Does hardcore racism explain why most white voters (57 per cent) opted for Donald Trump? His alarmingly large vote total (74 million) is widely blamed on instinctive bigotry that festers inside the genetic codes of Caucasians located inside US borders. Every white citizen also supposedly is heir to the vile legacy of the slave patrols and of the genocidal US cavalry, even if one’s ancestors arrived at Ellis Island long after those two organizations bit the dust.
If pure racism explains everything that most whites do then nothing is to be done about it, except to revile or shun the culprits. Centrist liberals rushed eagerly to embrace the self-absolving argument that racist white right-wingers are pretty much born that way. Like the chronicled ‘hillbilly’ families in a popular eugenic literature a century ago, white folks are hopelessly demented.
So the stumblebum mob assaulting the Capitol were innate white supremacists, a status symbolized in all its pitifully confused glory by one such paleface smeared with war paint and sporting a buffalo horn headdress. The solemn narrative making the media rounds now is that the pro-Trump crowd possessed bulging stock portfolios, pricey properties, and hurtled into dubious battle in fully paid high-end SUVs.
If they weren’t suffering economic stress, one can rule out any sympathy for underlying dire conditions that might have driven their deliriously stupid actions. There is no denying, of course, that American society boasts a long and deep racist tradition which continues to be hard to shake. So plenty of racists were there. Plenty of Yank racists cheer on blacks on their favorite teams at any sporting event too.
Just as deep an American tradition is contempt for its working class, whatever colour the members. The USA does not even admit to harboring a working class, which is a pretty disreputable term. Neither major Party caters to working class needs because they are beneath notice, and the objects of derision very well know it. Everyone in the USA is middle class or else an abject failure. No one believes this cultural myth more than the agitated people ~ from working class to petit bourgeois ~ who flocked to that Trump rally, many of whom see middle class living standards, or the dream of achieving them, slipping out of their own or their children’s grasp. The steady exit of industries abroad, free trade agreements, and anti-union measures have driven down the prospects of decent livelihoods especially for those lacking University degrees.
No media pundit likes to mention the disenchanted white working class Obama voters who switched to Trump or stayed home. An estimated 6.7 to 9.2 million such voters deserted the Democrats in 2016 when only 40 thousand votes in several key states would have prevented Trump from ascending into and addling the White House. These Obama-to-Trump voters are the great flaw in the centrists’ case that racism explains everything. Behold the typical 2018 headline in Vox: “A New Study Reveals the Real Reason why Obama voters Switched to Trump: Hint It Has to Do with Race.” Huh? This strained take suggests that white working class Obama voters did not take notice of Obama’s skin hue until Trump unkindly pointed it out.
Thus, Democratic Party centrists, in a purportedly pragmatic hunt for disillusioned middle class Republicans (as if they’re free of racism), can ignore disillusioned working class and poor Democrats, a rather larger pool of voters. No economic stress here, only racists, so move along. You would search a long time to track down anyone with working class origins among the sages in academe and journalism who like to make these sweeping judgments.
The Atlantic Magazine published a University of Chicago study of arrested “insurrectionists” claiming they were mostly lower middle to middle class, including some professionals and small business owners. One expects a petit bourgeois core at right wing jamborees but that was hardly the whole story.
A contrasting study in the Washington Post found in its study of rioters that their 18 per cent bankruptcy rate was double the national average and that a majority evidenced money troubles, “including bankruptcies, notices of eviction or foreclosure, bad debts, or unpaid taxes over the last two decades.” That financial factor is crucial because, as Matt Taibbi noted, of 41 per cent voters for whom Covid-19 was the key issue Biden won 3 to 1. Of the 28 per cent for whom the economy was the uppermost concern Trump won 4 of every 5.
Financially anxious citizens clamor for answers, and the media apparatus of reactionary talk radio hosts, cable TV news and conservative politicians happily spew the usual answers, scapegoating immigrants and minorities. Of course, the Democrats are unlikely to entice the bulk of Trump voters – let alone repulsive militants such as the Aryan Brotherhood or the Oath Keepers – but peeling away that wavering fraction of early Obama voters is well worth it. One need not assume there is a radical egalitarian inside every Trump voter trying to bust out.
The Cooperative Congressional Election Study, a survey of 50,000 voters, noted that 12 per cent of Sanders voters switched to the cavalier liar Trump (rather than the distant and derisive Hilary Clinton) in 2016. In key battleground states the Sanders-to-Trump voters amounted to more than twice Trump’s margin of victory. Speaking to, and heeding the economic worries of, those wary people promises to guarantee a Democratic majority and, even perhaps even a progressive agenda, for a long time to come.