A hypothesis on racial grievance and elections

Since Trump was elected I’m seeing a lot of social media posts from Democrats and Never Trump Repubicans decrying the Republican Party as the party of white grievance now and how the GOP is to blame for the current state of things. But even as someone who is a recovering Republican, this doesn’t ring true to me. For one, as somebody who has been in the weeds with the party and even involved in the Tea Party movement, it’s not that some elites made a big decision to fan the flames of white grievance and my side got outvoted or outspent. The elites and big money in the Republican party either don’t care about racial issues or are firmly on the side of more liberal immigration and trade policies. What happened to the Republican party was just the ugly side of grassroots democracy. Enough people got mad as hell, blamed brown people, or at least government neglect of their interests, and took over a major American poitical party.

Here’s why I think it happened, and none of this is really radical thinking. The fact is, in any functioning democracy, any sufficiently large group of people will be represented in government. Much as free speech protects intelligent speech and dumb speech, enlightened speech or offensive speech, democracy provides representation to both the good people and the bad people. It is morally neutral. That is one reason why most countries have constitutions, to prevent immoral majorities from taking away the rights of minorities. But if a country is racist, then it’s elected officials are either going to be racists themselves or officials who feel the need to cater to racism.

55% of white Americans believe that whites face discrimination:

While imperfect, this is probably the simplest way to measure any type of racial grievance: does the group in question feel they are treated unfairly? If 55% of whites feel treated unfairly, that’s a pretty powerful political force that cannot be denied at the ballot box.

A group that large will be represented one way or another. The obvious way, is by being a major force in a major political party. The other way, and one that hasn’t been grappled with as honestly IMO, is that large, powerful voting blocs are often represented by BOTH parties. Either a party can represent a group on all issues, or both parties can represent a group on some issues. Yes, the Republicans catered more to white grievance, but this wasn’t so much a conscious strategic decision so much as a reordering of coalitions. Prior to Obama, the Democrats catered to white grievance as well. Since the 1964 Civil Rights Act, the Democratic Party has been trying to move away from this, but defeats at the ballot box always brought them back to some extent. This was most apparent in the campaign and administration of Bill Clinton, where the Democratic Party neutralized the issues of crime and welfare and attempted to neutralize affirmative action as a potent political issue by promising to “mend it, don’t end it”. All three issues were implicit acknowledgements that angry white folks had a legit beef, and on two of those issues the Democrats worked with the GOP to make major dents in those social problems.

But by the time we get to 2008, the demographics of the country have changed. Now Democrats can potentially win without resentful white voters. So they became pretty much uninterested in compromising with white grievance. So now if you’ve got one party completely uninterested in representing 35% of Americans. In that situation, what do you think is going to happen? They are going to move to the other party. It’s not the first time in history a group has moved en masse to a party and won’t be the last. The GOP could not have reasonably prevented it from happening even if they had stood up straight and spoke out against white grievance.

None of this is meant to absolve the GOP of responsibility. While the party never made a conscious decision to become the party of white grievance, they were certainly happy to use it to win elections, while pursuing their real agenda of tax cuts and low regulation. This was a strategy built on a foundation of sand and they should have seen it. There is no popular constituency for tax cuts for the rich and lax business regulation sufficient to lead a major political party.

Basically, a few rich guys riled up a mob and then thought they could control it. White progressives in the Democratic Party are also under the impression that they can stoke the grievances of minorities and still have a progressive party at the end of that process. They’ll find out too, in time. What is happening in the Republican party will only accelerate that process within the Democratic party, and the fight between the Sanders and establishment wings of the Democratic Party are just the first round in what will be a 20-year fight that will likely end with a fairly nonideological, minority led party focused mainly on combatting racism and injustice(as the Democratic Party does now), but with substantially less interest in the non-identity poltiics aspects of the progressive platform.

So to make a long post shorter, the parties are sorting by race and region now. This has actually been the norm throughout our history. It is the norm in balkanized countries all over the world. Ideological sorting is a luxury of countries that are mostly homogenous or where racial controversy is relatively low key. We’re seeing Europe change into racially sorted parties at the same time we are returning to that norm.

I of course agree that they feel that’s true – because, well, it is – but what, specifically, is the GOP going to do for them that the Dems won’t?

I think that the question “Do you believe that whites face discrimination?” is far too blunt an instrument to draw any meaningful conclusions from. Do I, personally, think that whites face some nonzero amount of discrimination? Sure. Do I think that the level of discrimination that whites face is large enough to bother worrying about? Not really. Do I think that the level of discrimination that whites face is anywhere remotely close to the level that blacks face? Hell no.

That’s exactly right, but I do think that a person’s answer to the question kinda places them on one side or the other. I’m pretty sure every white person, every person in general, has faced discrimination at some point. But how you answer that question is probably going to depend on whether you view such things as isolated, rare instances, or systematic racism. Even with African-Americans, you can’t get 100% of them to say that blacks face racism. Not because there are blacks that haven’t, but because a small minority of them just don’t think it’s a big deal.

I can’t help but notice that the answer to that question comes pretty close to Trump’s share of the white vote.

I don’t think that white voters are looking for an anti-discrimination campaign. They don’t need it. I suspect this has more to do with what they see as neglect of their interests by Democrats on issues like immigration, trade, and energy policy(War on Coal). Those are issues where the GOP is doing better with these voters than Democrats. Not just in popularity, but in actually doing what those voters want on those issues.

If what the Dems offer them is fairly the same as that which the GOP offers — prolly squat — then inertia makes them fall back to the GOP default.
None of the party candidates are radicals, not even Bernie.

I think people are just getting social justice fatigue.

If that’s the case, then that’s probably the best case scenario. A backlash against social justice warriors would be short lived, end in a quick victory for the anti-SJW side, and things go back to normal. But I suspect there’s a lot more going on under the hood here. As Nate Silver pointed out on the night of the election, as the white share of population declines, whites start behaving more like a minority in their voting habits. In particularly racially divided places, like Alabama and Mississippi, whites vote 90% for Republicans.

One way this can be averted is if Latinos and Asians become regarded as “white” by society, which is quite possible. The American definition of white continues to expand. Some like to portray American history as “whites vs. minorities” but while that has often been true, it’s more accurate to say that American history has been “everyone gang up on black people”. Jews, Irish, southern Europeans, Slavs, even Arabs and half Native Americans have been admitted to the “white club”, and now many lighter skinned Latinos identify or are identified by others as white. I believe that in time, biracial individuals will be regarded as white. The only people permanently excluded are African-Americans. That could just as easily be our future as balkanization.

I don’t think that the Social Injustice Warriors winning anything can ever be considered a best-case scenario.

Only against the epidemic of stupid, not win on actual policy. Things like cultural appropriation, mansplaining, intersectionality and racial consciousness need to go away. It’s just a really bad, actually illliberal way to think about and debate such issues.

Let’s say those 55% of white Americans who feel they are being treated unfairly are in fact correct that they are being treated unfairly. The question then becomes in what way and by who are they being treated unfairly. As the result of the 2016 election shows, this group is increasingly blaming liberals, Democrats, minorities, and other boogeymen of the far right. This is where (in my opinion as a liberal) they are wrong, even more wrong than on the question of whether or not they are treated unfairly.

IMHO the working class white people who have flocked to Trump actually have more interests in common with working class African Americans and Latinos than with rich white people. It just so happens that Republican politicians in general seem to be more skilled than Democratic politicians, and have successfully tricked this group to vote against their own interests.

That’s a great question, even though it’s not really a question.:slight_smile:

The white working class is angry, and GOP leaders have played a role in them figuring out who they are mad at. Democrats have added their two cents, either by trying to redirect white working class anger, as Bernie Sanders has attempted to do(It’s the bilionaires! All 100 of them!), or feeding resentment with ill considered insults, which both Obama and Clinton couldn’t help making during their campaigns.

Part of my identity is white male(I’m also Jewish and in an interracial marriage), so I know where some of this is coming from. I have felt victimized by internal affirmative action policies that made me an unattractive promotion candidate within the company I used to work for while they went out of their way to recruit women and minorities for management. I understand now why they did it, but as a young man living in poverty I was NOT happy to be continually passed over, seemingly because my race and sex did not help them with their PR goal of showing a diverse management team to the public. This was during the Clinton years when the President seemed to sorta be on my side(mend it, don’t end it), and as a formerly poor white man himself he probably genuinely understood where a lot of the complaints were coming from.

Now I’m more privileged. I work in IT, make a solid income(around the US median), and my current company has plenty of diversity without seeming to discriminate against anyone to accomplish it. Which is one reason I think a lot of white males poo-poo white grievance: they’ve known nothing but privilege or have forgotten how challenging the world can be for ANY poor person, and so regard their white compatriots as just incessant whiners and haters. So I can sorta see both sides of it. When I was working class, we were all poor, and all of us had beefs about both those above us on the economic ladder, and people of other races who we perceived as unfairly competing with us to climb that ladder. In my new more privileged life we don’t think about those things much. It’s just not a concern anymore.

Well interestingly enough some aspects of Trump’s campaign did try to set natives of all races against immigrants. If he had focused that message more tightly I think he would have had more success than he did. He started out trying to appeal to African-American grievance, which is not actually all about white power and privilege. They resent immigrants as well as any of us, and some studies have actually shown that they suffer from immigration.

Now as for tricking people, it’s only a trick if the actual agenda is the typical Republican agenda of tax cuts and low regulation. But, if the GOP transforms into a party more like European “far right” parties, then they actually will represent most of what the media white voter wants. Those parties are not like the Republicans at all in their economic policies. They are legitimately white working class parties, with all the ugliness that entails.

I’m not sure that Trumpism is a trick, because there are people who legitimately want the Republican Party to move into a more economically populist direction. But Republicans in Congress are still mostly K street or Tea Party. It’s not so much Republicans tricking people so much as the Bannon base is only at the beginning of their takeover. And many Republicans with more enlightened ideological goals plan to fight. The cowardly Congressional Republicans, meanwhile, are just waiting around, too scared to pick a side.

All I’ve seen so far by the current batch of Republicans are attempts to lower regulations and cut taxes for the rich (not the successful professionals who still have to work for their salary but the very wealthy like the Mercers and the Koch brothers).

Running out of time this morning and admittedly didn’t get through all of your post (thoughtful though it certainly was), I go back to something I mentioned either here and/or somewhere else. A lot of people who voted for Trump aren’t necessarily consciously racist, but they perceive that the culture and the government no longer has their best interests at heart. They’re what I’ve termed ‘racially anxious’. They perceive that there are special efforts to help illegal migrants get ahead, to help immigrants’ parents gain the fast track to citizenship, affirmative action for African Americans, Title IX for women, gay marriage, and so on. An average white straight conservative male who is fearful of his financial future looks at all of this and sees this as a zero-sum game in which the system goes out of its way to help others and does nothing to address his own concerns. You don’t necessarily have to be actually struggling - just the fear of a plant closing down or not having adequate healthcare is enough to stoke those flames.

As much as I want to have sympathy, this dynamic is actually how Jim Crow was permanently established in the late 19th Century. There were some places across the South where there was resistance to the new racial world order almost as soon as the Civil War ended, but that was not true everywhere. In fact there was a labor movement that included many African Americans in North Carolina and elsewhere. It ended when political and economic elite used race to exploit racial divisions and crush the labor movement. By pitting whites against blacks, by telling uneducated whites that blacks were stealing their jobs, the response was to force blacks out of the labor market (ironically, they’d eventually end up in prisons doing labor for much less than what they were getting paid when they were joined with whites in unions). Look closely at the dynamics now. Similar levels of racial anxiety. People in power who have no problems exploiting those fears. And an Attorney General who has talked pretty openly about his desire to bloat the prison population again. Coincidence? Probably not.

The GOP doesn’t necessarily need to do anything for them, to get their support - merely being perceived as more sympathetic than the Dems may do the trick.

Which political party is a white voter who grouses, “I face discrimination as a white American” more likely to find a receptive listening ear in, the GOP or the Democratic Party? Overwhelmingly, it’s more likely to be the GOP.

That being said, the GOP is also much more likely to oppose affirmative action and to support deporting illegal immigrants or reduce the influx of “brown people” and so the appeal of the Republican Party to these white-grievance voters isn’t totally intangible either; there is some real policy substance to it.

The leaked DNC memo wanting only non-whites for IT jobs sure doesn’t help.

Although it was written by a DNC staffer and not a politician, I submit this is one more piece of evidence that Democrats are not as competent at playing the politics game as Republicans are. Discrimination against someone because of things like race, gender, and sexual orientation is wrong. On top of that trying to discriminate against those in the majority is plain dumb as well.


I think you have misanalyzed the process through which the Republican party arrived at it’s present state. I have an alternate suggestion for you to consider.

The party leadership made a conscious decision as far back as the late 1960's, to make arrangements to take over the votes of the white southern racists, after the Democrats alienated them through support of the Civil Rights movement.  The infamous "Southern Strategy."  That effort was steady right up to the present day, in that it was NEVER comprised of an overt  support for white racist points, but instead was made up of carefully crafted statements and moves designed to trick the white racists into thinking that the GOP was quietly on their side.  Such things as claiming to support States Rights in various situations where  the Democrats were trying to push for changes that in any way involved racial sensibilities.  Basically, the National Republican Party would say that whatever the concern was, was none of their business, because it was up to the State to resolve.  By using the "states rights" label, they of course signaled quite clearly (albeit ingenuously) that they were as one with the white racist apologists for the Civil War, who liked to pretend that that conflict was NEVER about slavery, but was rather always about economics and "states rights."  A relatively recent example of this, was the fuss some time back now, over the State Flags of some Southern states, still having symbols from  the Confederate rebellion built into them.  The democrats wanted them changed, and the Republicans cleverly abjured, effectively siding with the pro Confederates, by refusing to deal with it at all, since it was a "states rights" issue.

Now. As a short term strategy to win an immediate election, this kind of duplicity can work well, and allow the Party leadership to stay on course with their real agenda, and retain their core support intact. But over a longer period of time, staying with a lie-based technique like this, has the natural result that bit by bit, people who GENUINELY support the lies, become at least the state-level leadership, by simple attrition. There’s no way to prevent this, without risking admitting the lies, and forcing the “infecting” members out again.

This is why by the 1980’s we began to see Republican “purity tests” coming into vogue, with those “purity tests” being centered around some very divisive issues, such as birth control, and welfare. Both were opposed by Republican SIDE PEOPLE (not the leadership) with rhetoric that made it clear that their real concern was about forcing white Americans to pay for Black welfare and Black or “liberal” abortions. Once again, the continuing strategy was to say NOTHING when supporters out of the leadership joined them in the voting booth, and in public commentary by being overtly racist, and instead stay on message, while more or less “winking” at the racist support they were obviously getting.

However, this strategy can and does, and did backfire for them. Eventually, after thirty years of winking and hinting and then doing nothing for the white racists and anti-abortionists and other fringe groups they had “adopted,” there was enough of a rebellion that a splinter party was formed (Tea Party). Still not OVERTLY racist (there is still enough sensibility amongst the racists that they know they can’t be overt that way). But even THAT effort at disguise failed. The Tea Party got used by the GOP too.

The reason Trump won, more than any other reason, is because he did the extremely simple procedure, of collecting together all the lie promises that the Republicans had been using for decades to sucker voter support, and promised fiercely to actually follow through on them. By 2016, enough of the Republican Party rank and file were already made up of the “lied to” people, that Trump easily skated to a Primary victory over his still-pretending-to-be-mainstream opponents.
And the same thing got him into the Presidency.

Basically, I think you are seriously underestimating the Republican leaderships degree of responsibility for building the party into being what it has become. They KNOWINGLY invited a whole series of very smelly disgusting camels into their party tent, and then acted stunned and amazed, when the camels failed to turn into nice economics-only focused conservatives.

Populism and anti-globalism are now synonymous with neo-Confederacy?