There is no simple thread, no single cause to explain Trump’s victory. There are many, many factors, some operating alone, some overlapping with others like a Venn diagram. There’s a great temptation to view all this as one vast interlocking conspiracy but it’s not. It’s more like a core illness that allows other opportunistic infections to settle in. Treat the main illness and the smaller ones will fade away on their own; deny the reality of the main illness and the problems will never go away.
[#1] Whitelash: Not just poor rural whites but middle class suburban whites felt they were losing power, status, and wealth to non-whites. They are by and large immune to factual information: Suburbanites believe African-Americans and Latinos want to raid their neighborhoods despite the demonstrable drop in crime, rural whites feel (and with some justification, it should be noted; see below) that they are being ignored while urban populations get more attention.
Very few of these voters are virulent sheet wearing / cross burning racists, but all of them fear a loss of privilege even if they can’t necessarily put their finger on why.
A big part of this is due to their inability or unwillingness to recognize or take responsibility -- past or present, cultural or individual, in whole or in part -- for their contribution to the underlying causes of most of this nation’s problems, including their own.
[#2] Wage & Income Stagnation: While CEOs and the 1% rake in huge amounts of cash, many Trump voters have seen their real income actually dip over the last 30 years.
They have been told if they cut taxes that jobs will appear and incomes will rise, yet despite decades of concrete proof that this does not happen they still cling to the right wing’s supply side / deregulation / union busting narrative.
Part of this can be explained by a foolish optimism that someday they will luck out and become millionaires and they don’t want the government taking any of their money (especially if it’s going to “them”, see [#1] Whitelash).
[#3] Poor Information & Education: The right wing has a multi-prong attack on education; at the very least it is easier to mislead and trick voters who only have inadequate information.
Part of this is tied to [#4] Religion which in turn ties back to [#1] Whitelash and [#5] Exploitation by the 1%. To exploit colonial America, plantation owner brought in millions of Africans as slaves and enslaved their offspring as well.
Poor whites -- whose ancestors had originally been imported to work the land but had died in such numbers that Africans were needed -- were pacified by being told that in the grand scheme of things that they were superior to “them” by virtue of their white skin.
These poor whites, many Scots-Irish (and their history is genuinely tragic; look it up), clung to white supremacy as their only mark of status in a society that otherwise viewed them as worthless.
When abolitionists began using the golden rule as an argument against slavery, the slave owners used a literal interpretation of scripture to justify slavery, and encouraged poor whites to adhere to that literalist interpretation to assure their own status.
This literalist interpretation is to oppose education and scientific knowledge, notably with regards to evolution, gender and orientation, climate change, and now even a revival of anti-Copernican flat earth beliefs.
It also blocks out social, civics, and historical studies that run counter to the white supremacist myth that European whites and their American descendants are the epitome of the human race and that America has no flaws that need addressing (other than challenges to white and / or male and / or Christian dominance).
In rejecting education and the acquisition of new knowledge based on newly learned facts, both Trump voters and the 1% justify their dodging any responsibility for conditions that exist or their obligation to do anything about those conditions.
[#4] Religion: All cultures have their own complex moral codes, and challenges to those codes can create stress among those in the culture.
American Protestantism (the country’s dominant form of Christianity) has a strong evangelical bent, and that bent is virtually indistinguishable from any business’ attempt to recruit more customers. Despite reaching near saturation point in church attendance in 1960, churches told their parishioners they were failing if they did not recruit more members, and the only way to judge the success of that recruitment was for the new members to adhere to the complex moral codes of the older members.
But moral codes change with time and circumstances, and any deviation from the norm was rejected and faced with severe censure, up to and including expulsion from the very church community previously so anxious to acquire them.
These moral codes included race relations (of course), sex, alcohol and drug use, gambling, dress, music, reading material, films and television, and virtually every other element of personal life.
Churches needed disfellowship to enforce their code: Independent thought needed to be punished with isolation in order to preserve the community and break the rebellious spirit. But as more and more marginalized people began finding kindred souls, either by moving to cities or online, they found new community relationships to replace the old.
This fear of membership loss and community replacement drives most Christian churches to this day, including mainstream liberal denominations. It is part and parcel of the same fears and anxieties driving most Trump voters.
[#5] Exploitation by the 1%: Those with money try to keep it; that is fair. But a just society also recognizes obligations to others to make the society run well for the benefit of all.
A fire department that relies on tax revenue to pay for equipment, personnel, and training is obliged to fight fires on behalf of those taxed. The 1%, the oligarchy, the owners, the rentiers want the fire fighting for free; they do not wish to bear any part of that burden but rather expect their fellow citizens (peons, serfs, workers) to sacrifice to enable them to live cushier lives.
The history of the Americas is that of white people not wanting to pay for anything. The Americas were claimed sight unseen by landed gentry in Europe; they sent colonists to drive off the native populations, work the land, and return large profits as fast as possible -- all for minimum investment on the part of the gentry. Slave labor, once purchased, was free and would breed more laborers.
When unions organized for the protection and benefit of craftsmen and laborers, the bosses fought them tooth and nail, frequently killing unionists and their families in a series of bloody clashes that were almost always the result of the owners’ thugs breaking up peaceful protests.
This problem is universal: The rise of trade unions in Europe saw a violent backlash, that backlash spawned the socialists, the backlash against the socialists spawned the communists, and the financiers’ and industrialists’ determination to exploit workers and deny them fair wages and safe working conditions led to their support of fascism, and we all know how that story played out.
[#6] The Single Issue Antiabortionist: Abortion is a johnny-come-lately issue to right wing politics via the religious right. Initially they regarded it as a private matter between a woman and her doctor, but as religious right leaders sought to exploit it as part of their attempt to control others by shame and humiliation, they struck a nerve that neither they nor the people they energized realized was there.
Some people opposed to abortion are genuine pro-lifers: They not only want to prevent abortions but they want added health and social nets to protect mother and child. The antiabortionist is frequently dismissed by pro-choice factions as a hypocrite who wants to control a woman but not lift a finger or drop a dime to help her or her child.
The pro-choice factions are missing the point: The antiabortionist often identifies with the fetus, just look at their frequent use of “torn limb from limb” terminology. This sort of antiabortionist is expressing fear and anxiety for their own life. They see their world coming apart around them, and trying to explain that abortion is never an easy choice for those who opt for it just doesn’t connect with them.
To say a fetus is aborted because it was unviable terrifies them. ”What if somebody decides I am unviable? My family? My town?”
Learn to listen to what they are saying, not what you think they’re saying or what you’d like to hear.
[#7] Anti-government Propaganda: The robber baron mentality of the late 19th century led to the Panics of 1873 / 1893 / 1907 followed by government regulations. The rah-rah jazz age roaring 20s led to the Great Depression and the start of the New Deal, a modern ethical social program for the United States.
The success of the New Deal led the 1%, the religious hucksters, and the hard line segregationists to fight against the strawmen they labeled communism and socialism.
In the 1940s and 1950s they used real examples of Soviet espionage to create a paranoid popular fantasy of communist infiltrators everywhere attempting to undermine the American way of life (and all the while ignoring their own business dealings with the Nazis, or the mainstreaming of Nazi scientists and technicians into U.S. industry).
Fore and center in the right wing’s fantasy was their attack on integration. African-Americans and other non-whites gaining rights and liberties previously denied them was presented as a loss to white culture -- and any white who supported minority rights was de facto a godless commie-simp race traitor intent on destroying the country.
Not all conservatives were right wingers who held this position; many conservatives wanted equal liberty and justice for all (they were fiscally cautious regarding taxation and spending). While the Barry Goldwater wing of the conservative movement initially eschewed religious involvement in politics (because they saw any religious involvement in government and vice versa as a violation of the Constitution), they soon abandoned this squeamishness to embrace both the so called religious right and the white supremacists who fled the Democratic party as it endorsed and supported civil rights.
Those two groups embraced one another as the Christian separatist movement began, using first private Christian schools to achieve de facto segregation and then homeschooling when Federal laws against racial segregation were enforced.
The biases and prejudices of these two groups reinforced one another and allowed them to fall easy prey to 1% propaganda and media efforts to convince them that their culture was fading not because it could no longer support its own underlying premise (i.e., that only white male Christians were entitled to civil rights, liberty, and authority to the exclusion of non-whites, non-males, and non-Christians) but because their culture was under attack from “them” -- liberals, socialists, communists, feminists, atheists, integrationists.
The religious and / or white supremacist elements willingly bought into that message and supported it by electing officials who slashed taxes, deregulated the financial sector, and suppressed unions.
The perfect storm of whites voting against their own self-interest was created.
This gave the 1% more leverage to acquire more money to pour into more campaigns to enrich themselves while putting the rest of the country at risk. From 1970 to 2008 one trillion dollars in assets -- cash and real property -- was transferred from the working and middle class to the 1%, and all the while the 1% used the poor -- particularly “them” -- as a scapegoat.
[#8] Liberal / Progressive Detachment from Mainstream America: A lot of old school liberals came up from the streets and fields and prairies and mines and stockyards and sweatshops and seaports. They intimately knew the value of labor, and they fought like hell for their piece of the American pie.
They provided good lives for their children, as did the generation that came after them, the generations that slogged through first the Great Depression then World War Two.
That generation wanted their children -- the boomers -- to have the best of everything.
And we did.
The problem was that we became disconnected with the hard process of living, too many of us sailing into college then on to a steady career. (Full disclosure: Not me; I was drafted out of high school, spent six years in the military, and bypassed the entire college experience.)
Much of our generation lost a connection to the people providing the basics of labor that made the higher end possible. We understood how things worked, but we lost sight of how they felt.
Not to sound disparaging of our rural brothers and sisters, but both sides stopped treating the other with respect as equals and instead started putting one another in boxes of our own devising.
Some of us rightfully looked down on rural attitudes regarding race and gender, yet in doing so overlooked great virtues of loyalty, courage, and compassion. Many on the other side of the divide saw only libertine extremes and a desertion of old values while missing the fierce commitment to justice and liberty for all.
The 1%, the far right, exploited that difference and we -- Trump voter and progressive -- allowed them to do so.
[#9] A Loss of Leadership: Both the GOP and the Democrats have failed to develop a bench with any depth. In the span of 8 elections, three members of one family and two in another were presented as worthy of leading the country.
The GOP was further handicapped by outsiders -- tea partiers formed and fermented by right wing rentiers -- who established ideological purity tests that drove out any independent thought or willingness to engage in pragmatic compromise.
The Democrats fell prey to internal cronyism when party officials who’d long worked together began shutting out influences that didn’t come from within their circle.
You can easily look at the current election as a grade school election writ large: The studious-but-to-some-slightly-creepy nerd girl who has all the answers vs the spoiled rich bully who’s popular with many of the kids.
What we fail to see, however, is who and why those kids flock to him and shun her. His biggest fans are the kids holding onto their status by their fingernails; they flock to him even though he’s a bully because he lives large and seems to be enjoying all the things they wish they could enjoy -- and, no, not bad things such as cruelty and gluttony but security and status.
The nerd girl with all the answers has few friends though the ones she has speak glowingly of her because they actually know her.
The bully brags about the great party he’s going to throw, the nerd girl has a list of things everyone needs to bring.
Small wonder the grade schoolers gravitate towards the bully -- and they are not necessarily wrong to do so!
It’s not enough to merely know something, you’ve got to make people feel you care. Policy wonking and ivory towers and echo chambers are not signs of care. The GOP benefited from Trump voters not because of anything the party did, but entirely because of what Trump did, no matter how badly. He was the only one to make his voters feel he cared about them.
As noted above, both parties have fielded lackluster and uninspiring candidates over the last 32 years: Two “rock stars” (Obama and Trump), one good ol’ boy who could appeal to both urban and rural voters (until he let his dick get him in trouble and his enemies became relentless), five bona fide war heroes (four who to their credit minimized that aspect so as not to diminish the sacrifice of others; the fifth having opposed a war where 58,307 Americans died and thus lost his connection with millions of vets), two policy wonks, a nepotist, and a nepotist who was a policy wonk.
None of these spoke to the concerns of the Trump voter except Trump himself, and most of what he says is bullshit, and most of his followers know its bullshit and they just don’t care.
No group is made up solely of heroes or villains. There are scumbags aplenty to go around.
But for those of us who possess that fierce desire for justice, we can’t afford to be judgmental. We can’t reach out to help one group without addressing the very real concerns in another, especially when the second group was led into its predicament by generations of exploitation.
And we can’t allow our words and principles to be twisted around by the 1% to make them sound like attacks on Trump voters.
Like it or not, Trump voters by necessity are going to have to be included as part of the solution for our biggest problem: They are not going away any time soon and they have no reason to cooperate if they think they’re under attack.
The election of 2016 is over, gird our loins for 2018 and 2020.
text © Buzz Dixon