In the morning thread, valued commenter Morzer pointed out an interesting piece over at Vox entitled “A pollster on the racial panic Obama’s presidency triggered — and what Democrats must do now.” I recommend reading the whole thing, but here’s an excerpt, with the Vox interviewer (Desmond-Harris) citing the pollster’s (Belcher) tweet:
Jenée Desmond-Harris: You recently tweeted that “economic power is often perceived through group lenses.” What was that a response to, and how does it tie into the message of the book?
Cornell Belcher: That was a tweet really to the progressive establishment — which means too often white Northeastern liberals — the idea that if we just had a better economic message, these people would all of a sudden go, “Oh, my god, what was I thinking, I should be voting Democrat!” That if we just find the right words to connect with downscale whites, they’ll say, “Oh, you know what, I am voting against my economic interests.”
It’s a disconnect that’s frustrating to me. They’re not voting against their economic interests; they are voting for their higher interests — there’s an idea that your group positioning doesn’t matter economically. The idea that you can disconnect white people from their group position and make pocketbook arguments to them void of the history of their group is folly.
That is not to say don’t target or don’t go after them. That’s absolutely not what I’m saying. What I am saying is just that the answer isn’t simply a pocketbook argument — we do have to inoculate against the increased tribalism and racialism in order to have that conversation. As long as there is a group sense of decline, we do have to calculate for that in our conversation and try to inoculate that as opposed to simply coming up with another argument about why raising the minimum wage is beneficial to you.
The earlier post about the Obamacare enrollees who voted for Trump even though some depend on Obamacare for their very lives lends credence to Belcher’s theory, IMO. Either those voters are irretrievably stupid, or some other, more important factor is driving their votes — like maybe they’re engaged in white identity politics, consciously or not. Or both, in some cases.
Anyhoo, Belcher identifies President Obama’s election as the event that triggered racial panic, eventually prompting many white voters to vote as a white identity group this year. I haven’t read Belcher’s book, but that rings true from my experience living among small town middle-class and downscale white folks.
I’ll take it a step further and observe that while Obama’s election undoubtedly prompted racial panic, that was only the opening salvo, and subsequent events have spread the fear. PBO is incredibly skilled at not offending white people, or he’d never have been elected in the first place. He’s the most squeaky-clean, scandal-free, family-oriented president we’ve had in generations — he had to be.
Of course, behaving as a paragon wasn’t enough: Millions of people completely lost their shit about Obama right off the bat, and the Republicans capitalized on that fear by relentlessly otherizing PBO, openly disrespecting him and abandoning all pretense of good governance to oppose him 100%.
Still, because of his singular character, strengths as a leader and political skills, there were enough white Americans who didn’t succumb to racial panic to enable Obama’s reelection. So how was it possible that a nation that elected a black man president twice could turn around and elect a racist demagogue?
My theory is that the emergence of Black Lives Matter and related resistance to structural racism in the criminal justice system tipped more white folks into racial panic mode, contributing to Trump’s rise. I don’t believe it was just that; there were many other factors.* But it was enough to tip the scale in a tight race. I’ve seen the visceral hatred of BLM and Kaepernick’s refusal to stand for the national anthem, etc., even among white folks I would not categorize as hardcore racists.
Anyhoo, Belcher contends that the only way to overcome this stalemate where the GOP is increasingly the white identity party is to confront our racist past and come to understand each other. Geez, I hope he’s wrong, because I don’t see us ever doing that.
But I think Belcher’s right about the economics argument. I’m all for making economic appeals to the working class, as long as we don’t downplay our commitment to equality and focus on an extra-special subset thereof. But there’s a shit-ton of evidence — not just from this election — that such appeals will fall on deaf ears.
*Including, but not limited to, Putin / Comey / WikiLeaks, the decades-long wingnut jihad against the Clintons, a lazy, corrupt, fragmented media, etc.