Tag Archives: Trump voters

Is Resistance Futile?

In the wake of the 2016 Presidential election, we saw a battle among figures in what the late Molly Ivins called “the chattering classes” over the nature of Trump’s support. Nice people who want to think well of their fellow Americans identified economic insecurity, while not-so-nice others (including me) attributed the bulk of Trump votes to racism.

The ensuing research validated the racism connection, but of course, neither interpretation explained all votes or described all motives. It turned out that most Trump voters were not economically insecure, and researchers confirmed that “racial resentment” was the most robust predictor of Trump support, but there was one group for which economic insecurity was a motivating factor–prior Obama voters who switched to Trump. And the source of that insecurity was the steady increase in automation and AI–artificial intelligence.

Thomas Edsall reports on a recent study of –as he puts it–an “era in which vast swaths of the population are potentially vulnerable to the threat — or promise — of a Fourth Industrial Revolution.”

This revolution is driven by unprecedented levels of technological innovation as artificial intelligence joins forces with automation and takes aim not only at employment in what remains of the nation’s manufacturing heartland, but increasingly at the white collar, managerial and professional occupational structure.

The technological innovations we’ve experienced have ushered in an economy that rewards college-educated workers and disadvantages others, contributing to economic inequality. The scholars Edsall quotes predict that these advances in technology are likely to create additional social upheaval as they steadily affect the future of jobs.

Researchers find that exposure to automation correlates with support for Trump.

The strong association of 2016 Electoral College outcomes and state automation exposure very much suggests that the spread of workplace automation and associated worker anxiety about the future may have played some role in the Trump backlash and Republican appeals.

The study Edsall cites found that so-called “heartland states” like Indiana and Kentucky, both of which have heavy manufacturing histories and low educational attainment,

contain not only the nation’s highest employment-weighted automation risks, but also registered some of the widest Trump victory margins. By contrast, all but one of the states with the least exposure to automation, and possessing the highest levels of educational attainment, voted for Hillary Clinton.

That gets us back to the relationship between populism and automation. Edsall quotes an economist at  Harvard’s Kennedy School, who studied those Obama-to-Trump voters.

Switchers to Trump are different both from Trump voters and from other Obama voters in identifiable respects related to social identity and views on the economy in particular. They differ from regular Trump voters in that they exhibit greater economic insecurity, do not associate themselves with an upper social class and they look favorably on financial regulation. They differ from others who voted for Obama in 2012 in that they exhibit greater racial hostility, more economic insecurity and more negative attitudes toward trade agreements and immigration.

In my last book, I addressed the threat automation poses to millions of jobs, and cautioned that humans tend to get meaning and purpose from employment. Edsall quotes from a 2017 paper in which economists Anton Korinek and Joseph E. Stiglitz  went further, warning that artificial intelligence has the potential to create a high-tech dystopian future.

Without extraordinary interventions, Korinek and Stiglitz foresee two scenarios: both of which could have disastrous consequences:

In the first, “man and machine will merge, i.e., that humans will ‘enhance’ themselves with ever more advanced technology so that their physical and mental capabilities are increasingly determined by the state of the art in technology and A.I. rather than by traditional human biology.”

Unchecked, this “will lead to massive increases in human inequality,” they write, because intelligence is not distributed equally among humans and “if intelligence becomes a matter of ability‐to‐pay, it is conceivable that the wealthiest (enhanced) humans will become orders of magnitude more productive — ’more intelligent’ — than the unenhanced, leaving the majority of the population further and further behind.”

In the second scenario, “artificially intelligent entities will develop separately from humans, with their own objectives and behavior, aided by the intelligent machines.”

Unlike the Borg, Korinek and Stiglitz do not conclude that resistance to these possible consequences is futile. Instead, they advocate for government intervention and redistribution to counter the threats, leading Edsall to conclude with “the” question:

If fully enacted, could Biden’s $6 trillion-plus package of stimulus, infrastructure and social expenditure represent a preliminary step toward providing the social insurance and redistribution necessary to protect American workers from the threat of technological innovation? Can spending on this scale curb the resentment or heal the anguish over wrenching dislocations of race, culture and class?

I guess we’ll see.





An Intriguing Theory

I’m clearly not the only person trying to make sense of Trump’s voters. Who are they? Why do they continue to support him? Why do they seem so susceptible to conspiracy theories and alternate realities?

The political science research has found a strong correlation between racist grievance and support for Trump, but as I have previously written, I am unwilling to conclude that the 70 million Americans who voted for him are all motivated by racism. (Granted, as my youngest son points out, they obviously didn’t consider Trump’s racism disqualifying…)

And where did the extra ten million votes–those over and above his support in 2016– come from?

The founder of  the liberal Daily Kos site has an intriguing theory. He began by noting that both times Trump has run, he’s turned out voters that haven’t shown up for any other election–and probably for that reason, didn’t show up in the polls.

Remember, polling was perfectly fine in 2018, and Democrats swept races in 2017, 2018, and 2019. They even won governorships in blood-red Kentucky and Louisiana!

Yet both 2016 and 2020 saw the emergence of a massive wave of white voters that polling totally missed. In fact, despite suffering some defections among suburban Republicans, Trump still managed to get 10 million more votes in 2020 than he did in 2016! So I came up with a theory: the Hidden Deplorables.

According to this theory, the “hidden deplorables” are neither Republican nor  conservative.

They’re apolitical, otherwise ignoring politics, because their lives legitimately suck. They live in meth country, with dim job prospects (in fact, those two factors are highly correlated). Institutions have failed them—corporations abandoned them for cheaper labor overseas, government feels distant, and it’s certainly not improving their lives. Cities feel like walled gardens—unattainable, unaffordable, yet that’s where all the jobs are, the culture, the action. These deplorables have been left behind. So their attitude? “Fuck them all.”

In other words, these are people who have lost everything and simply want to burn everything to the ground.

Kos concedes that he has no hard evidence for his theory–that it is simply his best explanation of the fact that these Trump voters only show up when Trump is on the ballot, and why pollsters are unable to capture them. He notes research on the 2016 election conducted by David Shor, a Democratic pollster. Shor’s research echoed the findings of surveys by Daily Kos leading up to the 2020 election. Trump support was highest among white voters who had low levels of social trust — a group that researchers have found is also less likely to participate in telephone surveys.

Daily Kos pre-election survey to measure the strength of Americans’ social networks found that nearly one in five Americans (17 percent) reported having no one they were close with, marking a 9 percentage point increase from 2013.

Think about that.

What’s more, we found that these socially disconnected voters were far more likely to view Trump positively and support his reelection than those with more robust personal networks. Biden was heavily favored by registered voters with larger social networks (53 percent to 37 percent), but it was Trump who had the edge among voters without any close social contacts (45 percent to 39 percent).

And this was especially true among white voters even after accounting for differences in income, education level, and racial attitudes. Sixty percent of white voters without anyone in their immediate social network favored Trump, compared to less than half (46 percent) of white voters with more robust social ties.

If this analysis is correct–and it certainly rings true–it would explain so much: why urban whites are so heavily Democratic (they are surrounded by community). Why suburban whites–especially women– are turning blue as well. (It could also explain why suburban men, who are less likely to engage in social activities, remain more Republican.)  Why seniors–the age group most likely to be isolated–remain more heavily Republican. It even explains part of the education gap—college is a community building experience.

Kos is interested in the political consequences of this phenomenon. He posits that It is “Trump the destroyer of norms, traditions, and liberals” that motivates their votes– that they’re attracted to his specific brand of destructive chaos. If he’s right, they don’t and won’t vote unless he’s on the ticket.

If this theory is right, however, it affects far more than political strategy.

Those of us who worry about the future of the nation need to figure out how to bring these people back into the American community. Many of them, as Kos suggests, are irredeemably damaged–the incels, the QAnon followers, militia members and the like are probably lost causes. But if he’s right, there are a lot of hurting, lonely, angry people “out there.”

Ignoring them, their isolation and their pain shouldn’t be an option.


Alternative Dangers

As my post-election posts have rather clearly demonstrated, I have been shaken by the evidence that nearly half of Americans–after 4 years of Trump’s destructive circus and “in your face” bigotries– still support him.

My efforts to understand why have led me to characterize those voters–to treat them, as one commenter complained–as a bloc. It’s a valid observation/criticism, especially since I have a fairly long history of bemoaning a “we versus they” approach to statecraft–or really, to anything else.

And yet.

Probably because I am Jewish, and old enough to remember the Second World War and the hideous revelations in its aftermath, I see dangers in both approaches. There is certainly danger in “writing off” Americans who voted for Trump, in failing to try, at least, to understand the how and why of their world-views. But those of us from families that perished in the Holocaust, or from tribes eradicated in other genocides, see a countervailing danger: failing to understand the depth, persistence and reality of racial and religious hatred.

In the wake of the election, I did what depressed academic types do. I researched the question why “nice Germans”–people who loved their children, helped their neighbors, maintained their properties, went to church–nevertheless actively supported the eradication of German Jews. One good resource was titled “Why Germans Supported Hitler,” and it is an enlightening read.

Even more on point was an article from Psychology Today. Some of its most pertinent observations:

The vast majority of active German participants and passive bystanders had quite normal and stable personalities before Hitler came to power. Their family lives were remarkably similar to those of average middle-class American families today. They had jobs to support their families, sent their children to school, donated to local charities and socialized with friends and family on weekends.

As the author notes, neither the active participants nor the passive bystanders showed signs of having psychopathic or sadistic dispositions prior to the Nazi era. Nor is there any evidence that many participated out of fear or coercion.

Even when explicitly given a chance to opt out, most recruits went on to participate in killing and torture. Out of the 500 ordinary men in Germany who were recruited to do roundups of the 1,800 Jews in the village of Józefów, only fifteen decided not to participate after being told by Major Wilhelm Trapp that they were to shoot the woman, children and the elderly but could step aside if they didn’t want to be part of the killing…

The Germans who voluntarily signed up to do roundups or work at Auschwitz, Ravensbrück, Dachau and other concentration camps where the inmates were killed in gas chambers or used as human guinea pigs in sadistic medical experiments came from all social classes and trades. Recruits for camps and battalions included soldiers, police officers, lawyers, doctors, nurses, secretaries, train engineers, factory workers and academics…

While military-trained people were in command of the camps, ordinary Germans executed the actual atrocities. People who had previously lived side by side with Jews, willingly carried out, assisted with or facilitated sadistic human experimentation.

The article has many examples, and in searching for explanation, the author notes that simply the existence of dehumanizing stereotypes didn’t explain behaviors so vicious that the vast majority of Hitler’s executioners would not willingly have subjected their pet dogs to them.

The difference was a hatred with a much longer, deeper history. The majority of German citizens had been conditioned to hate Jews. They had been taught that the Jews had destroyed the economy, that Jews were secretly scheming to destroy non-Jewish Germans and enact a Communist coup.

They “had been mentally prepared for the ugly war long before it started.”

Since well before the Revolutionary War, a large number of Americans have been similarly socialized into racism. Today, they are constantly being told–by Fox News, by their friends on Facebook, their compatriots in QAnon, often even in their churches– that the demographic shifts we are experiencing are a threat not just to their continued dominance, but to the very survival of their way of life. The election of Obama electrified them–and not in a good way.

This is the parallel that causes my angst, my concern that well-meaning, good-hearted admonitions to “reach out” and “try to understand” may be self-destructively naive.

America’s original and persistent sin is racism. It’s our fertile soil, just as Europe’s long history of anti-Semitism nourished and fertilized the Final Solution.

Since the advent of ubiquitous cellphone cameras, we’ve had evidence that–as Sinclair Lewis warned us–it absolutely could happen here.

The Anger Games

Wonder why we keep seeing reports like this one from Talking Points Memo?

Bennett Bressman has “more compassion for small dogs than illegals” and claims his “whole political ideology revolves around harming journalists.” He uses the n-word freely and cracks jokes about the Holocaust.

Bressman also happens to have served as statewide field director for Republican Gov. Pete Ricketts’ successful 2018 reelection campaign.

A shocking trove of leaked private messages Bressman sent over Discord, a gaming platform popular with white nationalists, were surfaced Sunday by Anti-Fascist Action Nebraska. Under the handle “bress222,” Bressman made over 3,000 comments on the page for white nationalist YouTuber Nicholas Fuentes’ show America First. The chats were made public by Unicorn Riot, a volunteer nonprofit media outlet devoted to exposing the internal communications of white nationalists.

The Nebraska GOP declared itself “horrified” by the disclosures, and if this were a “one-off,” I’d be inclined to give the party a pass. But it comes on the heels of too many similar revelations and the constant stream of “dog whistles” and worse from Trump and numerous other Republican candidates and officeholders.

A recent sociological study confirms what many of us have suspected: these sentiments are widely shared in the GOP.  Far from “horrifying” good people who inexplicably voted for Trump, these attitudes are actually the reason they cast those not-so-inexplicable-after-all ballots.

New research by University of Kansas sociologists David Smith and Eric Hanley demonstrates how a socially combustible mix of racism and sexism, in combination with anger and bullying, put the United States on a path to authoritarianism.

 Writing in “The Anger Games: Who Voted for Donald Trump in the 2016 Election, and Why?”, which appeared in a recent issue of the journal Critical Sociology, Smith and Hanley summarize their new research:

We find that Trump’s supporters voted for him mainly because they share his prejudices, not because they’re financially stressed. It’s true, as exit polls showed, that voters without four-year college degrees were likelier than average to support Trump. But millions of these voters — who are often stereotyped as “the white working class” — opposed Trump because they oppose his prejudices. These prejudices, meanwhile, have a definite structure, which we argue should be called authoritarian: negatively, they target minorities and women; and positively, they favor domineering and intolerant leaders who are uninhibited about their biases.

Furthermore, the authors report, what unified Trump’s voters was not “economic anxiety” but prejudice and intolerance. What they define as authoritarian views were “strongly associated with support for Donald Trump.” Political polarization, although it definitely exists, is not strictly a “class phenomenon,” in their view. Trump voters came “from many strata and milieus” and “the effects of class are mediated … through biases and other attitudes.”

Smith and Hanley’s research identified eight attitudes that reinforced each other and predicted support for Trump: self- identifying as conservative; a desire for a “domineering” leader; Christian fundamentalism, animus against immigrants, African-Americans, Muslims and women; and “pessimism about the economy.”

The research concluded what many of us suspected: people didn’t vote for Trump “despite” his obvious prejudices; they voted for him because they shared those prejudices. It was the basis upon which they identified with him.

Assuming the accuracy of this research (and I do), the rest of us will have to come to terms with two very unpalatable facts: (1)some 35% of our country’s citizens are racist, and (2) they are not going to desert Trump. They aren’t going to recoil as his administration and cabinet wreak havoc on the economy, the environment, and the social fabric. So long as he hates the same people they hate, they will continue to support him.

For that (disconcertingly large) minority of the population, he really could shoot someone in the middle of Fifth Avenue without losing their allegiance. And that is terrifying.

They Don’t Even Bother To Dog-Whistle Anymore

The basic line of demarcation between pro-Trump and anti-Trump partisans is now too clear and too well-documented to misunderstand. As my youngest son has maintained since the election, there were two–and only two–categories of people who voted for Trump: those who  agreed with and felt validated by his too-obvious-to-ignore racism, and those for whom that racism was not disqualifying.

Pundits and political observers on the left were deeply uncomfortable with that reality. “Nice” people looked for other plausible reasons for those votes: economic distress, hatred of Hillary, partisan affiliation. But as research on the vote has emerged, even polite formulations (“racial anxiety”) and studies conducted by academics noted for their rigor and lack of political agendas have confirmed the degree to which racism predicted support for Trump.

If any dispassionate observer still doubts that conclusion, the behavior of the Trump administration, its supporters and its propaganda arms should dispel those doubts. The fixation on immigration (from the southern border, not the north) and the fact-free demonization of brown immigrants is a clue too obvious to ignore.

Brian Kilmead of Fox News–the administration’s propaganda arm–speaks for Trump’s supporters when he says 

And these are not — like it or not, these aren’t our kids. Show them compassion, but it’s not like he is doing this to the people of Idaho or Texas.

The “us versus them” formulation could hardly be clearer.

For those of us who tend to look at what they do, not what they say, the picture is even clearer.

A ProPublica analysis.. found that, under Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, the department has scuttled more than 1,200 civil rights investigations that were begun under the Obama administration and lasted at least six months. These cases, which investigated complaints of civil rights violations ranging from discriminatory discipline to sexual violence in school districts and colleges around the country, were closed without any findings of wrongdoing or corrective action, often due to insufficient evidence….

ProPublica also found that the Office for Civil Rights has become more lenient. Under Obama, 51 percent of cases that took more than 180 days culminated in findings of civil rights violations, or corrective changes. Under the Trump administration, that rate has dropped to 35 percent.

ProPublica noted that the Trump administration has largely shelved investigations of systemic violations, opting to look instead at individual complaints.

One long investigation terminated by the Trump administration took place in Bryan, Texas. As ProPublica previously reported, the Dallas bureau of the federal civil rights office spent more than four years investigating whether disciplinary practices in Bryan discriminated against students of color. Federal investigators found at least 10 incidents where black students received harsher punishment than their white peers for the same conduct.

Weeks before Trump’s inauguration, federal investigators and the district were on the cusp of a settlement that would have required more than a dozen reforms. But after DeVos took over, the case and the pending settlement were scuttled, with no findings of wrongdoing.

In late April, OCR also shelved the investigation into school discipline in DeSoto County, where 852 students — more than half of them black — received corporal punishment in 2015.

Shelia Riley, the chairperson of DeSoto’s school board, told ProPublica that OCR’s decision was appropriate. “I read the [parents’] claims and I just felt like we were fair in our disciplinary decisions,” she said.

Google “Trump Administration racism” and the search will return–among many, many other “hits”– sober analyses of the ways in which the administration’s racism is affecting foreign policy, the role of race in the administration’s shameful neglect of Puerto Rico, the racism of proposed “reforms” of welfare programs, and the way Trump “encourages a pro-white semiotics and a return to racisms past.”

The Civil War may have ended slavery, but America’s “original sin” has persisted. Honest observers can no longer ignore it; “nice, polite” people can no longer pretend that grandpa just has “policy differences” with dark people. Trump owes his election to the voters who couldn’t abide the presence of Barack Obama in the White House–and who rewarded the bigot who remains willing to “tell it like [they believe]it is” in the ugly world they inhabit.

We aren’t in Kansas any more, Toto–and we’ve gone way beyond dog-whistles.