Tag Archives: Trump voters

The Anger Games

Wonder why we keep seeing reports like this one from Talking Points Memo?

Bennett Bressman has “more compassion for small dogs than illegals” and claims his “whole political ideology revolves around harming journalists.” He uses the n-word freely and cracks jokes about the Holocaust.

Bressman also happens to have served as statewide field director for Republican Gov. Pete Ricketts’ successful 2018 reelection campaign.

A shocking trove of leaked private messages Bressman sent over Discord, a gaming platform popular with white nationalists, were surfaced Sunday by Anti-Fascist Action Nebraska. Under the handle “bress222,” Bressman made over 3,000 comments on the page for white nationalist YouTuber Nicholas Fuentes’ show America First. The chats were made public by Unicorn Riot, a volunteer nonprofit media outlet devoted to exposing the internal communications of white nationalists.

The Nebraska GOP declared itself “horrified” by the disclosures, and if this were a “one-off,” I’d be inclined to give the party a pass. But it comes on the heels of too many similar revelations and the constant stream of “dog whistles” and worse from Trump and numerous other Republican candidates and officeholders.

A recent sociological study confirms what many of us have suspected: these sentiments are widely shared in the GOP.  Far from “horrifying” good people who inexplicably voted for Trump, these attitudes are actually the reason they cast those not-so-inexplicable-after-all ballots.

New research by University of Kansas sociologists David Smith and Eric Hanley demonstrates how a socially combustible mix of racism and sexism, in combination with anger and bullying, put the United States on a path to authoritarianism.

 Writing in “The Anger Games: Who Voted for Donald Trump in the 2016 Election, and Why?”, which appeared in a recent issue of the journal Critical Sociology, Smith and Hanley summarize their new research:

We find that Trump’s supporters voted for him mainly because they share his prejudices, not because they’re financially stressed. It’s true, as exit polls showed, that voters without four-year college degrees were likelier than average to support Trump. But millions of these voters — who are often stereotyped as “the white working class” — opposed Trump because they oppose his prejudices. These prejudices, meanwhile, have a definite structure, which we argue should be called authoritarian: negatively, they target minorities and women; and positively, they favor domineering and intolerant leaders who are uninhibited about their biases.

Furthermore, the authors report, what unified Trump’s voters was not “economic anxiety” but prejudice and intolerance. What they define as authoritarian views were “strongly associated with support for Donald Trump.” Political polarization, although it definitely exists, is not strictly a “class phenomenon,” in their view. Trump voters came “from many strata and milieus” and “the effects of class are mediated … through biases and other attitudes.”

Smith and Hanley’s research identified eight attitudes that reinforced each other and predicted support for Trump: self- identifying as conservative; a desire for a “domineering” leader; Christian fundamentalism, animus against immigrants, African-Americans, Muslims and women; and “pessimism about the economy.”

The research concluded what many of us suspected: people didn’t vote for Trump “despite” his obvious prejudices; they voted for him because they shared those prejudices. It was the basis upon which they identified with him.

Assuming the accuracy of this research (and I do), the rest of us will have to come to terms with two very unpalatable facts: (1)some 35% of our country’s citizens are racist, and (2) they are not going to desert Trump. They aren’t going to recoil as his administration and cabinet wreak havoc on the economy, the environment, and the social fabric. So long as he hates the same people they hate, they will continue to support him.

For that (disconcertingly large) minority of the population, he really could shoot someone in the middle of Fifth Avenue without losing their allegiance. And that is terrifying.

They Don’t Even Bother To Dog-Whistle Anymore

The basic line of demarcation between pro-Trump and anti-Trump partisans is now too clear and too well-documented to misunderstand. As my youngest son has maintained since the election, there were two–and only two–categories of people who voted for Trump: those who  agreed with and felt validated by his too-obvious-to-ignore racism, and those for whom that racism was not disqualifying.

Pundits and political observers on the left were deeply uncomfortable with that reality. “Nice” people looked for other plausible reasons for those votes: economic distress, hatred of Hillary, partisan affiliation. But as research on the vote has emerged, even polite formulations (“racial anxiety”) and studies conducted by academics noted for their rigor and lack of political agendas have confirmed the degree to which racism predicted support for Trump.

If any dispassionate observer still doubts that conclusion, the behavior of the Trump administration, its supporters and its propaganda arms should dispel those doubts. The fixation on immigration (from the southern border, not the north) and the fact-free demonization of brown immigrants is a clue too obvious to ignore.

Brian Kilmead of Fox News–the administration’s propaganda arm–speaks for Trump’s supporters when he says 

And these are not — like it or not, these aren’t our kids. Show them compassion, but it’s not like he is doing this to the people of Idaho or Texas.

The “us versus them” formulation could hardly be clearer.

For those of us who tend to look at what they do, not what they say, the picture is even clearer.

A ProPublica analysis.. found that, under Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, the department has scuttled more than 1,200 civil rights investigations that were begun under the Obama administration and lasted at least six months. These cases, which investigated complaints of civil rights violations ranging from discriminatory discipline to sexual violence in school districts and colleges around the country, were closed without any findings of wrongdoing or corrective action, often due to insufficient evidence….

ProPublica also found that the Office for Civil Rights has become more lenient. Under Obama, 51 percent of cases that took more than 180 days culminated in findings of civil rights violations, or corrective changes. Under the Trump administration, that rate has dropped to 35 percent.

ProPublica noted that the Trump administration has largely shelved investigations of systemic violations, opting to look instead at individual complaints.

One long investigation terminated by the Trump administration took place in Bryan, Texas. As ProPublica previously reported, the Dallas bureau of the federal civil rights office spent more than four years investigating whether disciplinary practices in Bryan discriminated against students of color. Federal investigators found at least 10 incidents where black students received harsher punishment than their white peers for the same conduct.

Weeks before Trump’s inauguration, federal investigators and the district were on the cusp of a settlement that would have required more than a dozen reforms. But after DeVos took over, the case and the pending settlement were scuttled, with no findings of wrongdoing.

In late April, OCR also shelved the investigation into school discipline in DeSoto County, where 852 students — more than half of them black — received corporal punishment in 2015.

Shelia Riley, the chairperson of DeSoto’s school board, told ProPublica that OCR’s decision was appropriate. “I read the [parents’] claims and I just felt like we were fair in our disciplinary decisions,” she said.

Google “Trump Administration racism” and the search will return–among many, many other “hits”– sober analyses of the ways in which the administration’s racism is affecting foreign policy, the role of race in the administration’s shameful neglect of Puerto Rico, the racism of proposed “reforms” of welfare programs, and the way Trump “encourages a pro-white semiotics and a return to racisms past.”

The Civil War may have ended slavery, but America’s “original sin” has persisted. Honest observers can no longer ignore it; “nice, polite” people can no longer pretend that grandpa just has “policy differences” with dark people. Trump owes his election to the voters who couldn’t abide the presence of Barack Obama in the White House–and who rewarded the bigot who remains willing to “tell it like [they believe]it is” in the ugly world they inhabit.

We aren’t in Kansas any more, Toto–and we’ve gone way beyond dog-whistles.

When The Emperor Has No Clothes

Most of us recall the children’s story about the Emperor who paraded in his imaginary finery and the masses of subjects who obediently “saw” that clothing. Only when a young boy in the crowd named the reality–that the Emperor was naked–did others recognize that they’d been deceiving themselves.

The story is a great parable for America’s disinclination to see the “naked” truth about Trump’s voters. Political figures in both parties, aided and abetted by media figures unwilling to trust their eyes, insist that Trump voters were motivated by economic uncertainty.

Virtually all the peer-reviewed research finds otherwise.

Diana C. Mutz is a professor of political science and communication at the University of Pennsylvania (and the distinguished daughter of former Indiana Republican Lieutenant Governor John Mutz). She is one of many who have studied Trump voters; results of her research recently appeared in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science.
Mutz found no evidence that personal economic anxiety motivated Trump supporters. The one factor that did increase the likelihood that someone would vote for Trump was a belief that white people are more discriminated against than people of color, and that Christians and men experience more discrimination than Muslims and women.

Charles Blow recently commented on the Mutz study in The New York Times.

A new study published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found what other studies have found: Support for Trump was largely motivated by white fear of displacement from dominance.

As the study put it:

White Americans’ declining numerical dominance in the United States together with the rising status of African Americans and American insecurity about whether the United States is still the dominant global economic superpower combined to prompt a classic defensive reaction among members of dominant groups.”

This new study dovetails with an analysis of millennial Trump voters published last year in The Washington Post: “First, white millennial Trump voters were likely to believe in something we call ‘white vulnerability’ — the perception that whites, through no fault of their own, are losing ground to other groups. Second, racial resentment was the primary driver of white vulnerability — even when accounting for income, education level or employment.”

This is the explanation for those of us who find it incomprehensible that anyone could vote for this proudly ignorant, embarrassing and dangerous buffoon. As Blow says,

Trump is one of the last gasps of American white supremacy and patriarchy. He is one of its Great White Hopes.

The distillation of his campaign message was not only to halt the rapid pace of change, but also to reverse it, to undo the Obama-izing of America and restore it to whiteness. It was also to uncouple America from globalizing influences and specifically elevate American whiteness.

If anything has become clear during the year and a half of this disastrous Presidency it is that Trump’s only “agenda” is to reverse and obliterate anything Barack Obama accomplished. The absence of any other coherent motivation–the inability to articulate any philosophy of governance, the obvious absence of any belief structure other than his own grandiose claims of superiority, the constant “dog whistles” and repeated use of racist and misogynist language–is as obvious to people who pay attention as was the Emperor’s lack of clothing.

Racism isn’t limited to cross-burnings and overt acts of discrimination. Our persistent unwillingness to confront the obvious–our discomfort with the reality that so many of our fellow Americans recoil from an equality that threatens to divest them of their perceived superior position in society–is understandable, but not at all helpful.

Delusion won’t dress the Emperor.

 

 

Truth And Consequences

What do you do when research consistently comes up with a result that is explanatory but politically incendiary–data that enrages the very people who need to be calmed down?

Anyone who followed the trajectory of the Trump campaign recognized the degree to which racial animus suffused it. That animus wasn’t a surprise; it had been stoked by the behavior of Republicans during Obama’s Presidency–the intransigence of the Congressional GOP, and the eruption of “birthers” and conspiracy theorists and garden-variety racists among the base.

As my youngest son says, there were only two kinds of voters who cast ballots for Trump:  unapologetic racists and voters for whom Trump’s bigotry wasn’t considered disqualifying.

The degree to which racial resentment influenced Trump voters has been confirmed in study after study.  Vox recently reported on a survey of the minority of millennials who voted for Trump.

Even when controlling for partisanship, ideology, region and a host of other factors, white millennials fit Michael Tesler’s analysis, explored here. As he put it, economic anxiety isn’t driving racial resentment; rather, racial resentment is driving economic anxiety. We found, as he has in a larger population, that racial resentment is the biggest predictor of white vulnerability among white millennials. Economic variables like education, income and employment made a negligible difference.

To anyone who’s been following the research on this, the findings should come as little surprise. There have now been numerous studies that found support for Trump is closely linked to racial resentment, defined by Fowler, Medenica, and Cohen as “a moral feeling that blacks violate such traditional American values as individualism and self-reliance.”

The article reviewed a number of previous studies that have come to a similar conclusion. (I’m aware of several others) The author argued that it is important to understand the increased role racism plays in today’s politics in order to counter it–that those of us who are less threatened by the waning of white privilege should have “empathetic discussions” with Trump supporters in order to reduce their levels of fear and resentment.

Somehow, I doubt that a frank-but-“empathetic” discussion that begins with one person saying “I know your vote was racially motivated” is going to end well.

That is the dilemma. It really didn’t take a multitude of studies to see where Trump’s appeal lay. All it took was a look at his rhetoric and the composition of his rally crowds. The question is: what do we do about it?

Racial bias has always been there (Southern Strategy anyone?), but the studies indicate that it has spiked–leading to the election of a man who constantly feeds it.

The election of a black President was a shock to many people who held negative racial attitudes but had felt it prudent to suppress their expression. The prospect of a majority-minority country by 2040 or so, the sudden ubiquity of “uppity” women, same-sex marriage…all these things destroyed their complacent belief that straight white Christian men would always be in charge.

All the empathy in the world isn’t going to make African-Americans “know their place,” return women to the kitchen and nursery, and put gays back in the closet. The pace of social and technological change isn’t suddenly going to abate. The progress that terrifies Trump voters may slow, but it is unlikely to reverse.

An older lawyer with whom I practiced many years ago used to say that there is only one legal question: what do we do?

“What do we do?” is the question Americans of good will face now, and I doubt that “empathy” –no matter how appropriate–is the answer.

The good news is that there are many more Americans who don’t vote their fears and resentments than there are those who do. While we wait for the hate and fear to subside–and they eventually will– we need to redouble our efforts to get those voters to the polls.

Computational Propaganda, Part Two

After each new Trump travesty, my friends and family have taken to asking each other the same question: “Who the hell could still support this buffoon? How stupid would someone have to be to drink this particular Kool-aid?”

A recent study conducted by Oxford University apparently answers that (not-so-rhetorical) question.

Low-quality, extremist, sensationalist and conspiratorial news published in the US was overwhelmingly consumed and shared by rightwing social network users, according to a new study from the University of Oxford.

The study, from the university’s “computational propaganda project”, looked at the most significant sources of “junk news” shared in the three months leading up to Donald Trump’s first State of the Union address this January, and tried to find out who was sharing them and why.

“On Twitter, a network of Trump supporters consumes the largest volume of junk news, and junk news is the largest proportion of news links they share,” the researchers concluded. On Facebook, the skew was even greater. There, “extreme hard right pages – distinct from Republican pages – share more junk news than all the other audiences put together.”

The researchers monitored 13,500 politically-active US Twitter users, and a separate group of 48,000 public Facebook pages, and looked at the external websites that they were sharing.

The findings speak to the level of polarisation common across the US political divide. “The two main political parties, Democrats and Republicans, prefer different sources of political news, with limited overlap,” the researchers write.

The study did not find a high percentage of social media penetration by the Russians, but it did identify clear political preferences of those who consumed junk news.

But there was a clear skew in who shared links from the 91 sites the researchers had manually coded as “junk news” (based on breaching at least three of five quality standards including “professionalism”, “bias” and “credibility”). “The Trump Support group consumes the highest volume of junk news sources on Twitter, and spreads more junk news sources, than all the other groups put together. This pattern is repeated on Facebook, where the Hard Conservatives group consumed the highest proportion of junk news.”

There has always been a credulous segment of the American public; given our embarrassingly low levels of civic literacy, it shouldn’t surprise us that a percentage of voters unhappy with their position in the polity would “choose the news” that confirmed their biases. As a colleague of mine recently wrote (citations omitted),

The flourishing of scientific polling and the increased sophistication of social science research methods have provided scholars with an opportunity to put these concerns to the test, and the results have largely confirmed the worst fears of political philosophers. Foundational studies of voters and elections published in the mid-20th Century documented voters’ ignorance, wishful thinking, and reliance on simple cues like partisanship, and nearly 8 decades of subsequent research has largely confirmed those conclusions.The democratic polity is not now and has never been made up of highly knowledgeable, informed and engaged civic citizens.

And there are plenty of charlatans, would-be power-brokers and snake-oil salesmen ready to lead the willing down the garden path…..