When The Emperor Has No Clothes

Most of us recall the children’s story about the Emperor who paraded in his imaginary finery and the masses of subjects who obediently “saw” that clothing. Only when a young boy in the crowd named the reality–that the Emperor was naked–did others recognize that they’d been deceiving themselves.

The story is a great parable for America’s disinclination to see the “naked” truth about Trump’s voters. Political figures in both parties, aided and abetted by media figures unwilling to trust their eyes, insist that Trump voters were motivated by economic uncertainty.

Virtually all the peer-reviewed research finds otherwise.

Diana C. Mutz is a professor of political science and communication at the University of Pennsylvania (and the distinguished daughter of former Indiana Republican Lieutenant Governor John Mutz). She is one of many who have studied Trump voters; results of her research recently appeared in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science.
Mutz found no evidence that personal economic anxiety motivated Trump supporters. The one factor that did increase the likelihood that someone would vote for Trump was a belief that white people are more discriminated against than people of color, and that Christians and men experience more discrimination than Muslims and women.

Charles Blow recently commented on the Mutz study in The New York Times.

A new study published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found what other studies have found: Support for Trump was largely motivated by white fear of displacement from dominance.

As the study put it:

White Americans’ declining numerical dominance in the United States together with the rising status of African Americans and American insecurity about whether the United States is still the dominant global economic superpower combined to prompt a classic defensive reaction among members of dominant groups.”

This new study dovetails with an analysis of millennial Trump voters published last year in The Washington Post: “First, white millennial Trump voters were likely to believe in something we call ‘white vulnerability’ — the perception that whites, through no fault of their own, are losing ground to other groups. Second, racial resentment was the primary driver of white vulnerability — even when accounting for income, education level or employment.”

This is the explanation for those of us who find it incomprehensible that anyone could vote for this proudly ignorant, embarrassing and dangerous buffoon. As Blow says,

Trump is one of the last gasps of American white supremacy and patriarchy. He is one of its Great White Hopes.

The distillation of his campaign message was not only to halt the rapid pace of change, but also to reverse it, to undo the Obama-izing of America and restore it to whiteness. It was also to uncouple America from globalizing influences and specifically elevate American whiteness.

If anything has become clear during the year and a half of this disastrous Presidency it is that Trump’s only “agenda” is to reverse and obliterate anything Barack Obama accomplished. The absence of any other coherent motivation–the inability to articulate any philosophy of governance, the obvious absence of any belief structure other than his own grandiose claims of superiority, the constant “dog whistles” and repeated use of racist and misogynist language–is as obvious to people who pay attention as was the Emperor’s lack of clothing.

Racism isn’t limited to cross-burnings and overt acts of discrimination. Our persistent unwillingness to confront the obvious–our discomfort with the reality that so many of our fellow Americans recoil from an equality that threatens to divest them of their perceived superior position in society–is understandable, but not at all helpful.

Delusion won’t dress the Emperor.