Our opinion: It was not working-class anxiety; it was about racism

With the day of reckoning rapidly approaching, most Americans have had enough of the discussion on why Donald J. Trump won the presidency.

"Economic distress and anxiety across working-class white America have become a widely discussed explanation for the success of Donald Trump," wrote Max Ehrenfreund and Jeff Guo for the Washington Post. "It seems to make sense. Trump's most fervent supporters tend to be white men without college degrees. This same group has suffered economically in our increasingly globalized world, as machines have replaced workers in factories and labor has shifted overseas."

But Chauncey DeVega, writing for Salon, noted that recent analysis has concluded it wasn't white working-class "economic anxiety" that turned the tide for Trump. "If the economic anxiety thesis were correct, blacks, Latinos and Native Americans (people who have much less wealth and income than whites) would have flocked to Trump. Instead, they were repulsed by him and overwhelmingly supported Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Party." In fact, he noted, Clinton won a higher percentage of the vote in economically distressed communities than did Trump.

Political scientist Michael Tesler, the author of "Post-Racial or Most-Racial? Race and Politics in the Obama Era," believes he has the answer. Writing in the Huffington Post, he noted "Racially resentful beliefs that African Americans are getting more than they deserve were so strongly linked to support for Trump, in fact, that their impact on both the 2016 Republican Primary and the general election were larger than they had ever been in before."

Tesler blamed this attitude on the ultimate attribution error. "This error means that when whites struggle, their troubles are generally attributed to situational forces (e.g., outsourcing); but when non-whites struggle, their plight is more often attributed to dispositional traits (i.e., poor work ethic). Consequently, whites are considered 'more deserving' than blacks." In a study conducted by Tesler, "Almost two-thirds of Trump voters said that average Americans aren't getting as much as they deserve; only 12 percent of Trump supporters said blacks have gotten less than they deserve."

"Tesler's new findings complement other work that has repeatedly shown that Trump voters (and Republicans as a group) have more negative attitudes about African-Americans and other people of color than do Democrats and self-described liberals and progressives, are more authoritarian and ethnocentric, and possess a delusional belief that white people are victims of racial discrimination in America," wrote DeVega.

Trump's triumph was not a about white economic anxiety at all, he wrote, but "an extension of at least five decades of Republican strategy ... to use overt white racism and white racial resentment to exacerbate and manipulate misplaced anxieties about relative group power and privilege in American society."

Trump's slogan, "Make America Great Again!" is code for white identity politics, which "proceeds from an assumption that white people are always and forever to be dominant and consequently the most powerful of all racial groups." In fact, wrote DeVega, Trump's campaign was "fueled by racism, authoritarianism and bigotry."

While DeVega worries that the election of Trump means the United States "has fully entered its twilight years," we see it as the last gasp of a white patriarchy that has set us at each other's throats to maintain its grip on power. We also see it as a chance to renew the values and goals that progressives have championed since FDR and The New Deal. It's not news that many conservatives have taken the slow approach to dismantling the safety net created during the Depression, and this election is the culmination of that effort. How we respond as individuals and a nation will, indeed, determine whether a new era of justice and equality is dawning in the United States or if this great nation becomes just another third-world country ground under the heel of the oligarchs who rule much of the world.


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