Sorry to be the Skunk at the Garden Party but …

garden party

The past year of research has made it very clear: Trump won because of racial resentment

Another study produces the same findings we’ve seen over and over again.

The article summarizes a number of research studies—and then makes what seems to me to be the crucial point:

To confront Trump, opponents will need to confront racism

At some point, you might start to wonder why journalists keep writing about the link between Trump’s support and bigoted beliefs. The election is over. Do we really need to analyze what happened over and over again?

The point, at least for me, is not to demonize Trump voters. The point is to understand them in order to better grasp what motivated them to vote for someone who ran a clearly bigoted campaign and who most voters agreed is unqualified for the nation’s highest office.

As Schaffner, MacWilliams, and Nteta wrote in their paper, there’s growing evidence that 2016 was unique — in that racism and sexism played a more powerful role than in recent presidential elections. “Specifically, we find no statistically significant relationship between either the racism or sexism scales and favorability ratings of either [previous Republican candidates] John McCain or Mitt Romney,” they wrote. “However, the pattern is quite strong for favorability ratings of Donald Trump.”

The concern, then, is that this is the beginning of a modern trend in which politicians like Trump directly and explicitly play to people’s prejudices to win elections — and it works. This is in many ways an outgrowth of the Southern Strategy and tactics that play into people’s racism, like dog whistles — only it’s more explicit in its bigotry.

If that’s really what’s happening, it’s important for anyone interested in limiting the power of bigotry in US politics to know and demonstrate what’s going on. Studies like this put a bigger imperative on getting to the root of the problem and figuring out ways to reduce people’s racial biases.

To this end, the research also shows it’s possible to reach out to Trump voters — even those who are racist today — in an empathetic way without condoning their prejudice. The evidence suggests, in fact, that the best way to weaken people’s racial or other biases is through frank, empathetic dialogue. (Much more on that in my in-depth piece on the research.) Given that, the strongest approach to really combating racism and racial resentment may be empathy.

One study, for example, found that canvassing people’s homes and having a 10-minute, nonconfrontational conversation about transgender rights — in which people’s lived experiences were relayed so they could understand how prejudice feels personally — managed to reduce voters’ anti-trans attitudes for at least three months. Perhaps a similar model could be adapted to reach out to people with racist, sexist, or other deplorable views, although this possibility needs more study.

Aardvark’s Addenda

  1. It’s really bad news that the reelection of the first black president triggered a lot of people to support the one major public figure in American life who was prepared to validate their racism.
  2. No matter how bad the news may be, reacting by sticking your head in the sand is seldom a winning approach.
  3. Lots of Fox News viewers are now turning against Trump. That’s not because they have ceased to be racists. It’s not because he has stopped validating their racism. It’s because they realize he is such a jerk that he is no longer an effective validator of their prejudices.
  4. The racist voters will be looking for another, better champion to validate their racism. Some will step forward to fill the bill.
  5. I’m all for holding your nose and trying a little empathy. But in the final analysis, the only way for us to win is just to outvote ‘em.
  6. I place my hope in the women, in the Afican-Americans, and in the Hispanics. And, to a degree, in the affluent, college educated, business friendly folks, who may repent of their Faustian bargain.