Of 435 Members of the House of Representatives, three — 3! — have lost primaries in 2016. Two of them were retired by redistricting. One Democrat — Rep. Chaka Fattah — couldn’t overcome the small matter of a federal indictment.
Not exactly an anti-establishment wave filled with angry voters set on undermining, setting fire to, or jamming hot spears of frustration into the rusty gears of the corroded DC machine.
Analysts looking to excuse Republicans for nominating a demagogue relying on racist tropes have turned to two alibis.
First, we hear about “economic anxiety” — a defense that gets hollowed out by antiracist educator Tim Wise’s simple assertion: “If the only reason for Trump’s support was economic anxiety, then people of color should be flocking to Trump.” Because people of color, statistically, are still suffering far more in this economy, which has been generally improving for almost six years. If there’s anyone who should be “economically anxious,” it’s Black people — who give Trump the highest unfavorable rating of any group at 94 percent. In America, that’s as close as you can get to unanimous.
Secondly, we hear about a general anti-establishment desire to watch the whole craphouse go up in flames in which Trump’s appeal is explained by the charm of his blather on the stump, the kitsch of his rallies, and statistical anomalies of a few vocal women or people of color backing the self-proclaimed billionaire.
I understand the urge to absolve our fellow Americans of being seduced by bigotry’s craven lure. But in the past few weeks any attempt to excuse Trump supporters from at least being tolerant of racism has become even more futile.
A Washington Post/ABC poll released on Monday showed that 7 of 10 Americans disapprove of Donald Trump. This data followed two weeks in which the probable GOP nominee continually explained that a heroic federal judge born in Indiana couldn’t give Trump a fair trial because the judge is “Mexican.”
Even Republican Speaker of the House Paul Ryan called Trump’s outburst an example of “textbook racism.”
Trump supporters who found their hero’s attack on the judge’s heritage compelling argued that it couldn’t be “racism” because “Mexican” isn’t a race. Apparently, to them, it’s a massive coincidence that Trump’s worst qualities — his birtherism, his suspicion that the president is secretly Muslim, his urge to deport millions, and his insistence that we cower behind a wall — all tend to be evoked by fears of non-white people.
It’s a decent sign for America that even Trump supporters want to dance behind the pretense of acceptability — as if just insulting someone’s ethnic heritage alone isn’t disqualifying for a presidential candidate. And though Republicans were the only group that didn’t overwhelmingly find the comments racist, many in the Party of Lincoln recognize the stench of this bullshit.
Remember: A majority of the party voted for another candidate in the primary. And several party leaders have refused to fall behind Trump, a genuinely brave stance that could cost their movement a majority on the Supreme Court.
But the “anger” of Trump’s unapologetic supporters needs to be examined — not absolved — if there’s any hope of using this abominable moment in our nation’s history to expose how conservative tropes have long used strategic anti-minority rhetoric to turn people against the institutions that built the middle class..
If Trump said that Canadians or Germans or Israelis were “rapists” who bring drugs to America, though some are probably okay, the offense would be obvious. Trump supporters might argue, “Well, he wouldn’t say that because it isn’t true,” without any more data to debunk those accusations than Trump had to utter his slurs against Mexicans. And that’s exactly the point.
Trump carefully picks his targets — as he always has. Though he is in general rude and abrasive to anyone who doesn’t kiss his ass, the Trump political style, derived from George Wallace, is designed to focus a wellspring of hate against convenient targets — generally with a thin veneer of strategic deniability.
You see now that GOP establishment figures are attempting to legitimize Trump’s bigotry by writing apologia for his “temporary Muslim ban,” which would have prevented exactly zero terror attacks. Trump didn’t invent the bigotry he is using. Republicans have argued for Muslim internment camps and House Republicans have voted for mass deportations over reform over and over and over.
Trump has awakened an urge that has been mostly sublimated in the Republican party toward outward bigotry. And I wouldn’t make such accusations if the data didn’t back them up.
Let’s start with the group that Trump decided to target by choosing birtherism as a way to make himself politically relevant, after decades of looking for ways to get people to beg him to run for president.
“The Republican Party relies almost entirely on whites, who provide about 90 percent of its votes,” New York Magazine‘s Jonathan Chait points out.
This has been true since the mid-1960s and is either the result of a huge coincidence or an overwhelming, undeniable sense that the party prioritizes one identity over others. Republicans occasionally argue that this is is the result of minority voters’ passion for “free stuff,” or maybe of Black and Latino voters being fooled into the “Democratic Plantation” — which are racist arguments in themselves.
Millionaires who support Democrats vote against their own material interests, as do working people who vote for Republicans intent on destroying collective bargaining rights. We all vote against our narrow interests sometimes, because voting is mostly about identity and values. We should assume that Black, Latino and Asian voters understand what they’re voting for and and are able to formulate their own visions of America.
And we should assume the same about Trump voters.
“Among the vast majority of GOP voters who think that the growing number of newcomers to the U.S. ‘threatens traditional American customs and values,’ 59 percent have warm feelings toward Donald Trump – with 42 percent saying they feel very warmly toward him,” Bradley Jones and Jocelyn Kiley of PewResearch explain.
Demos policy analyst Sean McElwee — along with his collaborators Jason McDaniel and Philip Cohen — looked into the polling data and found that “racial resentment” is the defining factor of Trump’s appeal.
“[I]ncreased levels of racial stereotyping among white respondents — as measured by beliefs that Black people, Muslims and Hispanics are ‘lazy’ or ‘violent’ — strongly increases support for Trump, even after controlling for other factors,” McElwee and McDaniel write. “The opposite is true, however, when it comes to support for Marco Rubio.”
This doesn’t mean every Trump supporter is a raging racist or even conscious of his or her own racism. It just means Trump supporters are, according to, McElwee and Cohen, “dramatically more likely to embrace racial stereotypes than the average Republican or Democrat.”
Even the slogan “Make America Great Again” harkens to some mysterious period in the past, which he won’t quite identify. But you can be sure that wherever in the past Trump takes us, it will be an era when women, minorities, and the LGBTQ community had fewer rights and less dignity.
We shouldn’t insult Trump supporters by suggesting that they are in denial of the ugly overtones and undertones that define the Trump campaign. They aren’t oblivious to the qualities that have made Trump the choice of David Duke, Stormfront, and hordes of online anti-Semites. They get why students at a Des Moines high school chanted “Trump! Trump! Trump!” at the students of a predominately Latino high school that defeated them in basketball.
America has often been confronted by a choice between our worst instincts and our better ones. Trump campaign is unprecedented in the way he lies and abandons any responsibility for reason, preparation, or consistency. But his worst crime is to play on the infectious and deadly prejudices that have been ingrained in our society. And now the Republican Party needs to decide whether it is willing to align itself this twisted version of “patriotism” forever.
Photo: Demonstrators protesting Republican U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump (in window, L) are reflected in the side of his car as he departs after he was deposed for a lawsuit involving partners in a restaurant venture at offices in Washington, U.S. June 16, 2016. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst