For a moment, I dreamt I lived in a country where the first black president could be succeeded in office by the first female president. But then I awakened to the reality that 58 percent or more of white voters supported an all-but-avowed racist and a demonstrable misogynist. Voting, in many ways, is like smoking: You wouldn’t so much mind that the smoker has chosen to commit a slow suicide were it not for the second-hand effects on the rest of us. And white America’s vote for President-elect Trump is just that: another wrist slit in a slow moral, intellectual and physical suicide.
Set to one side that any American with a 401-K or a pension with investments tied to the stock market is likely experiencing a significant loss of wealth due to Trump’s election. Set to one side that if the Republican-controlled Congress is foolhardy enough to implement Trump’s tax proposals, it would increase the national debt by $7.2 trillion while giving middle-income Americans a meager tax break that increases their after-tax income by less than 2 percent. And finally, set aside the fact that Trump has no realistic plan to protect American workers from the ravages of globalization. (Strengthening unions and thereby giving workers greater bargaining power would be one of the most effective bulwarks against globalization’s ill-effects, but Trump is decidedly anti-union.)
So when one strips away the pyrrhic policy proposals of Trump, what exactly did white Americans vote for? A reflection of themselves because they fear “the other.”
White privilege is addictive. Indeed, clinical psychologists have proposed treating it as a medical condition. So in the face of white privilege’s erosion, whether from globalization or the impact of equal opportunity laws, it’s not surprising to see backlash like the country witnessed on Election Day. In no small part, this backlash is abetted by the news media and politicians of all stripes because they valorize backlash voters by portraying their fears as legitimate.
But do white Americans suffer from the effects of globalization any more than blacks, who consistently have an unemployment rate that is double that of whites? Are white Americans more vulnerable to job competition from new immigrants than blacks, a disproportionate number of whom compete for the entry level jobs that new immigrants tend to seek? And exactly how are white backlash voters harmed by Obamacare, if at all, any more than blacks? They are not. Something else is going on here.
Since passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which enabled full enfranchisement of blacks, Latinos and other minorities, white voter behavior has been a tale of reactionary backlash, each time leaving whites no better off for their impulsiveness. Richard Nixon ran successfully on the “law and order” and “silent majority” themes invoked by Trump, and like Trump, Nixon was petty, vindictive, mendacious, paranoid and constitutionally unfit to hold office. These character traits yielded the Watergate scandal that led to Nixon’s resignation. This is hardly a testament to the electoral foresight of white Americans who propelled Nixon to the presidency.
White Americans idolized Ronald Reagan, even though they believed, or perhaps in part because they believed, his policies were harmful to black Americans. Yet Reagan shafted the very types of white voters who are responsible for electing Trump. Like Trump, Reagan dangled an income tax cut in front of these voters, only to then raise their payroll taxes. And Reaganomics ballooned the federal deficit while leaving incomes basically flat. Yet white voters were seduced by Reagan’s vilification of blacks, in much the same way that yesterday’s white voters appear to have been seduced by Trump’s vilification of Latinos and Muslims.
What did white voters learn from their mistakes? Apparently not much. They elected George H.W. Bush in the wake of Bush’s race-baiting campaign symbolized by a black convict named Willie Horton, and on a promise of no new taxes. Bush raised taxes and was run out of office in the throes of a recession.
In 2000, after Bill Clinton and Al Gore had produced more than 21.5 million new jobs and economic growth not seen since the Kennedy administration, white voters, aided by Republican appointees to the United States Supreme Court, placed George W. Bush in office, vaguely seeking then, as now, “change.” Bush’s thanks: two unfunded wars and two recessions, one which was the most catastrophic since the Great Depression.
In short, white voters always seem to get played when they revert to their reactionary, post-Voting Rights Act form. And under a President Trump, it’s likely just a matter of time before they are disappointed again.