Groping is a healthy thing to do. When you’re heterosexual, you grope, okay? – Female Trump supporter.
Race and Gender
I predicted during the Democratic primaries that
…Clinton will almost certainly win the nomination because she swept these states – none of which the Democrats have the slightest hope of winning in November. So her Southern support will prove to be crucial to her nomination but useless in the general election, where Republicans will continue to sweep the South…This bears repeating: Hillary swept the Old South in the primaries, but she has no hope of getting any of their votes in the Electoral College. Partially because of voter suppression…and partially because of old-fashioned racism…these states will all go to Donald Trump.
Some writers have compared this period to the 1860s, and I have to agree. In Chapter Eight of my book I tried to understand what motivated soldiers who fought for the Confederacy:
…we wonder why several hundred thousand dirt-poor whites who couldn’t afford to own slaves defended this cause so savagely. We must conclude that they fought not to save slavery (which was against their own economic interests), but to perpetuate white privilege. It was all they had.
It really is a similar time. We are talking about the breakdown of the myth of American Innocence and the collapse of one of its core assumptions, the heroic, ruggedly individualistic, working-class white male worker/provider. As in previous times of economic and social instability, racism increases as a reaction to the perceived danger to white male identity.
David Masciotra argues that “…black progress is the trigger of white rage… As soon as people of color start setting terms for coexistence, the mask comes off and a beast comes out.” He lives in a small town in Indiana, where
…white Americans are not studying the numbers of NAFTA and contemplating the strengths and weaknesses of protectionism. Many are practicing a soft racism, though, invisible to the naked eye too easily distracted by the overt bigotry of white supremacists…
In this election, in addition, the gender gap expanded to the widest in history. However, while it was no surprise that white men were Trump’s base, we have to ask: despite his disgusting and vulgar misogyny, despite majority support for abortion rights, despite Republican policies designed to hurt women, why did 53% of white women support him?
We know this from exit polls. Everything we are told about who voted and why comes from thousands of interviews conducted by professional poll takers as people exited the polling booths. More on this later. Much more.
Seen from a certain perspective, every election since 1964 has been about race, and this was no different, as the post-election spike in harassment and hate crimes confirms. Granted, Clinton was deeply unpopular, but Trump’s message, obvious to everyone but the most naïve, was “Make America white again.” Here is statistical support for this argument.
We must acknowledge that in American myth, white privilege and fear – specifically the fear of the racialized Other – still outweigh gender solidarity, not to mention rational self-interest. Chapter Seven of my book describes how, for over three hundred years, the elites and their gatekeepers have manipulated narratives of the sacred responsibility to protect the purity of “their” women and to ignore their privileges by identifying as victims of the truly oppressed.
And more white women than we might have thought are still willing to consume such stories. How about those with college degrees? The Trump support numbers go down only to 51%. Think about that number. We are not talking about working class men who are anxious about their declining authority and lost jobs; we’re talking about women who in countless offices and bureaucratic situations are their bosses. We’re talking about women who have attained agency and self-determination, many of whom consider themselves feminists, but who are still terrified by the prospect of muggers and terrorists.
About that new narrative of rural voters: it turns out that average Trump voters are not uneducated, they don’t live in the country, and their income is over $70,000/year, much higher than both the national average and the incomes of Clinton and Sanders voters. And rural voters, who usually vote Republican anyway, made up only 17% of the electorate. Such people had not suffered under Obama; indeed they had thrived, writes Eric Sasson:
They’re not suffering or desperate, and have no concrete reason to hate the status quo or to feel like they are in decline. They understand that Trump is manifestly unprepared to be president, have heard his many lies and insults, yet voted for him anyway.
Trump’s support came from the same Republican base that supported Mitt Romney and all their predecessors who have manipulated the white vote and its racialized fears for generations (despite the Republican leaders who briefly repudiated him), plus some disaffected working-class people. And quite a few of them were the women that Clinton had expected would support her.
Is it possible to be financially comfortable, to believe in women’s equality (the vast majority of both genders do), and still hold racist beliefs, or at the very least, irrational fear of dark skin? Apparently so. L. V. Anderson writes:
…the biggest and saddest reason white women chose Trump over Clinton is simple: racism…They wanted to vote on the side of white men. White women decided that defending their position of power as white people was more important than defending their reproductive rights, their sexual autonomy, their access to health care, family leave, and child care…Most white women still identify more with white men than they do with black women, Latina women, Muslim women, transwomen…
Michael Moore argues that race was not the primary factor:
You have to accept that millions of people who voted for Barack Obama, some of them once, some of them twice, changed their minds this time. They’re not racist. They twice voted for a man whose middle name is Hussein. That’s the America you live in.
May it be so. Maybe such people would have been open to a progressive candidate. Maybe they would have voted for Sanders. But the fact remains that Clinton received far fewer votes than Obama. Perhaps the changed minds he refers to had more to do with staying home. Meanwhile, the Ku Klux Klan is having a victory parade.
The soft racist gets along with his black and Latino coworkers, waves to the Arab neighbors, and gives a friendly greeting to the parents of color at his child’s school, but all the while he feels that America is his country. The virtue of his whiteness gives him ownership. Should a black president, or a Black Lives Matter protest, or a Latino presence in his neighborhood threaten his sense of entitlement, superiority and authority, he feels resentful, even hateful.
But we need to go deeper.