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The First White President

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Post-mortems on election 2016 are continuing. Hillary Clinton’s new book is one long What Went Wrong exploration.

We’ve been told that economic anxiety is what drove so many white working class voters to Trump, especially in the Rust Belt region that delivered the electoral votes of Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Ohio to him.

Sure, he said some things that they wanted to hear. NAFTA was bad. Coal and manufacturing was good. And… aside from that, not much. People hear what they want to hear, and surely some people rolled the dice with him thinking, “hey, rich guy, he must know something.”

But Trump’s ideology is all over the map. Try to pin him down on a policy. You can’t. He can change his tune in the same paragraph. But there are two constant themes: his refusal to criticize Russia, and his antipathy to immigrants. From his opening comments in 2015 when he announced his candidacy claiming Mexican immigrants were largely rapists and murderers, to this week, when he rescinded the largely popular DACA program.

It’s a reason white supremacists have claimed him as one of their own, and Trump has done little if anything to push them away. Klansman David Duke has said that white supremacists would  “fulfill the promises of Donald Trump. That’s what we believed in, that’s why we voted for Donald Trump. Because he said he’s going to take our country back. That’s what we gotta do.”

Not every white voter who went with Trump is a white supremacist, obviously. But Ta-Nehisi Coates writes in this month’s edition of The Atlantic that gentle racism – not his words – is what propelled Trump to the White House:

THE SCOPE OF TRUMP’S commitment to whiteness is matched only by the depth of popular disbelief in the power of whiteness. We are now being told that support for Trump’s “Muslim ban,” his scapegoating of immigrants, his defenses of police brutality are somehow the natural outgrowth of the cultural and economic gap between Lena Dunham’s America and Jeff Foxworthy’s. The collective verdict holds that the Democratic Party lost its way when it abandoned everyday economic issues like job creation for the softer fare of social justice. The indictment continues: To their neoliberal economics, Democrats and liberals have married a condescending elitist affect that sneers at blue-collar culture and mocks the white man as history’s greatest monster and prime-time television’s biggest doofus. In this rendition, Donald Trump is not the product of white supremacy so much as the product of a backlash against contempt for white working-class people.

If the election were about economic anxiety, wouldn’t Hispanic working class Americans have voted for Trump overwhelmingly, as whites did? They didn’t. But whites at every economic level preferred Trump.

Remember the Charlottesville white supremacy rallies of last month? Why were these white men shouting, “you will not erase us.”?  Why are white Americans – including millions who don’t carry tiki torches in support of Confederate monuments – so threatened by social change, which includes a browning America?

Read the whole article here.