The prolific voice of a generation Ta-Nehisi Coates has penned a new essay “The First White President” which gives a brilliant explanation of how contrary to all logic Donald Trump was elected President of the United States. Coates is right about how racism played a part in electing Trump but he is wrong that racism is the sole reason Trump was elected.
The main thesis of Coates essay is that his whiteness and racism not economics was the reason that Donald Trump was elected President. According to the essay:
Asserting that Trump’s rise was primarily powered by cultural resentment and economic reversal has become de rigueur among white pundits and thought leaders. But evidence for this is, at best, mixed. In a study of preelection polling data, the Gallup researchers Jonathan Rothwell and Pablo Diego-Rosell found that “people living in areas with diminished economic opportunity” were “somewhat more likely to support Trump.” But the researchers also found that voters in their study who supported Trump generally had a higher mean household income ($81,898) than those who did not ($77,046).
Those who approved of Trump were “less likely to be unemployed and less likely to be employed part-time” than those who did not. They also tended to be from areas that were very white: “The racial and ethnic isolation of whites at the zip code level is one of the strongest predictors of Trump support.” An analysis of exit polls conducted during the presidential primaries estimated the median household income of Trump supporters to be about $72,000. But even this lower number is almost double the median household income of African Americans, and $15,000 above the American median.
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. So when white pundits cast the elevation of Trump as the handiwork of an inscrutable white working class, they are being too modest, declining to claim credit for their own economic class.
Trump’s dominance among whites across class lines is of a piece with his larger dominance across nearly every white demographic. Trump won white women (+9) and white men (+31). He won white people with college degrees (+3) and white people without them (+37). He won whites ages 18–29 (+4), 30–44 (+17), 45–64 (+28), and 65 and older (+19). Trump won whites in midwestern Illinois (+11), whites in mid-Atlantic New Jersey (+12), and whites in the Sun Belt’s New Mexico (+5).
In no state that Edison polled did Trump’s white support dip below 40 percent. Hillary Clinton’s did, in states as disparate as Florida, Utah, Indiana, and Kentucky. From the beer track to the wine track, from soccer moms to nascar dads, Trump’s performance among whites was dominant. According to Mother Jones, based on preelection polling data, if you tallied the popular vote of only white America to derive 2016 electoral votes, Trump would have defeated Clinton 389 to 81, with the remaining 68 votes either a toss-up or unknown. By his sixth month in office, embroiled in scandal after scandal, a Pew Research Center poll found Trump’s approval rating underwater with every single demographic group. Every demographic group, that is, except one: people who identified as white.
Coates is correct Donald Trump united white Americans unlike no other presidential candidate, more than the Civil Rights backlash presidential campaign of Barry Goldwater and more than the come home Reagan Democrats presidential campaign of Ronald Reagan. But Coates assertion that the “bloody heirloom” of racism some five decades after Martin Luther King Jr. was gunned down on a Memphis balcony—even after a black president; indeed, strengthened by the fact of that black president—is to accept that racism remains, as it has since 1776, at the heart of this country’s political life fails to acknowledge the racial progress made since 1776.
Since 1776 America’s population has been dominated racially by white people, a white dominated society that allowed some racially progressive changes to take place. Beginning with the Civil War and the ratification of the 14th amendment granting citizenship to slaves, and the total elimination of legalized discrimination against anyone by the 1964 Civil Rights Act, a law that was passed with no black U.S. Senators and only 5 black U.S. Congressman among the 400 plus white Congressman.
American history tells a story of the white majority population becoming more progressive on matters of race, culture and religion with the passage of time not regressing to intolerance.
So what would account for the same white Americans who voted for the first black American president in 2008 and 2012, voting for the first American presidential candidate to run on a racist white nationalist platform? Is it as Coates states the same American racism that existed in 1776 reasserting itself?
I think Coates is partially correct, race not racism is the reason for the Trump presidency. The United States Census Bureau predicts that by the year 2044 American residents who identify themselves as Hispanic, Black, Asian, American Indian, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander will together outnumber non-Hispanic whites, meaning that ethnic and racial minorities will comprise a majority of the nation’s population.
This fact alone is the race factor that concerns all white Americans. 85% to 90% of white Americans are not concerned for what would be thought of as traditional racist fears. It didn’t bother the majority of non-racist white Americans that Barak Obama was black, after all they elected him because black Americans didn’t and don’t have the numbers to do it alone, but it was a wake-up call to the coming population change. That non-whites would be the majority in a society where one person one vote majority rules the day.
A report done jointly by the Center for American Progress, American Enterprise Institute and the Brookings Institution titled States of Change: The Demographic Evolution of the American Electorate 1974-2060, released in 2015 states that in 1980 the population of the United States was 80% white. In 2016 that number fell to 63% and according to the report’s projections by 2060 American whites will be less than 44% of the population.
White Americans should have a legitimate non-racist concern about what if anything could change in a society that they are no longer the majority of. Nobody cares about the race, sex, religion or political affiliation of the person they end up sitting next to on an airplane. One only cares that the person won’t talk too much during the flight.
When one considers the appropriate corrective steps that America has taken to address the past legal racist practices of American society, such as Affirmative Action, which for most white Americans is a necessary sacrifice and for a minority of white Americans an unfair privilege, but for all white Americans a step they must take not for wrongs they themselves committed, but for wrongs that people of the same race committed could raise questions for white Americans.
Questions like will the new majority of past minorities treat the new minority like the old majority treated the old minority prior to the Civil Rights Movement? It’s normal for white Americans to be concerned about how they will be treated, in a society where at one time they made it acceptable to discriminate and dominate the minority. It’s not racist to question in a country where one person one vote majority rules, that has no designated official language and the new majority speaks a language other than English, if the unofficial English language traditionally used might change to the language of the new majority.
These questions/concerns are no more racist than people wondering about the consequences of a Democratic versus a Republican Congress. Republicans will repeal Obamacare Democrats will save Obamacare.
The majority of white Americans could care less about the race of the new majority, but do care about the possible changes a new majority would make. It’s not racial, if anything white Americans think their America’s best option to continue making America racist free.
President Trump’s trademark “Make America Great Again” resonates so well with white America because it addresses this concern. Make America the place where we (whites) are the vast majority again and so therefore ultimately are in control of what happens in America.
This is why white Americans lied to pollsters and some friends about their no support of President Trump but secretly voted for him. The majority of American whites hold their nose and look the other way through his dog whistle white nationalist rhetoric, and his discriminatory immigration policies giving him the same leeway George W Bush was given after the 9/11 attacks. The over-reach of the Patriot Act and President Bush’s disastrous no weapons of mass destruction found pre-emptive Iraq war, were tolerated by Americans as a sacrifice for peace and security. By electing President Trump white Americans erred on the side of political incorrectness, trying to keep the America they know in the midst of the demographic change taking place.
This is why Trump voters don’t care if they ever see his tax returns. Working class whites don’t care if he makes home mortgages more expensive for them, or that he can’t bring back the coal jobs that he promised to. White female Trump voters don’t care that he is gutting their healthcare protections with the repeal of Obamacare. Wealthy Trump voters don’t care if he can’t give them a tax cut, or if he does give it to them without repeal of Obamacare, it explodes the current $ 20 trillion dollar deficit.
It doesn’t matter how many foreign diplomats spend huge amounts of money at Trump Hotels, or how many new deals his sons are able to do in foreign countries. What family member is part of the White House staff is of no concern. His Muslim travel bans creating occasional embarrassment in international affairs is a small price for Trump voters to pay, because Trump voters elected President Trump to keep America, America. Anything else he does is either icing on the cake or a necessary irritant.
As Coates himself concedes “Certainly not every Trump voter is a white supremacist, just as not every white person in the Jim Crow South was a white supremacist. But every Trump voter felt it acceptable to hand the fate of the country over to one.”
Until white Americans feel that can express their concerns about the demographic changes taking place in America without being accused of racism, results that distort reality like a President elected on a racist platform by a majority non-racist electorate, will continue to occur.