Trump, Le Pen and Racism

On “Last Week Tonight,” his brilliant take on the world we inhabit, John Oliver spent considerable time discussing the upcoming French elections. The entire segment is worth watching–it’s informative as well as hilarious (if depressing can be hilarious)–but one quote really struck home.

“One of the frustrating things about watching this unfold from America, is this feels a little like deja vu,” Oliver warns, “A potentially destabilizing populist campaigning on anti-immigrant rhetoric who rages against the elites despite having a powerful father and inherited wealth, even as experts reassure us that there is no way that this can possibly happen.”

Anyone who has watched the “evolution” of Le Pen’s movement over the years, from her father’s forthright Nazi-ism to her smoother delivery of White Supremacist bigotry, understands the extent to which the upcoming election is a referendum on the extent of French racist sentiment.

Deny it as we might, Americans watching the French political drama unfold have just held a similar referendum.

Media pundits and “serious” political commentators have resisted attributing Trump’s electoral college victory to racism, offering a number of alternative explanations: economic distress in the heartland, Hillary hatred, authoritarian tendencies. Recent research, however, confirms what many of us saw during the campaign–the unsettling resonance of barely veiled racist appeals.

In an article for the Washington Post, Thomas Wood, a political science professor at Ohio State, mined newly available data.

Last week, the widely respected 2016 American National Election Study was released, sending political scientists into a flurry of data modeling and chart making.

The ANES has been conducted since 1948, at first through in-person surveys, and now also online, with about 1,200 nationally representative respondents answering some questions for about 80 minutes. This incredibly rich, publicly funded data source allows us to put elections into historical perspective, examining how much each factor affected the vote in 2016 compared with other recent elections.

Wood evaluated the evidence for the income and authoritarian hypotheses, and found them insufficiently predictive. He then looked at the data measuring racial resentment.

Many observers debated how important Trump’s racial appeals were to his voters. During the campaign, Trump made overt racial comments, with seemingly little electoral penalty. Could the unusual 2016 race have further affected Americans’ racial attitudes?…

Since 1988, we’ve never seen such a clear correspondence between vote choice and racial perceptions. The biggest movement was among those who voted for the Democrat, who were far less likely to agree with attitudes coded as more racially biased.

The statistics told the story.

Finally, the statistical tool of regression can tease apart which had more influence on the 2016 vote: authoritarianism or symbolic racism, after controlling for education, race, ideology, and age. Moving from the 50th to the 75th percentile in the authoritarian scale made someone about 3 percent more likely to vote for Trump. The same jump on the SRS scale made someone 20 percent more likely to vote for Trump.

The unexpected results of the Brexit vote in England have been widely attributed to anti-immigrant bias. Le Pen’s appeal is explicitly racist and nationalist, and she is expected to easily make the run-off in France’s upcoming election. In the United States–long considered a beacon of inclusivity, despite our frequent lapses–the electorate ignored the terrifying personal and intellectual deficiencies of a candidate who appealed to their tribalism and racial resentments.

Are these events– and others, like the Turkish election– evidence of the decline of cosmopolitanism, and a global triumph of tribalism? If so, what happens next?


  1. Marv, whenever you have recommended a book or article or blog post, I have found such to be both interesting and thoughtful. But I have to confess that I often don’t understand what points you are trying to make in your posts to this blog. I don’t understand your oblique references, or the significance you give to them. I don’t know if that is because I am of a different generation, gender, ethnicity, lived experience, or maybe I’m just not very smart, but if you feel that your viewpoints are not given the respect that they should be given, that is likely very true. But it’s not due to a lack of respect for you. In my case, at least, it’s because I experience your commentary as somewhat “hit and run.” That is always a limitation of written exchanges where affect and intonation are missing, and it’s difficult to ask questions that would clarify.

    So my request is that you take pity on me, at least, and say, straight out, what you mean. Your mind is too subtle for me to follow, and that leads to misunderstanding.

  2. Changing the subject from soup to nuts…I would be interested to know if there are piles and piles of lawsuits against Trump and the so-called administration concerning his taxes, divesting himself of financial holdings, nepotism, three very, VERY expensive “White Houses” spread out across the East Coast of these United States, and all the rest of it. Is he just getting away with all of it at the taxpayers’ expense? Pricey, don’t you think? Surely there is something afoot that we don’t know about…something that is going to hold this man accountable for all of these misdeeds and more. Does he get to just simply walk away when all of this is over to one of the homes (Trump Tower or Mar-a-Lago) or one of his 400+ real estate properties offered for sale at up to $35 million?

    Happy Earth Day while there still is one. As Pete says, there is no Planet B…not yet anyway!

  3. Ginny F,

    “[Marv]But it’s not due to a lack of respect for you. In my case, at least, it’s because I experience your commentary as somewhat “hit and run.”

    This is Sheila’s blog not mine. I have great admiration for her, but we have fundamental differences. And that’s why it seems to you that I “hit and miss.” No blog is an example of complete freedom of speech.

    If you want that then you need to have your own blog or maybe better, Twitter. I have to admit in this instance I’ve been a very slow learner.

    Thanks for your interest. I hope this has helped.

  4. Marv,

    As a frequent blog reader, I confess that I understand Ginny’s assessment. Your posts tend to follow an established pattern from the highly thoughtful and well-sourced, to the hyperactive ‘hit and run’ one-liners interjected without context, and then followed by a few argumentative posts suggesting you’re misunderstood. At that point, you disappear seemingly to nurse your perceived wounds and to await invitations to rejoin the discussion.

    C’mon, Marv, you’re way too intelligent, far too experienced, and frankly too old to continue this self-defeating pattern in a group discussion. By the way, I’m the person who tells the stranger on the street that he has spinach stuck on his front teeth.

  5. Preston,

    It must be self-defeating for you. I can’t believe you are in a position to know what is good or bad for me. I don’t remember you ever asking any questions. I’ve gained much from participating in the blog, especially the feedback, for almost two years. I don’t know of anyone who has more integrity than Sheila. It’s been an extremely positive experience for the most part.

    By the way, I don’t remember anyone ever asking me to go further, until now after I have DEFINITELY decided to leave. The message I received was always the opposite except for Betty.

    As a matter of fact, I don’t recall any post from you other than this one in the almost two years.

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