Category Archives: Racial Equality

Trump, Le Pen and Racism

On “Last Week Tonight,” his brilliant take on the world we inhabit, John Oliver spent considerable time discussing the upcoming French elections. The entire segment is worth watching–it’s informative as well as hilarious (if depressing can be hilarious)–but one quote really struck home.

“One of the frustrating things about watching this unfold from America, is this feels a little like deja vu,” Oliver warns, “A potentially destabilizing populist campaigning on anti-immigrant rhetoric who rages against the elites despite having a powerful father and inherited wealth, even as experts reassure us that there is no way that this can possibly happen.”

Anyone who has watched the “evolution” of Le Pen’s movement over the years, from her father’s forthright Nazi-ism to her smoother delivery of White Supremacist bigotry, understands the extent to which the upcoming election is a referendum on the extent of French racist sentiment.

Deny it as we might, Americans watching the French political drama unfold have just held a similar referendum.

Media pundits and “serious” political commentators have resisted attributing Trump’s electoral college victory to racism, offering a number of alternative explanations: economic distress in the heartland, Hillary hatred, authoritarian tendencies. Recent research, however, confirms what many of us saw during the campaign–the unsettling resonance of barely veiled racist appeals.

In an article for the Washington Post, Thomas Wood, a political science professor at Ohio State, mined newly available data.

Last week, the widely respected 2016 American National Election Study was released, sending political scientists into a flurry of data modeling and chart making.

The ANES has been conducted since 1948, at first through in-person surveys, and now also online, with about 1,200 nationally representative respondents answering some questions for about 80 minutes. This incredibly rich, publicly funded data source allows us to put elections into historical perspective, examining how much each factor affected the vote in 2016 compared with other recent elections.

Wood evaluated the evidence for the income and authoritarian hypotheses, and found them insufficiently predictive. He then looked at the data measuring racial resentment.

Many observers debated how important Trump’s racial appeals were to his voters. During the campaign, Trump made overt racial comments, with seemingly little electoral penalty. Could the unusual 2016 race have further affected Americans’ racial attitudes?…

Since 1988, we’ve never seen such a clear correspondence between vote choice and racial perceptions. The biggest movement was among those who voted for the Democrat, who were far less likely to agree with attitudes coded as more racially biased.

The statistics told the story.

Finally, the statistical tool of regression can tease apart which had more influence on the 2016 vote: authoritarianism or symbolic racism, after controlling for education, race, ideology, and age. Moving from the 50th to the 75th percentile in the authoritarian scale made someone about 3 percent more likely to vote for Trump. The same jump on the SRS scale made someone 20 percent more likely to vote for Trump.

The unexpected results of the Brexit vote in England have been widely attributed to anti-immigrant bias. Le Pen’s appeal is explicitly racist and nationalist, and she is expected to easily make the run-off in France’s upcoming election. In the United States–long considered a beacon of inclusivity, despite our frequent lapses–the electorate ignored the terrifying personal and intellectual deficiencies of a candidate who appealed to their tribalism and racial resentments.

Are these events– and others, like the Turkish election– evidence of the decline of cosmopolitanism, and a global triumph of tribalism? If so, what happens next?

 

Politics and Racism

There’s an ongoing debate about the extent to which bigotry motivated Trump voters.

Certainly, his anti-Muslim diatribes resonated with the Republican base, no matter how devoid of logic or fact. (As has been pointed out many times, immigrants from the nations singled out by Trump’s Executive Orders have been responsible for exactly zero terrorist attacks in the United States; however, had the courts not stayed them, those Orders would have affected 15,000 Doctors.)

But it wasn’t only Muslim-Americans. Trump inveighed endlessly against Mexican immigrants, used code words and stereotypes to communicate his animus against African-Americans, and defended himself (weakly) against charges of anti-Semitism by pointing out that his daughter had converted to Judaism when she married.

And of course, his “wall” was an obvious metaphor for the division between “us” and “them.”

There was a reason he was enthusiastically endorsed by the KKK and a number of equally disreputable white supremacist groups.

That said, pundits on both the left and right have protested the unfairness of attributing support for Trump to racist attitudes, rather than to economic distress and/or Hillary hatred. So recent research from the General Social Survey is illuminating.  As Ed Brayton reports,

The National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago does continual polling on many questions called the General Social Survey. And it shows that while American society as a whole still buys into racist stereotypes, Republicans are far more likely to hold such views.

The General Social Survey is one of the oldest, and largest, recurring surveys of American behaviors and attitudes. It collects far more data than most researchers can afford to do, and as a result, as Brayton notes, it is able to “drill down” further than most similar efforts.

The 2016 results have now been released, and they are both noteworthy and concerning.

The partisan gaps among whites were as wide or wider than we’ve seen since the survey first started asking most of these questions in the 1990s. It’s not that white Republicans’ views of African Americans have dimmed so much as that they haven’t kept pace with those of white Democrats. But in some cases, the GOP has moved in the other direction.

The biggest yawning gap between Democrats and Republicans is on the issue of motivation and will power. The GSS asks whether African Americans are worse off economically “because most just don’t have the motivation or will power to pull themselves up out of poverty?”

A majority — 55 percent — of white Republicans agreed with this statement, compared to 26 percent of white Democrats…

The survey also asks people to rate the races on how hard-working or lazy they are, which allows us to compare whether people rate some higher than others.

In this case, 42 percent of white Republicans rated African Americans as being lazier than whites, versus 24 percent of white Democrats.

Are we really supposed to believe that all those voters who said they liked Trump because he “tells it like it is” and “isn’t ‘politically correct'” were reacting to his position on trade?

Racism and stereotyping may be more pronounced among Republicans, but Democrats are hardly immune. Refusing to admit how consequential racism is, refusing to recognize how many of our political and social attitudes are rooted in disdain for the “Other,” distorts public discourse and perpetuates bias and misunderstanding.

America has a problem–and a blind spot.

 

Telling It Like It Is

Today, unfathomable as it is, Donald Trump will become President of the United States. How could this happen?

Granted, Trump lost the popular vote overwhelmingly, but despite being manifestly unfit for the office, he mustered enough support from millions of Americans to win the Electoral College. The Chattering Classes have offered a number of explanations, almost all of them centering on Democratic failures: the “liberal elites” were unable to “connect” with middle America; Clinton paid too little attention to Michigan, or to the economic distress of rural voters; Democrats didn’t show enough respect for the values of small-town America. Etc.

Trump’s voters often said that what attracted them was that “he tells it like it is.” At risk of being very politically incorrect, let me tell you what I think they heard. Let me tell it like I think it is.

Post-election analyses showed that most Trump voters were not poor. As Myriam  Renaud recently reminded us, however, there’s a difference between “psychic” and fiscal poverty, and she shared a trenchant Eric Hoffer observation.

[Hoffer] found that the intensity of the discontent found among the new poor is not necessarily tied to economic hardship. Indeed, individuals born into misery do not usually revolt against the status quo—their lot is bearable because it is familiar and predictable. Discontent, the emotion Trump tapped into so adeptly, is more likely to afflict people who have experienced prosperity. When their comfortable life is diminished in some way, the result is intolerable. According to Hoffer, it is usually “those whose poverty is relatively recent, the ‘new poor,’ who throb with the ferment of frustration. The memory of better things is as fire in their veins.”

Economic uncertainty, not deprivation, and the loss of white male privilege explain a lot more than fiscal distress. Trump won because he gave people who were experiencing a perceived loss of status or privilege someone to blame for that loss.

It is impossible to argue that a vote for Trump was a vote for his “policy agenda.” He didn’t have one, unless, of course, you think that building a wall to keep Mexicans out, ejecting Muslims (or in the alternative, creating a registry), demeaning women, threatening (brown) immigrants, cozying up to the KKK and the neo-Nazis, and insisting that our first black President was illegitimate are “policies.”

In the wake of the election, Trump has backed off other campaign promises, but his overt racism and misogyny have continued. As an article in the American Prospect put it,

President-elect Donald Trump wasted no time in establishing a hideous double standard of racist privilege in the White House. His appointment of Stephen Bannon as chief strategist and his picks of Jeff Sessions for attorney general and retired Lieutenant General Michael Flynn as national security adviser have been praised without qualification by Klansmen, neo-Nazis, the alt-right, and other white supremacist groups.

While “nice” liberals offer economic explanations of the election and counsel “kinder, gentler” attitudes toward Trump voters (who were predominantly, albeit certainly not exclusively, less-educated white rural males), scholars who have analyzed the data have reached different conclusions. There is an emerging consensus among those political scientists that although economic dissatisfaction was part of the story, racism and sexism were much more important.

As an article in the Washington Post explained,

Donald Trump repeatedly went where prior Republican presidential candidates were unwilling to go: making explicit appeals to racial resentment, religious intolerance, and white identity. ..racial attitudes were stronger predictors of whites’ preferences for Trump or Clinton than they were in hypothetical matchups between Clinton and Ted Cruz or Marco Rubio..

Other research confirms, as FiveThirtyEight reported, that prejudice was one of the “distinguishing attitudes” of Trump voters in the 2016 primaries.

The Economist tested Clinton’s “deplorables” percentage:

At first glance, Mrs Clinton’s 50% estimate looks impressively accurate: 58% of respondents who said they backed Mr Trump resided in the poll’s highest quartile for combined racial-resentment scores. And at a lower threshold of offensiveness—merely distasteful rather than outright deplorable, say—91% of Mr Trump’s voters scored above the national average.

What about the argument that Trump voters “overlooked” Trump’s narcissism, sexism and racism because they thought he would be more effective at job creation? Salon reported on the results of an American National Election (NES) study probing that possibility.

Eighty-four percent of whites who believe it is “extremely likely” that whites can’t find a job because employers are hiring people of color instead support Trump, compared with 23 percent of those who think it is “not at all” likely. Among white Democrats, 58 percent who believe people of color are taking jobs support Trump over Clinton, compared with less than 1 percent of those who believe it is not at all likely. Eighty-one percent of white women who think it is “extremely likely” people of color are taking jobs supported Trump, compared with 26 percent who don’t think that.

I have colleagues who privately admit that the evidence points to the importance of racial resentment and the appeal of White Nationalism in motivating Trump voters, but who shrink from making that claim publicly.

The problem is, if we refuse to face facts–if we refuse to acknowledge the deep wells of tribalism, racism and sexism that persist despite America’s constitutional and legal commitments to equality–we will never eradicate it. We will never have honest conversations about the fears and resentments to which people like Trump so skillfully appeaI. (That actually may be the only real skill Trump has.)

When Trump promised to “make America great again,” his voters heard “I’ll make America White again.”

I understand that it isn’t pretty. I understand that confronting it is uncomfortable. But ignoring the elephant in the room is no longer an option.

There are numerous “resistance” movements springing up in the wake of the election. They are all important, some critically so. But nothing is more important than resisting Trump’s efforts to take politics back to an “us versus them” power struggle, where “us” means white Protestant straight males and “them” is everyone else.

Welcome to the Resistance

A couple of weeks ago, I was invited to speak to a “Women’s Rally for Change,” along with the Executive Director of Planned Parenthood and the Democratic candidate for Lieutenant Governor. The purpose was to discuss how to resist the coming assault on women and minorities, and to answer the increasingly common–and increasingly urgent– question: what can I do? What specific actions can I take?

The Rally was promoted only by Facebook posts; organizers hoped a hundred women might attend. We were stunned when five hundred women crammed into a space meant for far fewer, and another four hundred had to be turned away. (Future events, in larger venues, will be posted to a Facebook page established in the wake of the event: Women4ChangeIndiana.)

Several people who could not attend have asked me for copies of my remarks, so I’m posting them here. (Regular readers of this blog will find much of what follows repetitive….sorry about that!)

_________________________

We are facing divisions in this country unlike anything we’ve seen since the 60s, or maybe the Civil War. If America is to emerge reasonably intact, we need to look honestly at what just happened.

The ugly truth is that most of his voters saw Trump’s bigotry, misogyny and authoritarianism as features, not bugs. They didn’t overlook his appalling behaviors—those were what attracted them. They applauded his repeated attacks on “political correctness” and routinely told reporters that what they liked about him was that he “tells it like it is.”

The attitudes most predictive of support for Trump were racial resentment and misogyny—not economic distress.

Clinton won the popular vote, but because the Electoral College gives greater weight to votes from rural areas, she lost the Presidency. This is the 2d time in 16 years that the person who won the most votes was not elected.

The next few years are going to be very painful. Americans will lose many of the protections we have come to expect from the federal courts, probably for the foreseeable future. Economic policies will hurt the poor, especially women and children, and exacerbate divisions between the rich and the rest of us. A Trump Administration will abandon efforts to address climate change, and will roll back most of Obamacare. There will be no immigration reform, and God only knows what our foreign policy will look like. Worst of all, Trump’s normalization of bigotry will play out in a variety of ways, none good.

Sandy asked us to focus our comments on issues affecting women—but when you think about it, all of these issues will disproportionately affect women and children. And by far the worst for women is something we can’t reverse through legislation at some future time—a return to cultural attitudes that objectify and demean us.

So – what can we do, sitting here in overwhelmingly Red Indiana?

As individuals, beginning right now, we can support organizations that work to protect women’s rights, civil and reproductive liberties and public education, among others. A friend of mine and her husband, who stand to benefit from Trump’s proposed tax cuts, have decided to donate every dollar they save by reason of those cuts to organizations like Planned Parenthood and the ACLU. We might start a local “pledge my tax cut” campaign.

Perhaps the most important thing we can do is focus on local efforts to ameliorate the effects of likely federal actions. Most of the innovation and action on climate change, for example, is happening in cities, and it is much easier to influence local policy than state or national legislation. Those of us worried about the environment can make sure our cities are at the forefront of urban environmental efforts. There are other policy areas where—depending upon relevant state law—cities can mitigate the effects of federal action or inaction. Since the election, for example, several cities have decided to become Sanctuary cities, protecting undocumented people.

We can and must work to create inclusive and supportive local civic cultures that work against misogyny, bigotry and intolerance. We are already seeing a substantial increase in racist, homophobic, anti-Muslim and anti-Semitic incidents, and we need to create a civic environment that strongly discourages bigoted attitudes and behaviors. Cities have ready-made partners in those efforts, in arts organizations, civic and religious associations and the business community. I hereby volunteer to help mount a campaign focused on encouraging a welcoming, inclusive, respectful civic environment.

And if  the new Administration really does establish a Muslim registry, we all need to register as Muslims.

In the longer term, we have to reform America’s election system. The first order of business is to get rid of the Electoral College, which favors rural voters over urban ones and generally distorts the democratic process. The person who gets the most votes should win the election. We should work with groups like the League of Women Voters to get Indiana to sign on to the National Popular Vote Project, to oppose gerrymandering and to make voting easier, not harder.

We also have to defend our public schools and improve civic education. “We the People” or a similar curriculum should be required for High School graduation. Trump made all kinds of promises that he could not constitutionally carry out. Perhaps recognizing that wouldn’t have mattered to the kind of people willing to vote for him—but it might have.

Sandy asked each of us to identify issues of particular significance to women that we might win at the Statehouse. Given the composition of our legislature, we face an uphill battle, but here are some suggestions:

  • Work with local business and civil rights groups to expand Indiana’s civil rights law to include LGBTQ Hoosiers.
  • Work with Planned Parenthood, the ACLU and other organizations to prevent passage of added restrictions on abortion that more conservative courts would uphold. We’re already seeing that effort in Indiana.
  • Work with advocates for public education to scale back Indiana’s voucher program, the largest in the country, that benefits parochial schools at the expense of public ones.
  • Require effective civic education for graduation from H.S.

If there has ever been a time to be an activist, this is it.

 

White Man Malaise

Richard Reeves of the Brookings Institution has surveyed the post-election analytic landscape, and considered the varying explanations for the outcome. He traces what he calls “the malaise of white middle America” in the trending data about mortality, life expectancy, suicide and opioid use, and suggests that it ought not be surprising that areas in which people are turning to oxycodone are also the ones that turned to Trump.

Bernie Sanders says that Trump’s “campaign rhetoric successfully tapped into a very real and justified anger.” To his mind, people are “tired of having chief executives make 300 times what they do, while 52 percent of all new income goes to the top 1 percent.” Well, maybe.

Meanwhile Jenny Beth Martin, president and co-founder of the Tea Party Patriots, says that Trump’s victory is a validation of their agenda: “Repeal…Obamacare, protect our borders, stop illegal immigration, restore fiscal sanity and get the government off our backs and out of our lives.” Well, maybe.

There is lots of work to be done to truly understand the complex picture that emerged on November 8. But it doesn’t look to me as if economics will take us very far in terms of understanding white pain, at least in any simple way. Scott Winship of the new think tank Foundation for Research on Equal Opportunity delves into the numbers, and concludes that “there is little empirical support for the idea that ‘it was the economy, stupid’.” I agree. This was an identity vote more than an income vote. Many white men, especially those of modest education, feel as if they are being overtaken and left behind. “It’s relative status, stupid!”

Kathy Cramer is the author of a recent book, The Politics of Resentment, in which she relays her research and conclusions from her interviews with the white, working class men (and some women) who voted for Trump. She says they compare their lives to a bygone world in which men like them could easily get jobs paying a decent wage, were automatically considered the “head of the household,” and “always knew that they were superior to people with darker skin.” All of those basic assumptions about the way the world works have been challenged, to say the least.

And of course we’ve had a black President since 2008. As James Baldwin warned almost half a century ago, “the danger, in the minds of most white Americans, is the loss of their identity…The black man has functioned in the white man’s world as a fixed star, as an immovable pillar: and as he moves out of his place, heaven and earth are shaken out of their foundations.”

The unanswerable question is: what happens when these people realize that Trump cannot undo inexorable social change? That despite “telling it like it is”–i.e., giving voice and “respectability” to their resentments–he cannot put women back in the kitchen, gays back in the closet, or send African-Americans back to the back of the bus?

As Reeves concludes,

Loss of relative status is painful, no doubt. But it is the inescapable price of equality. Trump has no cure. Nobody does.