This is one topic where I think a simplistic Balloon-Juice meme –courtesy of Lee Atwater — explains everything very succinctly:
You start out in 1954 by saying, “Nigger, nigger, nigger.” By 1968 you can’t say “nigger”—that hurts you. Backfires. So you say stuff like forced busing, states’ rights and all that stuff. You’re getting so abstract now [that] you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is [that] blacks get hurt worse than whites.
By 2010, you’ve already cut taxes to the bone so you yell “soshulism” (which at its heart means free health care for lazy young bucks), you can’t talk about busing anymore so you yell “Muslim”. It’s not so complicated. And this (from Paul Waldman) is simply wrong:
But we should understand that tribalism and anti-government sentiment are two entirely different things. The fact that they are growing in volume at the same time doesn’t mean they’re one and the same, or even logically related.
A huge amount of anti-government sentiment is grounded in the idea that the government will take stuff from you and give it to someone outside your tribe, or that the government is secretly controlled by someone outside your tribe. Alaskans don’t complain about the free stuff the federal government gives them, they complain about health care they think is going to someone else. It’s the same everywhere.
The two sentiments aren’t the same but they’re damn sure related. Lee Atwater was right.