We’re getting used to seeing headlines like this recent one in the Washington Post: “Hate in America is On the Rise.” According to the lede,
A statistical breakdown suggests that nearly 60 percent of these crimes were motivated by racial bias, with African Americans targeted in about half of those. Over 20 percent were expressions of religious animosity; more than half of those attacks were aimed at Jews, with another quarter targeting Muslims. (There has been a sharp rise in crimes against Muslims and people of Arab descent.)
Sociologists and psychiatrists can offer informed analyses of the social conditions that cause people harboring bigoted attitudes to “act out.” But it isn’t much of a stretch to attribute a significant portion of this troubling spike in hate crimes to a President who traffics in racial and religious stereotypes.
In fact, Trump’s victory poses a chicken-and-egg conundrum: did rising tribalism and bigotry lead to his election? Or did he win by nurturing and exploiting that bigotry?
The answer, of course, is both.
In the Atlantic, Adam Serwer has provided a compelling analysis of the essential nature of Trump’s appeal. He began that analysis by revisiting David Duke’s gubernatorial campaign in Louisiana. Then, as now, the Chattering Classes attributed Duke’s appeal to economic “distress.” Then–as now–the data simply didn’t support that explanation.
Duke’s strong showing, however, wasn’t powered merely by poor or working-class whites—and the poorest demographic in the state, black voters, backed Johnston. Duke “clobbered Johnston in white working-class districts, ran even with him in predominantly white middle-class suburbs, and lost only because black Louisianans, representing one-quarter of the electorate, voted against him in overwhelming numbers,” The Washington Post reported in 1990. Duke picked up nearly 60 percent of the white vote. Faced with Duke’s popularity among whites of all income levels, the press framed his strong showing largely as the result of the economic suffering of the white working classes. Louisiana had “one of the least-educated electorates in the nation; and a large working class that has suffered through a long recession,” The Post stated.
Duke’s position as a leader of the KKK was explained away by Louisiana voters, who blamed the media for “making Duke seem racist.”
The economic explanation carried the day: Duke was a freak creature of the bayou who had managed to tap into the frustrations of a struggling sector of the Louisiana electorate with an abnormally high tolerance for racist messaging.
Fast forward to 2016, and the Trump campaign. As Serwer writes
During the final few weeks of the campaign, I asked dozens of Trump supporters about their candidate’s remarks regarding Muslims and people of color. I wanted to understand how these average Republicans—those who would never read the neo-Nazi website The Daily Stormer or go to a Klan rally at a Confederate statue—had nevertheless embraced someone who demonized religious and ethnic minorities. What I found was that Trump embodied his supporters’ most profound beliefs—combining an insistence that discriminatory policies were necessary with vehement denials that his policies would discriminate and absolute outrage that the question would even be asked.
It was not just Trump’s supporters who were in denial about what they were voting for, but Americans across the political spectrum, who, as had been the case with those who had backed Duke, searched desperately for any alternative explanation—outsourcing, anti-Washington anger, economic anxiety—to the one staring them in the face. The frequent postelection media expeditions to Trump country to see whether the fever has broken, or whether Trump’s most ardent supporters have changed their minds, are a direct outgrowth of this mistake. These supporters will not change their minds, because this is what they always wanted: a president who embodies the rage they feel toward those they hate and fear, while reassuring them that that rage is nothing to be ashamed of. (emphasis mine)
Serwer notes the “specific dissonance” of Trumpism—people advocating for cruelly discriminatory policies while denying–undoubtedly even to themselves–that there is any racial animus involved. He concludes that without the racism of so substantial a number of white voters, Trump simply could not have won.
This conclusion is supported by virtually all of the data that has emerged since the election.
Serwer also answers a question that has consumed people of good will, as they watch the escalating disaster that is the Trump Administration: when will his supporters realize how destructive his Presidency is? Why hasn’t his abandonment of virtually all of his campaign promises awakened them?
Answer: because the promises he’s kept are the ones that matter to them.
..his ban on travelers from Muslim-majority countries; the unleashing of immigration-enforcement agencies against anyone in the country illegally regardless of whether he poses a danger; an attempt to cut legal immigration in half; and an abdication of the Justice Department’s constitutional responsibility to protect black Americans from corrupt or abusive police, discriminatory financial practices, and voter suppression. In his own stumbling manner, Trump has pursued the race-based agenda promoted during his campaign.
Serwer’s conclusion? So long as Trump promotes the social and political hegemony of white Christians, his supporters won’t abandon him.
There is much more in the article, and it is definitely worth reading in its entirety.