It is easy to find articles that buttress the feeling that racist activity like this is increasing in the US. Fox News reported in August that “white nationalist and white supremacist groups have recently become more encouraged and more public in their views”. Sharper interpretations of the current state of race in the US draw direct lines between the increase in racist activity and President Trump’s electoral victory: “[t]his year’s string of brutal hate crimes is intrinsically connected to the rise of Trump” (Bouie). The general mood could be argued as saying that racism is on the rise and there is a relationship between this and Trump becoming president.
Despite this, it is not difficult to find writing that tries to explain Trump’s surprising victory in terms that go beyond or, maybe, around racism. Even though racism and sexism are certainly mentioned, articles like this January 2017 538 piece argue that economic factors -particularly fear about the future- best explain how Trump became the man who lives in the White House: “Trump Country [...] isn’t the part of America where people are in the worst financial shape; it’s the part of America where their economic prospects are on the steepest decline” (Casselman). Yet, these economic explications seem incomplete. The articles that push them often make, on the one hand, the argument that economics are key to understanding Trump’s victory, but they are usually heavy on caveats. Casselman’s 538 piece includes multiple sentences like this: “And the evidence suggests that anxiety did play a key role in Trump’s victory, though it was by no means the only factor”. Indeed, it seems logical that a single, simple explanation for an election victory; particularly one as surprising as Trump’s, would be difficult. With this in mind, it is not surprising that these explanations that cross economics with sexism and race are easy to find. However, the incompleteness of the theories pushed in these articles is unsettling.
In a recently published article in The Atlantic, Ta-Nehisi Coates, however, presents a far more complete argument. His position is that race is behind any economic explications. More specifically, he states that Trump was elected because he is white: “To Trump, whiteness is neither notional nor symbolic but is the very core of his power”. To make this argument possible, Coates is forced to confront an idea that has become prevalent in the election’s aftermath: the Democrats lost the white working class and therefore the presidency. Using research and mostly simple, well-explained logic, Coates shows that the idea of a white working class is a myth that was created in contrast to the African Americans. It was a place for poorer whites to expend their anger and be able to affirm that at least they were not the blacks. Trump’s victory is explained, Coates argues, not thanks to the white working class, but thanks to whites. Statistics support his argument, as he cleanly shows that Trump’s white support was not just among those who earn less, but was a majority or plurality across all economic strata:
Trump’s white support was not determined by income. According to Edison Research, Trump won whites making less than $50,000 by 20 points, whites making $50,000 to $99,999 by 28 points, and whites making $100,000 or more by 14 points. This shows that Trump assembled a broad white coalition that ran the gamut from Joe the Dishwasher to Joe the Plumber to Joe the Banker.
Bouie, Jamelle. “This Year’s String of Brutal Hate Crimes Is Intrinsically Connected to the Rise of Trump.” Slate Magazine, Jan. 2017.
Casselman, Ben. “Stop Saying Trump's Win Had Nothing To Do With Economics.” FiveThirtyEight, FiveThirtyEight, Sept. 2017.
“Hate Crimes in US on the Rise.” Fox News, FOX News Network.