Politics and Racism

There’s an ongoing debate about the extent to which bigotry motivated Trump voters.

Certainly, his anti-Muslim diatribes resonated with the Republican base, no matter how devoid of logic or fact. (As has been pointed out many times, immigrants from the nations singled out by Trump’s Executive Orders have been responsible for exactly zero terrorist attacks in the United States; however, had the courts not stayed them, those Orders would have affected 15,000 Doctors.)

But it wasn’t only Muslim-Americans. Trump inveighed endlessly against Mexican immigrants, used code words and stereotypes to communicate his animus against African-Americans, and defended himself (weakly) against charges of anti-Semitism by pointing out that his daughter had converted to Judaism when she married.

And of course, his “wall” was an obvious metaphor for the division between “us” and “them.”

There was a reason he was enthusiastically endorsed by the KKK and a number of equally disreputable white supremacist groups.

That said, pundits on both the left and right have protested the unfairness of attributing support for Trump to racist attitudes, rather than to economic distress and/or Hillary hatred. So recent research from the General Social Survey is illuminating.  As Ed Brayton reports,

The National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago does continual polling on many questions called the General Social Survey. And it shows that while American society as a whole still buys into racist stereotypes, Republicans are far more likely to hold such views.

The General Social Survey is one of the oldest, and largest, recurring surveys of American behaviors and attitudes. It collects far more data than most researchers can afford to do, and as a result, as Brayton notes, it is able to “drill down” further than most similar efforts.

The 2016 results have now been released, and they are both noteworthy and concerning.

The partisan gaps among whites were as wide or wider than we’ve seen since the survey first started asking most of these questions in the 1990s. It’s not that white Republicans’ views of African Americans have dimmed so much as that they haven’t kept pace with those of white Democrats. But in some cases, the GOP has moved in the other direction.

The biggest yawning gap between Democrats and Republicans is on the issue of motivation and will power. The GSS asks whether African Americans are worse off economically “because most just don’t have the motivation or will power to pull themselves up out of poverty?”

A majority — 55 percent — of white Republicans agreed with this statement, compared to 26 percent of white Democrats…

The survey also asks people to rate the races on how hard-working or lazy they are, which allows us to compare whether people rate some higher than others.

In this case, 42 percent of white Republicans rated African Americans as being lazier than whites, versus 24 percent of white Democrats.

Are we really supposed to believe that all those voters who said they liked Trump because he “tells it like it is” and “isn’t ‘politically correct'” were reacting to his position on trade?

Racism and stereotyping may be more pronounced among Republicans, but Democrats are hardly immune. Refusing to admit how consequential racism is, refusing to recognize how many of our political and social attitudes are rooted in disdain for the “Other,” distorts public discourse and perpetuates bias and misunderstanding.

America has a problem–and a blind spot.


  1. Have to largely agree, unfortunately.

    I saw much of the same with friends on social media. All of the time I showed displeasure or disdain over Obama’s broken promises or actions they liked my statements and were friendly.

    As expected my Obama friends objected, strenuously in some cases, but they never quit communicating or listening.

    Many of my R friends who were big on calling others snowflakes acted like the biggest snowflakes of all.

    They seem to have lost their moral outrage over broken promises and developed a number of double standards in regards to Presidential expenses, golf outings and blame for saying one thing and doing another that had been heaped on the previous administration.

    The minute I applied the same standards to Trump 90% either trolled, unfollowed, defriended or blocked me from their feeds.

    It’s not just racism, there is an air of a superiority complex with a double shot of hypocrisy with many of my R friends.

    I heard a podcast from the ex-Mayor of Lafayette LA. He stated he was opposed on one action by both the Tea Party and Black Lives matter. To me, this is an indication what goes around comes around. I have believed for decades that if you follow the loonies at the fringes of the left to their conclusion they intersect on the dark side with the loonies of the right. Not calling BLM or TP loonies but they do represent the opposite ends of the political spectrum.

  2. “Racism and stereotyping may be more pronounced among Republicans, but Democrats are hardly immune. Refusing to admit how consequential racism is, refusing to recognize how many of our political and social attitudes are rooted in disdain for the “Other,” distorts public discourse and perpetuates bias and misunderstanding.”

    This blog struck a very personal nerve with me which is why I copied and pasted the paragraph above. As Pete said long ago, I tend to use personal references in many of my comments and this can get no more personal than one of my Black ex-husbands who WAS a commenter on this blog. He often referred correctly to racism being the basis for many of our problems in this country and within the government…Republicans and Democrats alike in many cases. His comment a few months ago to the effect that “…Trump was elected and we need to accept it and go on with our lives…” amazed me knowing his personal beliefs. With my busy little fingers I responded by asking him; “…if Trump’s deportation of African-Americans is made retroactive and Blacks of his generation are also deported, would he please keep an eye on my three biracial great-grandchildren…” We have heard no more from him. Another blog commenter (now inactive) and I are friends outside of the blog; she pointed out that MAYBE he didn’t want others on the blog to know he is Black. This could very well be; I do know him well.

    Going back a number of years to another known political personage here so I will not mention the name; a Black man who was director of the Small Businessmen’s Association was working with Republicans to end food stamp programs for all. His own mother was receiving food stamps; I asked if he would help her financially if she lost her food stamps he stated he would NOT; “…she needs to learn to live on her own income…”

    As Pete said, personal “insider” information from one who has fought racism and bigotry in this city for years. I lived in Las Vegan briefly; at that time a very cosmopolitan city where my Black husband and I were not an oddity and stared at in public. I didn’t realize that segregation was alive and well in Florida till shortly after moving there; it is quite blatant, unlike here where it is still somewhat in the shadowland publicly in many caseas.

    “Politics And Racism” is politely given other names and harms all races here under staunch Republican leadership which seems to be firmly implanted in the minds and hearts of most Hoosiers but it hasn’t been Republicans alone passing discriminatory laws. When Senators Donnelly and Coats worked diligently before the end of Coats’ Senatorship, to pass into law that the term “Hoosier” is now the legal name of Indiana residents at the federal level – did they include more than white residents, LGBTQs, Jews, Muslims, Atheists and the African-Americans, Hispanics and Asian in this dubious honor? If so; why are they continuing to deprive these groups of “others” of their rights by passing restrictive laws? I should include women as a separate “race” due to Pence’s religious restrictions on our ability to make rational medical decisions…whatever our skin color or religious beliefs.

  3. The problem is that most of the Rs and Ds I know don’t recognize racism in themselves. They all have a black friend, they know an Arab who isn’t a terrorist, and they always say hello to the Mexican who mows their lawn. They can’t possibly be racist, can they? Well yes they can. They still expect the person of color who has no shoes to pull himself up by his boot straps. They distrust the “other” without understanding why or even seeing it as distrust. To them it’s just being careful, not being racist.

  4. Peggy, I agree with you. IMO, it is in recognizing that racism and pushing past it that allows us to see the shared humanity of all of us. For me, I am learning to to catch that first, almost sub-conscious reaction of “other” and “get over myself”. I am grateful for this blog and the people who comment here because you have contributed to my growth.

  5. And it shows that while American society as a whole still buys into racist stereotypes, Republicans are far more likely to hold such views.

    And this surprised no one, ever.

  6. There is no such thing as race. There is only one race – the human race – and I think much of the “colorism” we are now experiencing came from the slave legacy, the sense that slaves were by nature underclass. After all, such involuntary immigrants were treated as chattel property and bought and sold and traded on slave markets and left by “massahs” in their wills just as though they were real estate parcels when in fact they are “by nature” humans, just like the rest of us.

    Historically, slavery has been with us for a long time. It was common in Africa, Greece, Rome and elsewhere. It has biblical roots. Whites enslaved whites, blacks enslaved blacks. No one was immune to being enslaved. Even democratic Athens excluded slaves and women from the vote (as expanded to Democrats by modern day Republican state legislatures).

    Of course, enslaving fellow humans was one of the spoils of war and of pelf and privilege. Serfs in medieval times were slaves lite, and if you look closely, we are inching toward such a modern day medieval age with wage inequality, voter suppression and other such indicia of a return to olden days. Those with the gold and outsized political influence today have no good reason to dislike social disruption; it distracts the rest of us from noting their plunder of our treasury.

    Slavery provided cheap labor for the victors and/or rich but it was never a moral right by any standard of human decency of which I am aware. There are some things that can’t be “owned,” and in my opinion personal freedom is one of them, whatever the color or class or other social construct we have invented for our own purposes.

  7. For many years, I was told that Islam was a dark and evil religion. The prejudice didn’t happen overnight. I still have cousins who worry about Islam taking over and hope they can be brave.
    I also have a biracial granddaughter for whom we have a BLACK LIVES MATTER sign. I don’t see us as fringe anything. Of course we live in Austin.

  8. There is much research that’s been done by social scientists on “authoritarianism” as a personality trait. In general those with a bent in that direction both demand strong narrow leadership and are themselves willing and loyal to a fault followers.

    It’s not all surprising to me that such an entitled attitude carries with it many of the “ism” traits we continually examine here. Sexism, racism, nationalism, etc.

    Right at the moment an experiment is being performed in D.C. testing another dimension of authoritarian personality. Can they govern collaboratively?

    Again not surprisingly IMO, the indication has been no, they can’t. Neither strong narrow leaders nor willing loyal to a fault followers can.

    Of course every business book written in the past 50 years agrees on what leadership is and requires and it’s not authoritarianism.

    Yet authoritarians seem surprised at the chaos that follows them everywhere.

    But being loyal to a fault requires a single reaction to that question. It must be someone else’s fault. That closes the loop on “isms”. It’s them.

  9. James Carville famously said in 1992 “The economy, stupid.” In the universe of emotional logic, however, fear of ‘the other’ will always Trump anxiety about money (reference all of human history). The more useful phrase today would be: “It’s racism stupid”

  10. In an essay on “coded speech,” Stanley Fish used the example of a sports announcer’s choice when describing an athlete. If he praises the fellow’s intelligence or work ethic, everyone knows he is talking about a white athlete. If he praises a player’s natural athletic ability, we all know the fellow is black.

  11. It is the economy stupid. It always has been the economy. The problem with the government is that it forgets that a national debt growing Unusually high exponential rate will diminish the amount of programs that we can give to those in need. Everyone in this country should be fiscally conservative. Whether they have a liberal or conservative bias the only way that our nation can go forward is through been stable. my father who was an elected official made it clear that racism was a thing of the past especially for our family.

  12. “Everyone in this country should be fiscally conservative.”

    Of course if this were true using the common modern understanding for the word conservative we would not invest in the future.

    My experience is that’s always the most costly option in business, government, family finances and religion.

  13. Slavery is always the elephant in the room in American history. American chattel slavery was different than other types of slavery in myriad ways. It could only be maintained through terrorism, and by convincing poor whites that, in their abject ignorance and poverty, they were somehow superior to slaves. When reading Rick Smith’s comments, I thought about a recent Facebook post I happened to run across attacking Michelle Obama, whom I admire in more ways than I can count. The sneering, angry, insulting comments were misspelled, mis-punctuated, and ofter barely intelligible.

  14. It is amazing how fast conservatives pick up the liberal label and run with it when handing out liberal taxcuts to the liberally wealthy and then being conservative to the least of us.

  15. Do white people really know if they’re prejudiced. In my opinion, some of them do, but a lot of them don’t. In Indianapolis, most African Americans are clustered in the center of the city and in areas to the north and west. It would not be uncommon for whites not to see African Americans all day. And vice versa. So it would be impossible for any of them to be biased … right? Wrong. One can never be sure.

    For a long time, whites thought they were superior to African Americans, both physically and mentally. That’s gradually changing. More and more whites are now aware that African American males are dominating professional football and basketball teams, college football and basketball teams, high school football and basketball teams. All kinds of teams. They’re increasingly visible.

    African American women are consistently dressing better. They’ve switched from dark colors to pastels … and they look smashing. Both the men and the women are speaking well. If you’re listening for an accent, you’d better listen quickly because the accents are fading away.

    In my opinion, different prejudices are on the horizon. Midgets. Is that a stupid idea? Yes. But all prejudices are stupid. Live with it.

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