So who were the people who put Donald Trump in the White House? Is it a revolt of the dispossessed? Or the left-behind — globalization’s losers? Is it the backlash against free trade? Some of the top voices on the US left seem to think so. But what if the economy isn’t the main driver? What if it’s racism and racial resentment that helped put Trump in the Oval Office? What if it’s the “whitelash”?
Just look at the evidence. First off, exit polls from the primary found the median household income of a Trump voter was well above the national average. And the exit polls of the presidential election confirmed Hillary Clinton won the majority of voters making under $50,000. In addition, a massive pre-election Gallup study found that living in areas more exposed to trade or immigration does not increase Trump support.
Second, people of color in the United States, especially black voters, are far worse off economically than their white counterparts. If it’s all about income and jobs and trade, why did people of color vote overwhelmingly for Clinton, not Trump? Or did their economic anxiety not count?
Third, just listen to what Trump voters actually say about why they support him. One study found that the easiest way to identify if someone supports Trump over Clinton is to ask if they think Barack Obama is a Muslim. It’s more accurate than asking them whether they’re Republicans. That study also found that factors like economic pessimism and income were statistically insignificant to Trump’s rise. Other studies found a strong relationship between anti-black attitudes and support for Trump — with Trump supporters more likely to describe African Americans as criminals, unintelligent, lazy, and violent — more likely to think people of color are taking white jobs, with a majority rating blacks as less evolved than whites. Do I really need to go on?
But what about all the low-income white voters who Obama won in 2008 but Trump won in 2016? A, there’s no evidence that the same people that voted for Obama voted for Trump; we just don’t have that data yet. B, Democrats lost more votes in counties where white income growth was highest than where it was lowest. And C, Obama wasn’t running against a candidate who engaged in the textbook definition of racism, and had a long history of anti-black bias.
There are multiple reasons why Trump won: a flawed Democratic candidate and low Democratic turnout; the email issue; and, of course, the economy played a role. But to focus all or most of our attention on income inequality and the “left behind” — real issues that need addressing — doesn’t tackle the racist elephant in the room. And yes, I accept, not all Trump voters are racist. But the racists did vote for Trump. Plus, as one very viral tweet actually put it, “Not all Trump supporters are racist, but all of them decided that racism isn’t a deal breaker.” And so we have a situation where in January, the first black President of the United States will hand over to a president endorsed by the KKK. But apparently, “It’s the economy, stupid!” I don’t think so.
Noam Chomsky on the New Trump Era — UpFront Special