The Animosity Coalition

I almost always learn something from reading Thomas Edsall’s “Guest Essays” (formerly known as “Op Eds”) in the New York Times. He usually surveys and cites several academic researchers with expertise in whatever subject he’s investigating, and–as a recent essay demonstrated–he sometimes comes up with a nice turn of phrase.

Edsall’s topic was the “animosity coalition.”

In 2016, Donald Trump recruited voters with the highest levels of animosity toward African Americans, assembling a “schadenfreude” electorate — voters who take pleasure in making the opposition suffer — that continues to dominate the Republican Party, even in the aftermath of the Trump presidency.

Schadenfreude electorate.” Perfect!!

Edsall doesn’t mince words about the composition of that electorate, pointing out that Trump played to the dark side of American politics, constructing an “animosity coalition” composed of “the alienated, the distrustful, voters willing to sacrifice democracy for a return to white hegemony.” As he says, segregationists have long been a permanent fixture of American politics, although shifting between the two major parties.

And that brings us to an essential insight that answers what has been a vexing question, at least for me. 

Edsall quotes Liliana Mason for the insight–which is that their solidification of control over the Republican Party has mades White supremacy seem to be  a partisan issue. Mason points out, however, that members of what she calls the segregation faction have been around much longer than our current partisan divide. In fact, she says, “they are not loyal to a party — they are loyal to white Christian domination.” (emphasis mine)

There is a faction in American politics that has moved from party to party, can be recruited from either party, and responds especially well to hatred of marginalized groups. They’re not just Republicans or Democrats, they’re a third faction that targets parties.

Mason’s conclusions are echoed by other researchers, who have found Trump supporters exhibiting attitudes about racial groups, immigrants and political correctness that rival partisanship and are “negatively related to support for mainstream Republican candidates.”

That insight explains something that so many of us have found baffling: why would elected Republican officials and Republican candidates for public office–many of whom clearly know better– dutifully echo Trump’s bigotries and support his Big Lie? 

The usual theory is that this represents a combination of fecklessness and ambition. Among those who do know better are individuals who lack a moral center–who see which way the GOP winds are blowing for GOP primary voters–and who are prioritizing their personal electoral prospects above their moral and patriotic duties. They are “playing to the base.”

What the cited scholarship adds to that explanation is an important insight: the “base” to which these candidates are pandering isn’t even a Republican base–at least, not as political scientists define a party’s base. It’s the voters who were unhappy with Trump, or with their particular House or Senate candidates, but who nevertheless loyally voted Republican, who are members of the base.

In other words, voters for whom an R or D next to a name on the ballot is dispositive constitute a political party’s true base.

That is not a description of the “animosity coalition” that effectively controls today’s GOP. Those voters have shifted parties before and they would do so again, because their allegiance is to White Christian dominance. As a result, Republicans who need their votes can’t rely on the old political calculation (“where would they go? to the Democrats? Not likely!”) because significant numbers of these voters really would desert candidates who they perceive as insufficiently reactionary/racist.

Julie Wronski, a political scientist at the University of Mississippi — a co-author, with Mason and John Kane of N.Y.U., of a just published paper, “Activating Animus: The Uniquely Social Roots of Trump Support” — put it this way in reply to my emailed query:

The Trump coalition is motivated by animosity toward Blacks, Hispanics, Muslims and L.G.B.T. This animosity has no bearing on support for any of the other G.O.P. elites or the party itself. Warmth toward whites and Christians equally predict support for Trump, other G.O.P. elites, and the party itself. The only area where Trump support is different than other G.O.P. support is in regards to harnessing this out-group animus.

For as long as Trump remains the standard-bearer of the Republican Party, Wronski continued, “this animosity coalition will define the party.”

The animosity coalition is composed of folks whose only real goals are to protect White Christian privilege and “own the libs.” 

In Edsall’s felicitous phrase, they are the “schadenfreude” electorate.


  1. I can tend to be wordy in my written communications but I still aspire to efficiency. To that end I would suggest replacing the phrase: “voters with the highest levels of animosity toward African Americans”, with “the most racist voters”.

    And while I enjoy a clever turn of phrase or term it seems to me that “animus coalition” waters down or obscures the very essence of the core of activists who would otherwise be called “white nationalists”.

  2. Both parties contain racists. Joe Biden himself made several comments and did several racist things, hes the President and leader of a party that put him there. Planned Parenthood is located primarily in black communities and policies of the Democrat party continue to harm the black community.
    Conservatives are pointing out that the playbook of socalists is to label the other side racists and biggots. That is clearly the objective in these pieces? Policy differences arent being looked at to whether its good for communities or states.
    Gas at $3.25 instead of $ 2.25 hurts the poor and the economic policies. Black voters now are questioning their votes.
    Setting the Record Straight, American History in Black And White clearly shows how politicians want to rewrite history to their advantage and those who write pieces like this aren’t really worried about the good of economic policies.
    Inclusion has to happen in both parties and takes time for biggots in both parties to come to grips with their insecurities. The best way for the Republicans to get their policies thru is to attract those that are diverse by becoming inclusive. It needs people to encourage them to do so. So what is the goal of these pieces?
    You have to dig deeper to understand what they’re really trying to accomplish.

  3. There is a wide gulf between Biden’s alleged racist comments and Trump -led Republican efforts through Executive Orders and legislation to prevent minorities from their right to vote, right to peaceful assembly, freedom of speech.

  4. “In other words, voters for whom an R or D next to a name on the ballot is dispositive constitute a political party’s true base.”

    I looked up the word “dispositive” to be sure I understood the definition and find myself to be a member of a Democratic “Animosity Coalition”. Who are the others of you out there? Until the year 2000 when I was living in Florida where the “Rs” blatantly displayed animosity toward African Americans and Hispanics. Until 2000 I had been an Independent voter; although working for 20 years in the Republican Indianapolis city government there were few Republicans I agreed with and voted for. Sheila Kennedy was one when she made her bid for the state Senate.

    I argue with the validity of the absolute statement, “The animosity coalition is composed of folks whose only real goals are to protect White Christian privilege and “own the libs.”

    I resent the fact that, due to their own loss of humanitarianism and selling off the party and the country via Citizens United; in all good conscience I cannot vote for anyone with an “R” next to their name. And yes, animosity best describes my continuing views of the GOP.

  5. Gee, I wonder if this analysis will be taught in sociology classes. My humble and non-academic summation of this is that the “base” are base because they choose intellectual sloth and laziness that allows them to attend to their base instincts.

    Those instincts are TAUGHT to them by those surrounding their lives since the very beginning of their sense of awareness. It will take as many generations to UN-teach that stuff as there were teaching it – and still teaching it.

    Those of us on this blog have, for the most part, spent the time to understand what is right and follows the spirit of the Constitution. The animosity folks simply have trained themselves to be intellectually non-analytical.

  6. Both-sides-ism as expressed above bothers me. Lyndon Johnson accurately predicted that the Democratic Party would lose the South as a result of the civil rights legislation. But racism didn’t really define the Republican Party so completely until Trump made its language and its fringes acceptable.

    As to policies, we should understand that Democrats don’t set gas prices; they are determined internationally.

  7. Daleb, I agree completely, there is no comparison between Biden’s comments and Trump’s blatant racism.
    I believe that the bulk of GOP followers of trumpism, are uneducated, many southern, older white folk, who fear becoming the minority. This country is in a bad, bad state of affairs. 21st century civil war is gearing up, but this time instead of north vs south, it will be neighbor vs neighbor.

  8. I don’t know about anyone else, but I still find myself evolving as a human being on the subject of race. I don’t like the word “race” because it denotes differences that really don’t exist. Still I am not immune from the world as I have experienced it. Our world has changed significantly in the blink of an eye that is my life. I am glad of that, while I recognize that we have miles to go before we reach real equity.

  9. Joann, I am in that group, not just because the R’s are so clearly operating on bigotry, and have been since, at least Nixon, but because their policies have long been about greed, greed, and supporting the uber-wealthy… that greed, also? And, yes, I had too look that up, as well.
    Vernon, I can only agree with your perspective, too: “…intellectual sloth and laziness that allows them to attend to their base instincts,” sounds like it is right on the money.
    This country has always had a rotten underbelly of racial animosity, and the research cited by Sheila seems to explain a lot of how those living there have behaved politically.
    Peggy, yes, “race” refers to a non-existent thing, an empty concept, and the geneticist who was foremost among those that showed this only died last week, Richard Lewontin.

  10. From Heather Cox Richardson’s blog, of yesterday: ” For 40 years, the Republican Party has offered a vision of America as a land of hyperindividualism, in which any government intervention in the economy is seen as an attack on individual liberty because it hampers the accumulation of wealth. Biden’s speech on Friday reclaims a different theme in our history, that of government protecting individualism by keeping the economic playing field level.”
    I would add that this GOP “vision” involved keeping “individual liberty” the exclusive provenance of “White folks.”

  11. They can who think they can. Toyota USA PAC made a boneheaded decision to give generously to Congressmen who voted against certification of the General Election this past January. Those customers among us around the country called Brand Engagement at Toyota to challenge their actions. Yesterday, Toyota USA released a statement they will not support Congressmen who voted against General Election certification. Further, Toyota USA will publish full page ads to encourage other corporations to do likewise. I wonder if there was a come to Akio Toyoda meeting to reverse the actions of the PAC. Stakeholders can make a difference in raising their voice by keeping to the facts and reminding corporate leaders know if we do not support the Constitution we longer will have a capital market to flourish.

  12. Can’t help but wonder whether the Toyota thing actually increased donations to those Congressfolks from Trumpians who wanted to make up the difference and then some. Pure “virtue signaling” by Toyota like the BLM signs all over suburbia.

  13. C.J. Polychroniou writes, “Trump emerged on the political scene at a time of increasing contradictions ­in the American system of economic organization and distribution, with the rich getting richer and the poor poorer, and growing divisions within society at large over race, ethnicity, and culture. While he had no previous political experience, his instincts told him that the route to power in a highly divided society was to double down on those divisions–a tactic that had been employed quite successfully in the past.”

    “Indeed, Trump’s stratagem of tapping into a huge reservoir of racism and nativism through the use of white identity politics and exploiting public discontent associated with America’s economic decline through a standard repertoire of ultranationalist rants and transparent scapegoatism was key to his rise in power.”

    “Trump’s transformation of American political culture consisted in the unleashing of dangerous forces–arch-enemies of the open and diverse society–that posed an internal threat to liberal democracy. His refusal to accept the outcome of the 2020 election, and subsequent attempts by him and his allies to overturn the election, was indeed the culmination of four years of proto-fascist political rhetoric and authoritarian grandstanding.”

    Trumpism still and will dominate GOP politics for years. Along the way he will continue to scam his followers in various ways, with the dual goals of maintaining political power and lining his pockets. The Trumpets legacy lives on with the high numbers of Republicans that continue to decline the Covid Vaccine and believe the 2020 election was stolen.

  14. As Aaron Rupar writes,

    “Unfortunately, millions of his followers were convinced by his (Trump’s) behavior during his last year in office that COVID was not a crisis. No matter what he says today, they remain convinced that the virus was a political attack, a hoax or simply overblown, regardless of the monumental body count. And then there’s the relentless disinformation campaign coming from right-wing media.”

    The Kaiser Foundation reported this week:

    One of the main factors driving differences in COVID-19 vaccination rates across the country is partisanship. Our surveys consistently find that Democrats are much more likely to report having been vaccinated than Republicans, and Republicans are much more likely to say that they definitely do not want to get vaccinated. In May, just as vaccine supply was starting to outstrip demand, we examined average vaccination rates by county and found that rates were lower in counties that voted for Trump in the 2020 Presidential election compared to those that voted for Biden. Now, two months later, we find that not only does this remain the case, the gap has grown.

    This is happening as the CDC reports that more than half the new cases in the U.S. are caused by the far more transmissible and deadlier Delta variant. It’s spreading rapidly among the unvaccinated and many are getting severely ill. (The good news that the vaccines are still effective in preventing serious illness from this strain.) In Missouri, where only 40% of people are even partly vaccinated, the ICUs are filling up again.

    CNN recently reported on a Georgetown University study that found five undervaccinated COVID clusters in the South and Midwest which could put the whole U.S. at risk should a new variant arise within the human petri dish they are providing.

    Oddly enough even though the Covid Vaccine was developed during The Trumpet’s regime his followers still seem to believe Covid is a hoax, just like the flu, etc. Perhaps another reason The Trumpet’s are not getting Covid Vaccine is the vaccine is being rolled out efficiently by the Biden Administration.

  15. Perhaps at the core of the tension between R’s and Ds are assumptions about what defines “life well lived”. Some would reflexively answer inquires into that as wealth. Some believe that tops on the list would be satisfying relationships. Both may think that both contribute, but having to choose the top one would be revealing.

    Those that would choose wealth on top I think would be motivated in two different ways. Some would because their lives were defined by poverty as defined by the American Dream which is the basis for all advertising that we live fully immersed in. Some would define wealth on top because that defined what they feel has been their success in life. The Rod and Gun Club Republicans versus the Country Club Republicans.

    The goals of liberals have always included reducing anything that is in the way of what Maslow called Self-Actualisation. That is the need to live unrestrained by health and wealth limitations in order to maximize the freedom of expressing who each of us really is. That is maximum contribution in all ways results from maximum diversity and expression of individual motivations. “Conservatives” would emphasize that as wealth largely defines contribution, it best defines “contribution” as the accumulation of it.

    This is a wide gulf defined by some pretty abstract thinking but that is fundamental to how one leads their life.

    Extreme “conservatives” can believe that liberals are lazy and just want to live off the wealth others accumulated. Liberals believe that “conservatives” are those motivated to live as slaves to a system that defines success for only them.

  16. I took several economics classes in college. I must have missed the day when the professor taught that Presidents of the United States set gas prices.

    As far as Johnson’s saying the Civil Rights legislation cost the Democrats the South, I would point out that over 80% of Republicans in Congress voted for the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The opposition to civil rights legislation came mostly from Democrats, particularly those in the South. Democrat support for the civil rights laws was in the 60% range, and Democrats in the Senate conducted a filibuster that was broken thanks to Republicans. Democrats have a very sordid history when it comes to civil rights.

  17. As Rick Wilson’s ingenious book title states, “Everything Trump Touches Dies”, the prophecy is still coming true… but not metaphorically. People died and will continue to die because of Donald Trump’s incompetence, his con game, his grifting and his political cultism.

    Simply put, all the analysis in the world won’t explain the simple facts: Trump-ites gladly and willingly voted for a psychopath. As mentioned above, their prejudices, hates and bigotry has been there for centuries and passed on to subsequent generations. They just didn’t care that Trump was a crazed sociopath. They needed and wanted to let their cultural hate loose.

    Well done, right-wing media. Well done, all media who kept putting this bastard on the front page.

  18. Ain’t it fun! Ranting about a know-nothing crooked fool while the GOP governors and legislatures are busy changing voting rules and gearing up for massive gerrymandering. Get your eye on the ball!

  19. Dave K, I think you are wrong. Racism has been a core part of the Republican party for a very long time, going back at least to Reagan, and more likely, to the Lyndon Johnson quote you mention.

    The difference is that it was less obvious before the election of Barack Obama. Prior to this event, the GOP made an effort to hide it. The Obama backlash ushered in the tea party and led directly to the overt racism of Trump.

  20. Trump’s strategy has always been conquer and divide. That is the strategy of a sociopath and dictators. The animosity Americans now have splits people of color and white, LGBTQ and straight/sisgendered, male and female, rich and poor. I suspect many of the wealthiest either support the divisiveness or are simply unconcerned and indifferent.

    As a nurse I am very angry at the way Trump dismissed COVID as a minor flu which in turn led to the deaths of many Americans. Many Trumpers refused to wear masks and now refuse the vaccine. They can now easily become victims of the delta variant. Of course, so can many people of color especially in the deep South where vaccine distribution has been poorly implemented. 3rd world countries are in dire need of the vaccine. If we do not address their need for an adequate supply of vaccine, we will continue to see surges of COVID in our country.

    It always seems to take a severe external threat, enemy to unite us. I think the enemy really lies within our country’s inability to embrace diversity with its consequent animosity between white Christian nationalists and progressives.

    The individualistic philosophies of our democracy have led to greed and monopolies. I sometimes wonder what would happen if we all stopped buying so much stuff and instead started sharing what we have i.e. lawnmowers, power tools, cars. I wonder what would happen to all the animosity if we created a grass roots movement that created intentional communities that were inclusive, desegregated, and that were open to people of all political orientations.

    Even our neighborhoods have become conservative and liberal silos. This, in turn, further reinforces politicized gerrymandering.

    In the meantime, I remain of the belief that the animosity will not be healed with hate, only love. Thank you MLK for teaching me this.

  21. C.S. Lewis once commented on the inability of most pwople to grasp the concept of degree I’m going to use his construct for a thought of my own: Say someone asks you if virtue signaling is a good or a bad thing, and you answer that virtue signaling is not as good as actual virtue, but it does at least acknoledge that actual virtue exists and draws attention to that – and may even inspire some to improve. They will complain that you are not giving them a straight answer.

  22. What does one do with some who yells and screams,
    “‘We will never concede’”-
    – and then “urges thousands of supporters to keep fighting to overturn election.”

    How does anyone stop a self destructive bully???
    – I don’t see much creativity in the responses to stop DDT/ trump!!!

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