Conversations with friends keep returning to a question I’ve been unable to answer: who are the Trump voters? Who are the Americans who lived through the last four years and marched to the polls wanting more of the same?
The answer is emerging. Votes for Trump are almost all attributable to two things: racial resentment and the rightwing media ecosystem.
Right now–thanks to years of Rush Limbaugh, Fox News, Breitbart and literally thousands of internet sites–it is perfectly possible to reside in an alternate reality, to live in a world that confirms your every preferred bias. When that world is at odds with the reality the rest of us inhabit, it absolutely precludes rational discussion and debate.
As I often tell my students, if I say this piece of furniture is a table and you say, why no, it’s a chair–we are not going to agree on how to use it.
As Jennifer Rubin recently wrote at The Washington Post,
The greatest challenge to our democracy is not that we hold deeply polarized beliefs, but that one party refuses to operate in a fact-based world that might challenge its beliefs. Whether it is Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) propounding Russian propaganda, or the Wall Street Journal editorial page fanning Hunter Biden laptop conspiracy theories, or right-wing websites circulating falsehoods about crime and immigrants, we are awash with conservatives seeking to exploit the fears, ignorance and prejudices of many Americans
Rubin attributes the right-wing hysteria over “socialism” to that media bubble–she suggests rightwing media is “marooned in a weird time warp in which the ‘other side’ is some Cold War-era Marxist caricature.” Until very recently, I would have agreed with her analysis–I’ve frequently engaged in efforts to point out that the things that usually get labeled “socialism” are simply elements of the (necessarily) mixed economies of all modern nations, the public goods that markets cannot provide.
What I have finally understood–it takes me a long time, I’m dense–is that when the typical Trump voter hears “socialism,” that voter doesn’t think of an economic system. (Most couldn’t define the term accurately if they were asked.) What today’s Republican hears when an opposing candidate is labeled a “socialist” is: “this candidate wants the government to take your hard-earned tax dollars and use them for the benefit of ‘those people.'” (And we all know who “those people” are.)
Fear of “socialism” is where rightwing media and racism intersect.
Recently, a friend sent me an essay that laid it all out. Its central thesis is that more than half a century of white hostility to any kind of social progress has taken the country to a place that is dangerously close to social collapse, culminating in Trumpism.
The author, Umair Haque, writes that “white Americans, as a group, have never, as a group, voted for a Democratic President. Never in modern history…. This trend goes back to JFK and perhaps before.”
Furthermore, Haque says that “Liberal, sane, thoughtful White Americans often overestimate how many of them there are,” and he backs that observation up with data showing that a majority of White Americans have approved of segregation, endless wars, inequality– and have made guns and religion primary social values. Majorities of White Americans have voted against most of what we think of as public goods–and against desegregation, civil rights laws, access to healthcare, retirement programs, and childcare.
The article is filled with depressing data. You really need to click through and read it in its entirety. (If you are White, you might want to pour a stiff drink first.)
I vaguely remember an old song titled “Two Different Worlds.” It ended, as I recall, with a promise that the “two different worlds” that the lovers inhabited would someday be one. Our task is a lot harder than the one in that sappy love song–we must somehow get a handle on the disinformation and propaganda and conspiracy theories–the media ecosystem that blocks out inconvenient realities and sustains White Supremacy. Then we have to have a White version of “the talk.”
Until we all see the same furniture, we aren’t going to agree on how to use it.