With the rise of Trump, we have seen many a left-leaning herald of the political apocalypse writing gleeful pieces announcing the implosion of the Republican Party and hysterical pieces announcing the arrival of fascism on these shores. In all the hoopla, these would-be-Cassandras have missed the real story: it is not the Republican Party but the Democratic Party that is rapidly approaching the culmination of an implosion courted by its own flagrant race-baiting.
Its concerted alienation of white poor and working-class voters has sent these voters fleeing into the Republican fold. The turmoil among Republicans is, then, little more than a reflection of growing pains, a party establishment struggling to absorb formerly left-leaning white voters whose priorities are understandably different from those of the Republican rank and file.
Growing racial antagonism
The Democratic Party line with respect to The Donald has been that his candidacy is succeeding on the strength of a constituency of uneducated white racists. Yet, according to Pew surveys, in 2008, at the time of the election of our first black President, 44 percent of whites actually leaned Democratic, while only 42 percent leaned Republican. Not long thereafter, those numbers started to reverse and diverge. By 2014, only 40 percent of whites leaned Democratic, while 49 percent leaned Republican. Between 2008 and 2014, in other words, the parties experienced a reversal of fortune of four to five percentage points among white voters. Gallup found a decline in Obama’s job approval among white college graduates from 54 percent to 41 percent and among white non-college graduates from 48 percent to 27 percent over essentially that same time period.
As The Nation, not exactly a conservative magazine, reported, if white people and only white people voted in 2012, Mitt Romney would have defeated Obama in all but four states, and “The pattern is not limited to the South, with its history of racism and segregation. Even in the deepest blue states, white voters went for Romney: 53 percent in California, 52 percent in New York, 55 percent in Pennsylvania.” This represented a 4 percent increase in the white vote that went to McCain in 2008, and the increase among whites voting Republican between 2008 and 2012 was still more dramatic in many of the states with white electorates commonly thought to be less racist than those in the old Confederacy: 8 percent more whites voting Republican in New Jersey, 7 percent more in California and Florida, 6 percent more in New York and Wisconsin and 4 percent more in Massachusetts.
As a 2014 paper considering data on racial attitudes concludes, “racial sentiments rallied positively behind Obama after his 2008 election but then spiked to unprecedentedly antagonistic levels during his first term. At the same time, racial antagonism polarized dramatically by party from 2008 to 2012.”
There is good reason to believe that these whites fleeing the Democratic Party are also leaning heavily toward Trump. Here is a good summary of the trend from yet another left-of-center publication, the New York Times:
Even now, Democrats have more registered voters than Republicans do in states like West Virginia and Kentucky, which have been easily carried by Republicans in every presidential contest of this century. As recently as a few years ago, Democrats still had a big advantage in partisan self-identification in the same states.
But during the Obama era, many of these voters have abandoned the Democrats. Many Democrats may now even identify as Republicans, or as independents who lean Republican, when asked by pollsters — a choice that means they’re included in a national Republican primary survey, whether they remain registered as Democrats or not.
Mr Trump appears to hold his greatest strength among people like these — registered Democrats who identify as Republican leaners — with 43 percent of their support, according to the Civis data.
The underlying data reported in the article suggests that while only 29 percent of registered Republicans favored Trump as of December 2015, 43 percent of those who self-identified as Republicans but were registered as Democrats were Trump supporters, and he received 40 percent support among unregistered self-identified Republicans and 36 percent support among self-identified Republicans registered as independents.
Are Trump’s supporters all racists?
Now let’s translate these numbers into some ideas about what is actually going on … and what isn’t going on.
Squarely in that latter category is the oft-parroted tale that Trump’s support is coming from raving racists. Those who believe this need to explain how it is that many of these alleged racists were the ones voting for Obama in 2008. Did they open their minds just wide enough to let a black president slip in through the crack and then, in the ensuing eight years, come to realize that, well, he’s actually much blacker than he looks?
Moreover, we would certainly expect such committed racists to have been already well under the Republican umbrella (and on the party’s extreme right wing) rather than largely among the unregistered, independent and Democratic voters leaning toward Trump. The notorious “Southern strategy” — not as overtly employed in recent decades as it once might have been — should have brought the hardcore racists into the red column a long time ago.
So here is another theory, one that actually takes into account both these statistics and what has been going on in our culture over the course of the past eight years. As Hillary Clinton’s recent campaign of shameless race-baiting and appealing to black voters (especially ironic in itself given the fact that she had no hesitation about deploying her version of the Southern strategy in her primary battle against Obama in 2008) in what is increasingly looking like a successful effort to defeat Bernie Sanders should remind us, we have, in these last eight years, been witness to a dramatic and unprecedented cultural attack upon white people emanating from the political left and its many outlets in the media and academia.
Shame-storming “white privilege”
I need not recite chapter and verse here. Suffice it to say that poor and working-class white Americans who can barely scrape by are being repeatedly told about their “white privilege” and their history of oppression.
They are being branded unreconstructed pickup-driving, Confederate-flag waving redneck racists. They are seeing the sensation-peddling media focusing ceaselessly on an empirically discredited “epidemic” of anti-black police violence instead of on the plight of ordinary Americans of all races. They are being administered daily doses of the aggressive and angry agenda of #Blacklivesmatter protesters and taking from it, rightly or wrongly, the suggestion that their own lives don’t matter quite as much.
They are seeing crazed and coddled college students scaring weak-kneed administrators into pursuing radical, repressive and racially polarizing reforms instead of defending the core American value of freedom of speech.
They are hearing the President of the United States bending over backwards to avoid offending the feelings of Islamic terrorists rather than doing his best to comfort Americans legitimately concerned about the prospect of terrorism by Islamic extremists at home and abroad.
They are living — as I have described in some detail, citing empirical evidence adduced by the prominent moral psychologist Jonathan Haidt — in an increasingly threatening and hostile culture that is speech-policing, disempowering and silencing them, telling them they are unworthy of being heard simply because they are “white,” with their views inevitably the products of “white privilege,” their protests at being demonized inevitably the products of “white fragility,” and the anti-white racism they are seeing openly trumpeted from every nook and corner of the internet and every major media outlet just a delusion because racism supposedly now = prejudice + power, and they have all the power (really?), so racism against them in our society is impossible. (This, of course, is demonstrably false nonsense that I have rebutted in detail.)
The left has, in short, done everything in its power to demonize and alienate white people, especially those white people who are struggling the most. An epidemic of race-baiting and anti-white racism is driving white people out of the Democratic Party, which, in its effort to discern which way the wind is blowing and capture a growing minority demographic, has pandered to, embraced and egged on those trying to make everything about race.
These understandably disgusted white voters are the same ones now flocking to a candidate — himself once sympathetic to many Democratic ideas — who is marrying left-of-center economic populism with a right-of-center social agenda that bullies the PC bullies right back and makes a show of slaying nearly all of political correctness’s sacred cows. The appearance that the Republican Party is being torn apart is a direct result of this influx of new voters whose priorities differ from those of the traditional Republican base.
But make no mistake: it is not the alleged racism of core Republican voters, but rather, the Democratic Party’s and the cultural left’s racial implosion that made Trump. And, considered in that light, the #Blacklivesmatter protesters trying to disrupt his rallies and the social media’s smug callout brigade and legions of nitwitted pundits who dismiss his supporters as hate-filled racists will only seal the deal.
Alexander Zubatov is a partner in a law firm in Manhattan.