The Nationalist’s Delusion

Adam Serwer, in a slam-dunk piece in The Atlantic:

Among the most popular explanations for Trump’s victory and the Trump phenomenon writ large is the Calamity Thesis: the belief that Trump’s election was the direct result of some great, unacknowledged social catastrophe—the opioid crisis, free trade, a decline in white Americans’ life expectancy—heretofore ignored by cloistered elites in their coastal bubbles. The irony is that the Calamity Thesis is by far the preferred white-elite explanation for Trumpism, and is frequently invoked in arguments among elites as a way of accusing other elites of being out of touch.

But what about this:

The most economically vulnerable Americans voted for Clinton overwhelmingly; the usual presumption is exactly the opposite.

So what’s this about? Well, look at how the white voters voted:

Trump won white voters at every level of class and income. He won workers, he won managers, he won owners, he won robber barons. This is not a working-class coalition; it is a nationalist one.

Oh. Oh my. So…

White working-class Americans dealing directly with factors that lead to a death of despair were actually less likely to support Trump, and those struggling economically were not any more likely to support him.

Which means, as you can imagine:

…when social scientists control for white voters’ racial attitudes—that is, whether those voters hold “racially resentful” views about blacks and immigrants—even the educational divide disappears. In other words, the relevant factor in support for Trump among white voters was not education, or even income, but the ideological frame with which they understood their challenges and misfortunes.

So. Let’s say you go to your next family gathering and someone there is saying “gosh, people just voted for Trump because their jobs are going away and they’re making less each year!” Well then your everyday, intelligible, non-wonky response would be “then what about the millions of blacks, immigrants, refugees… all subjected to the same pressures — why didn’t they vote Trump, too?” This is summarized so, so well here:

Perhaps the CNN pundit Chris Cillizza best encapsulated the mainstream-media consensus when he declared shortly after Election Day that there “is nothing more maddening—and counterproductive—to me than saying that Trump’s 59 million votes were all racist. Ridiculous.” Millions of people of color in the U.S. live a reality that many white Americans find unfathomable; the unfathomable is not the impossible.

As the piece continues and the evidence mounts, you can see that wealth and education don’t help people see the world more clearly. Instead, they use their wealth to amplify and their education to justify away their preconceived notions, prejudices, and racism. So, I used to think, man, if you could just get everyone some economic security and fine education (yielding some time each day to read and think!) then, golly, we’d have racism licked. (I don’t say “golly” in my head when I form thoughts, but it is an accurate characterization of my general affect.) Now I am confronted with clear evidence that people just carry their worst traits right on through their lives. And that makes me sad.

Oh and by the way, there’s an idea here in fly-over country: “but I’m nice to everyone!” Which I’ve always been uncomfortable with. And in this Atlantic piece, Serwer states the problem so much more clearly than I can, by saying there’s this…

…widespread perception that racism is primarily an interpersonal matter—that is, it’s about name-calling or rudeness, rather than institutional and political power.

Talk about a big “rather.” Serwer then walks through United States history with devastating clarity. When he returns to present-day, you will see today’s racially divided America with startling perspective.

Read this. Read this. Read this.

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