means, first and foremost, acknowledging that, and dealing with it honestly.

    Agreed. But how?

    As a starter:

    First of all, give Donald Trump more respect. I’ve failed to do that. A few days ago I called him an “asshole.” I apologize, for acting out my fears. Call him for what he is. He’s a full blown FASCIST with a massive following and don’t be so damn sure that he’s not going to win the election.

    Secondly, quit believing the polls, two or three days ago, the First Baptist Church here in Jacksonville called for a massive rally on November 6th. That’s a Sunday, two days before the election. As I have said many times before, Jacksonville is the spearhead of the movement. In 2004, the Reverend Billy Graham had a week long revival in Jacksonville that ended two days before the election. It made the difference in the Florida election.

    Evangelical churches are poweful in every state. They will take the lead from Jacksonville. They can vote in mass. Meanwhile enthusiasm for Hillary Clinton is questionable in the minority communites, as she is continued bombarded from one accusation to another, with some truth in all of them.

  8. Many of Trump’s supporters are older voters who won’t be voting for anybody much longer, either for the likes of him or a perhaps more conventional Republican (assuming he is one). Since race is such a touchy subject, perhaps we liberals should just hunker down, stay true to our beliefs and values, and allow nature to take its course. Evidence of change in the future? For the second consecutive year, non-white kids outnumbered white kids in kindergarten.

    The Republican Party Party was ripped apart from within as its factions warred on how to divide the spoils even before Trump and was headed for the fate of its predecessor Whigs with or without his help, whose candidacy, however, has accelerated its descent, but that makes no difference to his oblivious supporters. The Trumpites take potshots at Democrats and
    Republicans alike, preferring to tear the house down rather than repair it.

    Conclusion: The Republican Party is either going to become more Ike-like or go the way of the Whigs, from whose ashes the Republican Party arose in 1854. It members don’t really have a
    choice, and what we are seeing these days is a last ditch rear-guard action by a party dying for lack of a common governing philosophy. Their Big Tent designed to accommodate various points of view isn’t that big. Expect a post-election implosion.

  9. If you speak to the Trump supporters, you will hear that there’s not a racist bone in their bodies. Why, they even know some of “the blacks” personally. Aside from gender, the real clear differences between the Trump supporters and the Clinton supporters seem to be education, with college educated whites favoring Clinton and non-college educated whites favoring Trump, and age, with younger voters favoring Clinton.

    What that indicates to me is that the more exposure one has to different ethnicities and religions, the less racist one is likely to be. We older people were exposed to “others” in college. Young people are exposed more in their daily lives. They go to school with “others”, they play games with “others”, they even sit down to meals with “others” in school cafeterias.

    Eventually the most racist part of our population will just die off. Until then we have to speak out and keep speaking out. We won’t win most of them over, but we can perhaps make them start thinking about race differently.

  10. My thoughts turned to this story I posted a few days ago.
    Of course, I assumed it was a fake story of satire, and gave it a quick ‘laugh’ face and passed on.
    But, after reading your essay, I went back to find the information “About” it. Lo, and behold, it’s a real newspaper and radio operation centered in Champaign, IL, so it’s a REAL story.

    My comment, then, is simply this: We will be dealing with the Trumpists you wrote about today, Dr. Kennedy, for a long, long time, so is there really ANY way to deal with middle class prosperity and its social prejudices, whether inherited or earned? That HAS to be the first “what do we do” question.

  11. Marv – I am on the side of liberal Keynesian-oriented Democrats and as an active member of the Occupy Movement and as one who spent some time in the South Pacific during WW II some years ago, I am not running away from any fight. However. while fighting and staying true to my own values, I observe that many of my opponents are going to be removed from the scene shortly in the course of things. I can walk and chew gum at the same time.

  12. I believe this battle will get worse and much uglier before it fades away over time. Until the white supremacists become outnumbered by either the death of their members or the constant changing of the landscape of skin color, they will continue their ignorant fight.

    The only way that I have found to be able to shut them up and put them in their place is when I bring up the fact about our forefathers brutally murdered the native Americans and stole this land from them. No one can argue with that FACT. It doesn’t change their mind, but it sure does put a stop to their rants for the moment.

  13. We are, all 7.5B of us I believe, facing fundamental limits. The Anthropcene.

    The future is so problamatic and complex and challanging that only the few want to take it on. The rest prefer the past thank you very much.

    When my then young grandson was living in China he told his mother once that he wanted to go back to Rochester where things were “regular”. That’s what many want today but it requires not relocation but time travel.

    When one removes all of the tribal designations what’s left are progressives and regressives.

    My mother was fond of saying “You made your bed, now lie in it.” That usually proceeded consequences and what are called today “teachable moments”.

    Humanity has made our bed but it’s pretty uncomfortable.

    Progressives lead regressives not because they are smarter but because they are headed into the only direction allowed, forward.

  14. Peggy; any idea when the “racist dying off” will begin? There are a few people I would like to say goodbye to…mainly to make sure they ARE leaving us.

  15. Gerald,

    Thanks for the info. I understand you better now, especially your support of the Occupy Movement. You’re betting on an ideological change. That’s our big divide. I’m not. In my opinion, based on tracking the Religious Right/Far Right movement since 1970, it is too late for that. It’s a way of denying the present. It prevents us from STANDING UP to the dangerous ideology we’re facing right now……..FASCISM……..which the Germans failed to do, but at least tried to do.

  16. Gerald,

    Nevertheless, I agree with Nancy that you have a terrific ability to articulate the best in democratic ideals. Like Nancy, you also have my vote for President.

  17. Donald Trump is leading a FASCIST MOVEMENT. In Germany, it was called the Nazi Movement. Germany had a multi-party system based on coalitions. The Nazis obtained their power through the electoral process even though they didn’t have a majority of the vote.

    On the other hand, in the U.S. we have basically a two-party system. Consequently, the fascist movement in the U.S. with its multiple branding, in its attempt to take control, had to be a part of a major party. Thus, the fascist movement picked the Republican Party to infiltrate, just like the John Birch Society had recommended [Let’s not forget the Koch Brothers’ father was one of the founders of the John Birch Society]. And were successful, as we can all see, but might have a problem in admitting. That’s where we are today, October 23, 2016, what some have called the PRESENT.

  18. Let’s face it. We each only have control over ourselves. Period. So, let us start there and vow to work hard to become better people. Better each day as we venture out into the world. Better at listening, at being open to others, to developing our own compassion for others. Better at supporting those organizations that promote equal rights, lifelong learning, tolerance. Better at standing up for the Constitution in an intelligent and dignified way. Better at being Americans. It won’t by itself solve the recurring problem of racism in our country, but it is the place to start.

  19. Marv,

    I don’t have your political history knowledge and most likely never will, but I do appreciate the lessons that you point out. Regarding my very limited knowledge of WW Two and how Hitler came to power, I have been reading enough to recognize that the Germans regretted the actions of their parents and relatives who supported the Nazis. What is troubling me at this moment in time is that it seems that enough time has passed that many citizens in Germany, Austria and Hungary are going back in time and turning on refugees. My friend in Austria speaks of how the far-right there are beginning to take over and have the same mindset of the far-right here. Apparently, history cannot stop repeating itself.

  20. Nancy,

    “Apparently, history cannot stop repeating itself.”

    You’re right, but it doesn’t necessarily belong to the victors. My position on the history of Naziism, which was the most virulent of the fascist movements in the 20’s and 30’s and which is the playbook for the Far Right in America, has within it not just the problems but also the answers. Over the years, I’ve used my anti-Nazi playbook and have been highly successful in doing that. There were some magnificent Germans during that period and that’s where we still have a chance if we can learn from them. I’ve learned a lot. As a matter of fact, I haven’t lost on a major encounter with the deep forces within the Far Right up until this point. That’s why I was asked to be one of the featured speakers at the “Inaugural Sun Tzu’s Art of War Conference” in Nashville back in February, although I admit there is always a first time.

    However, we don’t have to lose this time, if we learn from the past. It is all there. It is not about me. I’m just a copycat.

  21. My comment is about a small tactical matter rather than the much larger strategic matters upon which you all have commented so eloquently.

    But I was struck by Peggy’s comment that our young people learn about “others” in their daily lives, because that exposure is EXACTLY what is threatened by charter schools and vouchers for school “choice.”

    Much of what is driving school choice in Indiana is religious, but it is also about limiting children’s exposure to “undesirable” elements. Parents talk in terms of disruption, but it’s code for race.

    If our schools become re-segregated, we will lose our best opportunity to resolve racial and cultural differences through organic processes. We really will be headed back to the 1950’s, and race war becomes more probable.

  22. Marv and Nancy – I respectfully decline your nomination for president. I voted for Hillary in the primary and though I found Bernie’s ideas more interesting than hers, I thought that a vote for him would invite a 25-hour a day hammer and sickle tirade from Fox News and other such propaganda organs, and as Vonnegut might say, so it goes – but it doesn’t go. There are solutions to right wing fantasies in the here and now. For instance, as I recently blogged, we could solve Trump’s refusal to show us his tax returns by adopting Norway’s law, where every citizen’s tax returns are published for all to see. I think that is a good idea as it would give us very interesting information of accounts in Swiss and Cayman banks and in general greatly reduce tax cheating and increase revenue to government. I have also visited Denmark and have championed the way they handle health, education and other such investments in their people as opposed to our investments in the profits of Wall Street – but I’m not running. I have already early voted for Hillary and would do so again so as to participate in the massive fraud Trump throws out for consumption of the unwary and even wary (in the face of Loyola University’s findings of 37 cases of voter fraud in over a billion votes cast). Such fraud! Democracy is doomed!

  23. Ginny F,

    “Much of what is driving school choice in Indiana is religious, but it is also about limiting children’s exposure to “undesirable” elements. Parents talk in terms of disruption, but it’s code for race.”

    You’re right that’s where much of the problem we’re now facing begins, and it is ending up at the entrance of white supremacy movements. A professor at the University of North Florida infiltrated various white supremacist organizations over ten years ago and reported how most of the recruits were coming from religious backgrounds. It was a feature article in our alternative weekly, “Folio” back then. Also, he repeated much it on at least one national TV talk show at that time.

  24. Perhaps you are asking the wrong question. You want to know “What do we do?” I think we should be asking whether anything can be done. It should be no surprise that we see fascism rising among the churchy people. Stupidity leads to religion and authoritarianism. The less mentally nimble among us want to be told what to do, whether it be by megachurch-Jeebus or super-Cheeto. We are not going to change that by telling stupid people not to be stupid. We can educate them, sort of, but we can’t change their genetics. Frankly, I think our future lies in idiocracy, global tyranny, or enlightened genetic tinkering. Billy Bob Human just ain’t smart enough for this fancy-schmancy democracy thing.

  25. Over it,

    “The less mentally nimble among us want to be told what to do, whether it be by megachurch-Jeebus or super-Cheeto. We are not going to change that by telling stupid people not to be stupid. We can educate them, sort of, but we can’t change their genetics.”

    I sure didn’t advocate the above. I understand your apprehension. But, fascism can be stopped. It probably would have been in 1938, if Neville Chamberlain had not sold out to Hitler over the Sudetenland [German speaking part of Czechoslovkia]. See “The Oster Conspiracy of 1938: The Unknown Story of the Military Plot to— Avert World War II” by Terry Parssinen (New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2003), It doesn’t necessarily have to be by assassination. Hans Oster was second in command of German military intelligence.

    “This [German resistance] movement was not only not encouraged, but was indirectly opposed by Germany’s enemies. For anyone who could not convince himself not to be an emigrant, there remained no other option, if one wished to live and die as a German patriot, than to join the tenacious opposition. Fate and fault, fate and guilt, are closely intertwined here on both sides. Only a time less torn by the passions of the day will be able to judge whether the resistance was truly useless or whether it LAID THE FOUNDATION from within for the renewal of the German people.” ~Theo Kordt, Conspirator

    “Hans Oster was a man after God’s own heart, of irreproachable character, great lucidity, and iron nerve in the face of danger” ~Fabian von Schlabrendorff, Historian

  26. Over it,

    You change the people you are talking about……not through ethics or morality…… but by fear. It is the fear that the movement they are supporting isn’t going to win. No one likes to lose, no matter what their persuasion or the movement they are presently supporting.

  27. America is not the Germany of 1938. It only appears that way, to many, since there is absolutely no organized defense against the Far Right Movement. The Far Right movement is much, much more than the KKK etc. and its major distractor, the Southern Poverty Law Center.

    The nerve center of the movement has had absolutely no organized opposition since the beginning. The Koch Brothers and the Bush Family have had uncontested control of the movement until Donald Trump jumped in and seized control of the extremely racist part of the movement. As a matter of fact , during the rise of the Nazi movement, there were two serious attempts by outsiders to take control, however, both failed.

  28. Racist stereotypes die hard, especially when repeated over and over again by high profile personalities like presidential candidates. Who wouldn’t be scared of Mexicans if they most really were murderers and rapists?

    It’s VERY disappointing that the media fail to research and report that border cities with high proportions of Mexican Americans have lower crime rates than majority caucasian cities.

    A current conservative pundit explains Donald Trump’s support as a consequence of what many Americans see as a wave of cultural tsunamis overwhelming their traditional beliefs.

    As more straight caucasians have become acquainted with LGBTs, Asians, Hispanics, African-Americans, and various other races, cultures, and religions, we have learned from and enjoyed each other. “Separate and equal” was not only unequal; it was self-imposed ignorance. Those who are fortunate enough to travel to foreign lands want to learn about new people, locations, and traditions. Thankfully, we can learn from those different than ourselves right here.

  29. Sorry for the editing error above. To clarify, who wouldn’t be scared of Mexicans if most really were murderers and rapists?

    P.S. Donald Trump complains of rigged elections. I wish he’d stop rigging perceptions.

  30. Oh my gosh, Ginny F! What you wrote about segregation with vouchers and charters has been in my uppermost thoughts since Mitch et al. began expansion. It drives me crazy. What better way to separate the peoples and create our very own caste system? Separation through charters and vouchers and isolation through texting and social media that deprive our kids of real social interaction and communication will have even graver effects than what we are seeing during this election cycle.

  31. I have several scattered comments to make, though I don’t promise that they add up to anything coherent.
    1. Upsurges of races have occurred frequently throughout American history, particularly in the face of status challenge or Depression-style economic slowdowns: 1890s, 1920s, 1930s, etc. The upsurge of the Klan in the 1920s is instructive: its strength was primarily in the north and west: Connecticut, Indiana, Colorado, California. Invective was directed at African-Americans, Catholics, immigrants. In Richmond, IN, a particularly strong center, there were less than 3% of the above groups combined, suggesting something else was going on.
    Further, I will make my judgement when I wake up on Wednesday morning (along with some jaw pain, as I am going to the dentist on Tuesday also). Polls are great, but they maker them just like Trump markets “news events.”
    If we are about to be overthrown by fascism a little thing like an election isn’t going to stop anybody.
    2. Since the late 60s, the Republican hierarchy has happily recruited every whack-job out there if they would support their candidate. Now they and every one else is surprised that they have Trump as their candidate: if you strike a bargain with the devil, you just might get him for political office.
    As for this being the worst it has ever gotten–anybody here remember a guy named George Wallace?
    3. What everyone misses is that Donald Trump sounds awfully like someone such as Glenn Beck (to a degree that even embarrasses Glenn, who apparently didn’t think anyone took him seriously?). And, it is primarily a media event sponsored by and whose riches are gathered up by–the mass media.
    4. Fear mongering: Trump keeps saying that if you don’t elect him, it will be the apocalypse. The problem here is that Democrats/Clinton keep saying the same thing. Who’s right, or are we back to Political Tactics 101 (of Big Money). The Democratic Party offers a return to a properly functioning political system and my suspicion is that means politics pre-Bernie Sanders as well as Donald Trump. The Democratic Party hierarchy hopes this all just goes away so that they can get back to making deals with big money and acting like they do things like support working people. That has been the “normal” politics where people vote every 4 years and where this constitutes the total of our civic and political activity as citizens (sadly, I qualify here, as well). That is a Democratic Party I can no longer support. This began as an election about economic issues, but that no longer gets mentioned. I finally suggest that economics no longer gets mentioned elicits a sign of relief from the management.

  32. Good post and great comments. I welcomed a British journalist from the Guardian UK to Muncie two weeks ago. He’s writing about the election and perspectives from Middletown USA as established by the Lynd’s sociological research.

    I’ve tried to use that lens in my posts at Muncie Voice. We had a high school that was opened in the 60’s – mainly during the civil rights movement. They named themselves the Rebels and the confederate flag was proudly flown. It was closed by our school board several years ago due to financial constraints. There are plenty of people still sore about the school closing!

    Ian Haney Lopez wrote a book called, “Dog Whistle Politics”. He discusses Nixon’s strategy for garnering votes called, The Southern Strategy. They would use racism to attract voters – poor whites from the South – racists. It’s been weaved into our culture and played out through our media. Demonizing democrats as “baby killers” and the party which, “gives away freebies to black people.”

    They don’t say this outright, mind you. They say it in coded messages. Free phones, Obamacare, Planned Parenthood, welfare, etc., etc.

    Gary Younge started picking up on the racial rifts in Muncie fairly quick. He also hasn’t written about Trump supporters, yet. It’s difficult because you have to seek out the truth in order to heal, but truth seeking isn’t what our “free and independent press” does anymore. It was created from our constitution to serve the people and hold the powerful accountable. Since the press hasn’t performed that role in decades, people aren’t used to it.

    What was the famous line from Colonel Jessup in A Few Good Men, “You can’t handle the truth.”

    In our community, racism was constructed years ago by white industrialists who sold off tracts of land to build a teaching college. The Ball family’s children wrote neighborhood association documents which restricted blacks from certain neighborhoods where the white managers and professionals would live. The blacks were relegated to one part of town while the white working class lived in another.

    What’s funny is, if you read our history, none of the above is mentioned. Engineering racism was hard lined back in the late 1800’s, but as federal laws restricted it, it became softer, more subtle.

    But guess what?

    The lines are still there and nobody is aware their neighborhood association restricts blacks. White people are still upset that blacks can swim in our community pool. I believe there was a study in North Carolina showing how “school choice”, “school reform” policies actually resulted in legalized segregation.

    Do you think the Hoosier state is any different? Do you think the Oligarchs are going to admit they still use race to divide us?

    They’ve been pitting the white working class against the blacks since this country was founded.

    Do you think the Koch brothers are going to admit to their political marketing strategy??

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