Tag Archives: racism

And I Thought I Was Being Too Negative….

I sometimes feel guilty about the fact that so many of my posts to this blog are dispiriting. Then a friend shared a link to an article in Salon, saying “read it and weep.”

I’m weeping.

The article analyzed recent polling, and found that 96% of those who voted for Donald Trump say they would do so again. Only 85% of Hillary Clinton voters, however, would stick with her.

That’s not because former Clinton supporters would now back Trump; only 2 percent of them say they’d do so, similar to the 1 percent of Trump voters who say they’d switch to Clinton. Instead, they’re more apt to say they’d vote for a third-party candidate or wouldn’t vote.

President Donald Trump is the antithesis of what Hillary Clinton’s voters desired in a candidate. And in many ways Donald Trump’s incompetent, ignorant, reckless, racist, demagogic and cruel behavior in office is worse than even his most concerned and cynical critics had predicted. This outcome should motivate Clinton’s voters to become more engaged and more active, instead of making a decision in a hypothetical election that might actually give Trump a victory in the popular vote.

The findings from this new poll are troubling. But they should not come as a surprise.

Political scientists and other researchers have repeatedly documented that the American public does not have a sophisticated knowledge on political matters. The average American also does not use a coherent and consistent political ideology to make voting decisions. As Larry Bartels and Christopher Achen demonstrate in their new book “Democracy for Realists: Why Elections Do Not Produce Responsive Government,” Americans have identities and values that elites manipulate, which voters in turn use to process information — however incorrectly.

I have read the Bartels and Achen book, and it is hard to argue with their thesis. I also have a young colleague who studies “correct” voting–defined as casting a vote for the candidate whose positions come closest to the positions the voter has identified as important and motivating. (Spoiler alert: a lot of voters don’t vote “correctly.”) As the Salon article puts it,

American voters en masse are not rational actors who seriously consider the available information, develop knowledge and expertise about their specific worries and then make political choices that would maximize their goals.

These matters are further complicated when considering right-wing voters. While Trump may have failed in most of his policy goals, he has succeeded symbolically in terms of his racist and nativist crusade against people of color and Muslims. Given the centrality of racism and white supremacy in today’s Republican Party specifically, and movement conservatism more generally, Trump’s hostility to people of color can be counted as a type of “success” by his racially resentful white voters.

American conservatives and right-leaning independents are also ensconced in an alternative news media universe that rejects empirical reality. A combination of disinformation and outright lies from the right-wing media, in combination with “fake news” circulated online by Russian operatives and others, has conditioned Trump voters and other Republicans to make decisions with no basis in fact. American conservatives do, however, possess a surplus of incorrect information. In that context, their political decisions may actually make sense to them: This is a version of “garbage in, garbage out.”

Republican voters also tend to be have more authoritarian views than the general public. As a type of motivated social cognition, conservatism is typified by deference to authority, groupthink, conformity, social dominance behavior and hostility to new experiences and new information. These attributes combine to make Trump voters less likely to regret supporting him and in some cases — because of a phenomenon known as “information backfire“— to become more recalcitrant when shown that Trump’s policies have failed in practice.

There’s a wealth of social science research confirming these observations.

The 64-thousand-dollar question (as we used to say back when sixty-four thousand dollars was a lot of money) is: what the hell are we going to do about it?

 

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.

 

Deplorable

Pundits on the left and right have been clutching their pearls over Hillary Clinton’s remark that roughly half of Trump’s supporters belong in a “basket of deplorables.”

Supporters worry about the political fallout ( given the media’s tendency to hold Clinton to a far higher standard than Trump, from whom they expect outrageous insults), while Clinton opponents claim to be “shocked, shocked” at the political incorrectness of it all. (Ignore those pictures of Trump supporters wearing tee-shirts saying things like “Trump the bitch” and  the videos from his rallies where supporters liberally used the “n word.” Ignore, too, the calls to “jail her” at the Republican convention. Unlike those appealing political messages, calling any voters “deplorable” is simply unforgivable.)

“Politically correct” or not, the statement was objectively inarguable. (Perhaps the percentage was off; I personally would have placed it above 50%.) A few “factoids”

Much like Trump’s alleged opposition to the Iraq War, this not an impossible claim to investigate. We know, for instance, some nearly 60 percent of Trump’s supporters hold “unfavorable views” of Islam, and 76 percent support a ban on Muslims entering the United States. We know that some 40 percent of Trump’s supporters believe blacks are more violent, more criminal, lazier, and ruder than whites. Two-thirds of Trump’s supporters believe the first black president in this country’s history is not American. These claim are not ancillary to Donald Trump’s candidacy, they are a driving force behind it.

Then there was the survey that found twenty percent of Trump supporters agreeing with the statement that Lincoln was wrong to have freed the slaves.

And there was this screenshot of Trump voters in the South Carolina primary…

 

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And then there are his fans in the Klan and assorted hate groups, and the White Supremacists who claim he is channeling their message….

Even if a given Trump voter isn’t actively or overtly invested in these attitudes, Charles Blow’s observation in the New York Times is on point:

Donald Trump is a deplorable candidate — to put it charitably — and anyone who helps him advance his racial, religious and ethnic bigotry is part of that bigotry. Period. Anyone who elevates a sexist is part of that sexism. The same goes for xenophobia. You can’t conveniently separate yourself from the detestable part of him because you sense in him the promise of cultural or economic advantage. That hair cannot be split.

As I have previously blogged, I’m hard-pressed to identify any Trump supporters who don’t belong in the “deplorables” basket…

What This Campaign Has Unleashed…

Over the past few months, I have seen increasing numbers of news reports like this one about a man who stabbed an interracial couple after seeing them kiss in a bar.

“He tells them, ‘Yeah, I stabbed them. I’m a white supremacist,’” Lower said. “He begins talking about Donald Trump rallies and attacking people at the Black Lives Matter protest.”

And this one:

Wichita State University student body president Khondoker Usama, a 23-year-old Muslim student from Bangladesh, and a Hispanic friend stopped at a local Kwik Shop late on a Friday in March. In an interview with the Washington Post, Usama says he noticed a white motorcyclist verbally harassing a black man, “calling him a lazy ass, saying, ‘You guys don’t work.’ He was using racial slurs.”

He says when the man took note of Usama and his friend, he began shouting, “Hey, you brown trash, you better go home.” Usama’s friend insisted, “It’s my country. Who the hell are you to tell me, ‘Go home?’”

“He seemed to be looking for a fight,” Usama told the Post. “The man started punching my friend. My friend dodged the first punch. I got in the middle of them—I told my friend to get back in the car. [The man] pushed me and he hit me over.” He began “kicking [my friend] in the stomach, indiscriminately punching him.”

Usama called the cops and the motorcyclist took off, but not before endorsing Trump.

“He was chanting, ‘Trump! Trump! Trump!’” Usama told the Post. “‘Make America great again! You guys are the losers! You guys, we’ll throw you over the wall!’”

And stories like this one.

Tracey Iglehart, a teacher at Rosa Parks elementary school in Berkeley, California, did not expect Donald Trump to show up on the playground.

This was, after all, a school named after a civil rights hero in a progressive California enclave, with a melting pot of white, African American, Latino and Muslim students.

That has not stopped some children from channeling and adopting the Republican presumptive nominee’s xenophobic rhetoric in playground spats and classroom exchanges.

“They said things like ‘you’ll get deported’, ‘you weren’t born here’ and ‘you were born in a Taco Bell’,” said Iglehart, 49. “They may not know exactly what it means, but they know it’s powerful language.”

As Nicholas Kristof recently wrote in the New York Times

This community of Forest Grove, near the farm where I grew up in western Oregon, has historically been a charming, friendly and welcoming community. But in the middle of a physics class at the high school one day this spring, a group of white students suddenly began jeering at their Latino classmates and chanting: “Build a wall! Build a wall!”

The same white students had earlier chanted “Trump! Trump! Trump!” Soon afterward, a student hung a homemade banner in the school reading, “Build a Wall,” prompting Latinos at area schools to stage a walkout.

Hillary Clinton recently accused Trump’s campaign of taking racism mainstream. Given the daily drumbeat of articles like those referenced above, Trump’s continued rhetoric, and his clear reluctance to distance himself from the white nationalists who enthusiastically support him, it’s hard to argue with that accusation.

Most political observers expect Trump to lose the election, and many expect the margin to be substantial. That’s well and good–but this is a genie that will be very hard to put back in the bottle.

I believe that most Americans–including most Republicans–reject the racism, misogyny  and xenophobia that have formed the basis of Trump’s campaign, but the sudden prominance of a politically significant white nationalist movement in the U.S. will challenge us for the foreseeable future.

Americans who have shuddered when considering Le Pen’s National Front in France and similar hard right movements elsewhere in Europe can no longer comfort ourselves with the fiction that we are less susceptible to that particular kind of ugliness.

For that disquieting epiphany, we have Trump to thank.