Tag Archives: Brexit

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?

 

Brexit, Texit, Indiana

In the wake of the British vote to exit the EU, several of Texas’ more “colorful” politicians have renewed their call for Texas to exit the United States.

In my snarkier moments, I’d love to see Texas leave; for one thing, the federal government sends more of our tax dollars back to the Lone Star State than its taxpayers remit to Uncle Sam, and the rest of the U.S. certainly doesn’t benefit from most of the state’s forays into public policy, or from the wisdom of the people it sends to Congress. (Just losing Louie Gohmert would make “Texit” worthwhile.)

In my more measured moments, however, I recognize that Brexit and the subsequent efforts not just of Texan separatists but of far-right movements elsewhere represent a reaction to—and rejection of—modernity. We see that rejection everywhere, from the Taliban and ISIS trying to “purify” the Muslim Middle East, to the French members of Marie Le Pen’s National Front, to homegrown nativists wanting to “Make America Great Again.”

Elections have become a choice between accepting modernity with all its maddening complexities and frantic and futile efforts to “return” to a time that never was. That is just as true of local contests as it is for national referenda; Hoosier voters will face that choice in November.

Governor Mike Pence hasn’t just strongly endorsed Donald Trump, disqualifying as that endorsement is; well before Trump became the GOP nominee, Pence was advocating measures to keep Indiana from engaging with the 21st Century. (There’s a reason for the Facebook meme advising Hoosiers to turn their clocks back to 1800.)

Just a few of the more obvious examples: RFRA was focused on turning back the clock to a time when “God fearing” Hoosiers could discriminate against LGBT citizens with impunity. Signing the demeaning and punitive anti-choice bill (the most drastic in the country) was part and parcel of the old-time belief that women are not competent to make our own decisions about reproduction. His refusal to accept Syrian refugees (until a court reminded him that immigration comes under federal jurisdiction) was entirely in keeping with a worldview that looks askance at immigration, diversity and globalization.

In all fairness, Pence had plenty of help from Indiana’s GOP super-majority.

It’s easy to understand why so many people find modern life threatening. Change is constant; technology is confounding. Foreign people with different cultures and ideas can make us uncomfortable and unsure of our most foundational beliefs. The economic ground beneath our feet keeps shifting.

As disorienting as modernity is, however, the choice is not between a discomfiting now and a mythical then. If we find going forward too demanding, too frightening—if we vote for people firmly planted in an imagined past—we will simply be throwing in the towel, refusing to meet the challenges of our time.

What we won’t be doing is reinstating a world that never was.

A lot of people—including a number who read this blog—are unhappy with the candidates proposing to lead us forward. I understand that. But the choices this November are pretty stark: we can inch forward with people who are less than perfect, or we can go backward with people who live in never-never land.