Yes, It’s Disheartening. But It’s True.

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 NEW FBI report on hate crimes tells a sobering story. For the second year in a row, police departments across the country reported a rise in the number of crimes motivated by bias.

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.


  1. I want to go on record that.from what I see around me, is the caring, compassion, and love are on the rise. I have received so much kindness when shopping. I go to Aldi for groceries, and since it is a do-it-yourself store, everyone is expected to do it. The first action is renting a cart. This is not an expense but a hassle. People are careful to exchange carts rather than to “mess with the quarter” – problem if you do not have a quarter on you.

    Aldi has very high shelves, and I am under five feet. Within a few seconds of reaching for something, a customer is helping me. The prices are hard to find. We help each other with that. The location of items has changed recently, and we help each other with deal. Many people buy huge quantities, while others, a moderate amount. People with many items are careful to let those with few go ahead in line. The wail is short for the “giver” but b. oth people are grateful for the kindness. When I “unload”, someone almost always aids me in some way, and when I bag up the same good deed takes place. There is happy shopping at Aldi.

  2. Excellent article, thank you.
    Three paragraphs I found most direct:

    Trumpism emerged from a haze of delusion, denial, pride, and cruelty—not as a historical anomaly, but as a profoundly American phenomenon. This explains both how tens of millions of white Americans could pull the lever for a candidate running on a racist platform and justify doing so, and why a predominantly white political class would search so desperately for an alternative explanation for what it had just seen. To acknowledge the centrality of racial inequality to American democracy is to question its legitimacy—so it must be denied.

    Nevertheless, a majority of white voters backed a candidate who assured them that they will never have to share this country with people of color as equals. That is the reality that all Americans will have to deal with, and one that most of the country has yet to confront.

    Yet at its core, white nationalism has and always will be a hustle, a con, a fraud that cannot deliver the broad-based prosperity it promises, not even to most white people. Perhaps the most persuasive argument against Trumpist nationalism is not one its opponents can make in a way that his supporters will believe. But the failure of Trump’s promises to white America may yet show that both the fruit and the tree are poison.

  3. The book, Strangers in their own land, by Arlie Russell Hochschild, published last year, goes into the subject of white working class people in Louisiana voting against their own interests. The book is fascinating, but depressing at the same time.

  4. I’d like someone to do an in-depth study of the people who stayed away from the polls because they didn’t care for either candidate. How do they feel about that decision now? Hillary was criticized for saying that you could put about half of Trump supporters into a “basket of deplorables.” Seems to me she was just (to borrow a phrase from Trump supporters), “Telling it like it is.”

  5. Thank you so much Sheila for sharing Adam Serwer’s fine yet very disturbing article. I key disturbing, yet it really isn’t. I’ve seen and heard these attitudes for years and years, hoping that somehow those that hold them would somehow get past them. With who we have supposedly “leading” this country my hopes for that are severely dashed and revealed to be, I guess, overly optimistic.

    Nevertheless, we have to fight this hammer and tong or the idea that “America” really is will end up distorted and hollow which would make all the great sacrifices that our forbearers made to keep it alive, vibrant, and vital in the face of everything that stood in its way for naught. That idea will wither and die if we don’t and if we lose that everything else we will do will be render useless.

    I find it staggeringly disturbing that I am keying this and that all of the other fine participants in this great blog are having to key things like this.

    God, please bless America!!

    If we are going to have a chance at getting past this rolling obscenity that has been set loose on this country by very wealthy, yet also very disturbed people, we have to find a way to eliminate the feeding toughs for these clearly aberrant ideas.

  6. I happened to have read the article Sheila has referenced today. I concluded after reading the article that I had been wrong about Trump’s lack of leadership. He has successfully led us back to Ellis Island and a long suppressed hatred of “micks,” Italians, Jews and, of course, blacks, who many regard in their heart of hearts as culturally inferior. I don’t know what Trump really believes, whether his stated beliefs and not so subtle suggestions are what he actually feels or whether they are mere political chatter thrown out to garner votes, or both. In any event, his encouragement of neo-Nazis and civil commotion are at the least divisive, apparently given to divert attention from his woeful inadequacies in governing and libertine morality.

    The prevalent view of what undergirded the Trump electoral victory (other than Russian influence) is that the electorate was always racist and that Trump merely gave such voters cover for their expression of it, as suggested by the new freedom David Dukes felt back on his racist soapbox with his endorsement of Trump’s candidacy. Those who voted for racist reasons while denying they were racist fit the idea of compartmentalization and Lakoff’s description of how the same brain can house diametrically opposed ideas simultaneously.

    All these nice theories of “how come?” must yield finally to “what do we do about it?” I think we must keep telling the truth and hammer away at the Trumps, Pences, McConnells, Ryans, Kochs, Mercers and their lackeys of this world, all with a view toward economic and social and political justice for all – and without letup – because a continuation of our (tattered) democracy depends upon it. Defining the issues doesn’t solve them. We have work to do – urgent work.

  7. Roy Moore in Alabama is a poster child for the Reactionary Right. He has all the qualifications, a bible thumper, who believes his version of religion has supremacy over the state and all other religions. Moore’s religious beliefs have twice resulted in his being removed from Alabama’s supreme court. These beliefs that brought about his removal centered on his religious beliefs.

    He became a “hero” to those who view the Federal Government as violating state’s rights on religious issues.

    Alabama Governor Kay Ivey had this to say concerning allegations against Roy Moore, She was asked if she believed Moore’s accusers. “I certainly have no reason to disbelieve any of them,” Ivey said. “The timing is a little curious. But at the same time, I have no reason to disbelieve them.” “There’s never an excuse for or rationale for sexual misconduct or sexual abuse,” Ivey said. “It bothers me.”

    “I’m going to cast my ballot on December the 12th, and I do believe the nominee of the party is the one I’ll vote for,” Ivey said. “I believe in the Republican Party, what we stand for, and most important, we need to have a Republican in the United States Senate to vote on things like the Supreme Court justices, other appointments the Senate has to confirm and make major decisions. So that’s what I plan to do, vote for Republican nominee Roy Moore.”

    The above comments by the Alabama Governor tells us a lot about the Reactionary Right and it’s ability to compartmentalize. Ohh by the way Roy Moore was a member of the Birther movement.

  8. I have posted often enough about my experiences dealing with racism, bigotry, anti-Semitism, speaking and acting against it since the mid-1950’s. I will only say today that those of us who are “antis” are a separate minority; not as small as we used to be and we seem to be growing but will we ever become the majority needed to beat Trump and his current administration? I doubt that; and we have that ugly nuclear war cloud hanging over all of us thanks to his neo-Nazi faction as well as the racists.

  9. The following is from “WARNINGS: Finding Cassandras to Stop Catastrophes” by Richard A. Clarke and R.P. Eddy (Harper Collins Publishers, New York, 2017)pp. 2-3

    [Dick Clarke, was the Cassandra about al Qaeda and 9/ll whose warnings were not heeded]

    “Are there Cassandras among us today, warning of ticking disasters, whose predictions fall on deaf ears? Is it possible to figure out who these seers are? Can we cut through the false warnings to tune in to the correct visions, saving millions of lives and billions of dollars? That question is not about Greed mythology. It is about our ability today, as a nation, as an international community, to detect impending disaster and act in time to avoid it, or at least mitigate the damage.

    Buried in billions of pages of blog posts and tweets, academic research, and governmental reports, Casandra figuratively calls to us, warning of calamity. Often she is unheeded, sometimes unheard. Frequently, she is give only a token response or dismissed as a fool or a fraud. Her stories are so improbable, so unprecedented, that we cannot process them or believe them, much less act upon them.

    The problem is, of course, that Cassandra was right, and those who ignored her may have done so at the cost of their own lives and that of their state.

    …..If we refer to the original Greek myth, a Cassandra should be someone whom we value, whose warnings we accept and act upon. We seldom do, however. We rarely believe those whose predictions differ from the usual, who see things that have never been, whose vision of the future differs from our own, who prescription would force us to act now, perhaps changing things we do in drastic and costly ways.

    What the ancient Greeks called Cassandra behavior today’s social scientists refer to as sentinel intelligence or sentinel behavior, the ability to detect danger from warning signs before others see it. The behavior is observed in a variety of animals, including we believe in humans.
    Those with sentinel intelligence see with great clarity through the fog of indicators, and they warn the pack. In other animals, the pack seems generally disposed to respond quickly to the warnings of their sentinels. IN HUMANS, THAT ABILITY IS LESS WELL DEVELOPED.”

  10. I can’t be convinced that sexism didn’t have a influence in last Presidential election. It’s so disheartening to see women vote against their own interests, so ingrained (sexism) in our culture.One of the oldest Bible verses says that “the wickedness of a man is better than the goodness of a woman”! That sentiment is still alive, along with racism and the need to have a target for frustrations outside of ourselves. It’s healthy to have boundaries, but imposing thug politics on law abiding citizens while your robbing from them, is egregious!

  11. Yes, this is a difficult problem to digest. Everyone writing today offered a segment of the explanation for where we are today, both as individuals and as a nation. The election and re-election was most aggravating to the white majority who harbored latent racism and hatred for all the “others”. This kettle bubbled for eight years. Then, along comes the voice of their inner demons and the lid was off the kettle.

    The spike in hate crimes was inevitable. Our original sin will haunt us forever as long as a majority of white people refuse to make the intellectual leap to reconciling their ancient bigotry.

  12. They say hate is taught and that seems about right. Some ground for that teaching though is certainly more fertile. It’s an easy step from latent to emotional and entertainment media under the guise of freedom of speech has found hate to be a lucrative cash crop.

    There is something viral about love and hate. They are cultural environments, movements. Those immersed in them are swept along by them and they go from incipient to defining over time. A few have monetized such dynamics.

    Except for the orange hair when I see Trump his face morphs into others, Limbaugh, Beck, Bannon, Ailes, Murdoch, all very wealthy now from peddling hate. They’ve made it a brand.

    There’s nothing that riles me quicker though than when the hate brand blames their dysfunction on the Obamas. It reminds me of the wife beater motto “you made me hit you”.

    Now hate defines America. In a few decades they reversed our recovery from the Civil War. Hate took back ground that we thought respect had won.

    We shouldn’t underestimate the time another recovery will take nor the power that must be mustered to retake that hallowed ground.

  13. I continue to wear my safety pins. I continue to treat people with love and respect regardless of race, creed, or sexual orientation. I am learning more Spanish. I am trying to live my life in a way that is a total rebuttal to the bigotry of Trump’s administration. I am trying to be the change I want to see in the world.

    What I want to know is this. How do we get Milo Smith out of office in the next election cycle so we can get rid of politicized gerrymandering ? This is one of the big sources of all our country’s divisiveness. And I would guess they are carving the districts out to disempower people of color!

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