In the wake of the 2016 election, when well-meaning people were trying to understand voters who opted for Donald Trump, a common explanation was economic: Trump voters were people who were economically fragile, worried about job security, etc.
Subsequent research has pretty conclusively disproved that excuse.
As my youngest son said at the time, there were two–and only two–groups of people who voted for Donald Trump: those who shared and applauded his obvious racism; and those for whom his racism was not disqualifying.
Over the past months, as Trump’s dog-whistles have morphed into explicitly racist rhetoric, people in the mental health field have suggested that his recent tweets are evidence of his continuing mental decline. Others disagree; in a recent column, Thomas Edsall suggests it is strategic–that Trump is “ramping up” his racist base.
Democrats heading into the 2020 election need to determine just how monolithically racist the GOP has become. Are there still some Republicans who can be persuaded to leave the dark side, or have virtually all voters who still identify as Republican become part of Trump’s White Nationalist cult?
John Kane, a political scientist at N.Y.U. and a co-author of a new paper, “Ingroup Lovers or Outgroup Haters? The Social Roots of Trump Support and Partisan Identity,” is among the activists and scholars examining these challenges. In an email, Kane described Trump’s lock on a key set of voters: “For Republicans that absolutely loathe and detest” such progressive constituencies as minorities, immigrants and members of the LGBT community, Kane wrote, “an appeal from Democratic Party elite is likely to be dismissed out of hand.”
Among Republicans more sympathetic to these liberal groups, Kane continued, “the share that could, under any circumstances, actually vote for a Democrat is quite small, below 10 percent, and this is likely concentrated among those who only weakly identify with or lean toward the Republican Party.”
“Loathing for progressive constituencies” is academic language for hating “those people.”
Edsell quotes another scholar for the proposition that Trump is campaigning “largely on issues of white identity”–issues that include not just racism, but misogyny, anti-Semitism and homophobia. Fear and hatred of “the other.” (And if you aren’t a Christian white guy, you are definitely “other.”)
All of which helps explain Trump’s shift to rolling back gay and lesbian rights, for example, after many decades of supporting just those causes.
In the midst of the 2016 presidential campaign, Trump described himself as a “real friend” of the LGBTQ community. Since taking office, however, the Trump administration has argued that the 1964 Civil Rights Act rights law does not protect gay workers from discrimination and that transgender people should be barred from military service.
There is an underlying political logic to the switch from Trump’s campaign stance to his policies once he won the White House. As he heads into the 2020 election, his “base,” the voters essential to his re-election, are hostile not only to gay men and lesbians, but to racial and ethnic minorities as well. (emphasis mine.)
Trump’s political survival now depends on catering to — indeed, inflaming — those hostilities.
The studies that Edsell quotes–studies which join the virtually unanimous conclusions of other researchers–confirm that the president’s supporters are driven by hatred of African-Americans, Hispanics, Muslim-Americans, Jews, and the LGBTQ community.
Clearly, Trump benefits immensely from hostility to African-Americans, to Hispanics and to gay men and lesbians. If he is an expert at anything, it is at exploiting and generating hostility. Trump’s relentless derogation of racial and ethnic minorities, his support for the anti-abortion movement and his right-wing appointments to the judiciary, reflect his political dependence on a key bloc of his loyalists, white born again and evangelical Christians.
These voters, in turn, have demonstrated exceptional determination to use the ballot box to protect their beliefs, values and prejudices from liberal challenge.
The 2020 election is shaping up to be a contest between the party of White Nationalists and the rest of us.
There is nothing — nothing — more important in the United States than racism. Where you stand on that one issue defines who you are as a human being. Silence is complicity. All Republicans who stand mute in the face of Trump’s latest racism are telling you who they really are. It’s an ugly picture of a morally bankrupt party that has now embraced racial prejudice as a platform.
We need to listen to what the research tells us. Democrats are not going to peel off votes from Trump’s Republican base. Those voters are lost to us–and to the America we thought we inhabited.
In order to decisively defeat White Nationalism, we have to mobilize the Americans who didn’t bother to vote in 2016.
The haters will vote. We must outvote them–massively.