Can we reconcile the views in these two essays?
The first is by David Paul Kuhn, a political analyst, and novelist, from the New York Times. The second is by Kelly J. Baker, a scholar of religion, an editor, and writer. It’s from her blog. I’ve appended the introductory paragraphs from each of these below.
Kuhn (Bigots didn’t elect Trump) argues that Trump’s racism was not the decisive factor in the election. He asserts that Trump won despite his racism. Kuhn asserts that the election turned because white working class men, feeling left behind economically believed Trump’s promises to help them. Many Trump supporters overlooked his many bad qualities and what they saw as bad policy proposals specifically because he promised to help them find better manufacturing jobs, as they had had decades ago.
Baker (Nice, decent folks) says that Trump won because ostensibly “nice” people overlooked his racism. She describes ethnographic researchers puzzled by their results. White people who the researchers experienced as “nice” and decent people also held racist views. Baker describes growing up, a white girl, in such a southern town among such nice people. Racism was invisible, like the air we breathe, because no one disturbed it. Yet, like the unstable summer air that may quickly form an angry storm, thunder and lightning, a disturbance to the dominant white pattern of life could uncover white anger and violence.
It is worthwhile to read both essays.
For myself, I think that racism explains why Trump won the Republican nomination. In a race with nearly 20 candidates, his racism and bigotry strongly drew to him the racists and bigots in the Republican party, which has been courting them for decades with dog whistles and code words.
While the same bigots and racists supported him in the general election, they weren’t enough for him to win. Nor did he win enough votes from voters to win. He won because of the peculiarities of the Electoral College. Most American voters voted for someone else, and he didn’t win a plurality either. Therefore, he is not the victor because the Democrats ignored one group of another, but because an 18th century system designed to protect slavery and to ensure that a demagogue could not take over the government from the rightful ruling class failed in its purposes.
Both the Electoral College, and the United States Senate ought to be abolished. Hillary Clinton received nearly 3 million more votes than Trump. In every election in the United States, except for the most important one, she would have won. I read that Democratic Senate candidates received more than 13 million more votes that Republican Senate candidates, yet Republicans control the Senate. Why do we allow this denial of the voters’ will?
My wife’s father’s sweetie (and now wife) had Christmas dinner with us. During the dinner, she stated her reasons for liking Trump. “He’s an alpha male. And he says it like it is.” Now I and many people don’t think Trump is an alpha male, but a clown. While he says it like it is, where the first “it” refers to what’s in his mind, he is a fount of invincible ignorance, so the second “it” does not refer to the actual world of people and events, but an imaginary one. But what kind of people would think that when he asserted that he wasn’t going to be politically correct, but was going to “say it like it is” that he was speaking the truth? I say that those people are the bigots and racists who have learned not to speak out loud their racism and bigotry, but haven’t changed their minds about black people and other despised groups. The racists and bigots are offended that their views (until Trump) were not acceptable in modern polite society. These people believe that they are sensible, decent people. Remember, “Are you a racist?” is a question that no one answers “Yes,” to.
Sorry, Liberals. Bigotry Didn’t Elect Donald Trump.
By DAVID PAUL KUHN, The New York Times, December 26, 2016
Donald J. Trump won the white working-class vote over Hillary Clinton by a larger margin than any major-party nominee since World War II. Instead of this considerable achievement inspiring introspection, figures from the heights of journalism, entertainment, literature and the Clinton campaign continue to suggest that Mr. Trump won the presidency by appealing to the bigotry of his supporters. As Bill Clinton recently said, the one thing Mr. Trump knows “is how to get angry white men to vote for him.”
This stereotyping of Trump voters is not only illiberal, it falsely presumes Mr. Trump won because of his worst comments about women and minorities rather than despite them.
Nice, decent folks
Kelly J. Baker’s blog, November 17, 2016
Two days after the election, I was scrolling down a friend’s Facebook page. My friend posted an article about all of the hate crimes that occurred after Tr*mp was elected. Several comments down, a friend of my friend declared that voting for Tr*mp didn’t make a person racist or a bad person. The next thing I knew, there were people on social media (Facebook mostly) declaring that the election wasn’t about race or gender (I mean, what the hell). Some of these folks noted that our country should unite rather than protest. As the days passed by, I noticed more and more of this “we’re nice, decent people” rhetoric. Trump voters claimed that they weren’t racist, sexist, anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim, ableist, homophobic, and/or transphobic. News outlets urged us (I guess those of us who didn’t vote for Trump) to empathize with Trump voters, who were likely good and decent folks.
The refrain of how Trump voters were “nice” and “decent” bothered (infuriated) me. What was happening in this moment? What were people really saying about how they voted and what were news outlets trying to say? What were we supposed to overlook? Why did the calls to unity make me even more committed to not even attempting to unite?
Yesterday, I realized what bothered me (and tweeted about it). The emphasis on “nice, decent folks” regularly appears in the scholarship on the Ku Klux Klan and other white supremacist movements.
My idea, that goes along with the second of the articles above, and the other one I sent about how Germans “normalized” Hitler and the Nazis, is that the Republicans have for decades worked to win elections by making their party a comfortable place for racists and bigots. They did this in code so as not to alienate the other parts of their coalition. This is the so-called Southern Strategy. Trump was in a primary with nearly 20 opponents in mostly winner-take-all elections. He won by openly courting that racist and bigoted group. In such a divided primary field, they were enough for victory. In the general election, he kept those people and combined them with the rest of Republican voters who don’t see a problem with having a racist and bigot in the White House.
These are the people who, as in the third essay, have normalized Trump, as many Germans did the Nazis. These people are not overt racists, but they don’t see racism and discrimination as problems in society. Indeed, many of them believe that the only people discriminated against today are white men. As they see it, blacks and women are pushing into line ahead of them, through such policies as affirmative action. Thus, those supposedly working class white men in a few states who gave the Electoral College majority to Trump responded to his promise to “Make America Great Again” they were imagining a past before blacks, women, and immigrants were in the work force. Blacks, women, and immigrants, in this view, are the reasons why their incomes have stagnated, why their livelihoods are gone.
These white men are a significant bloc, but most Republican voters are not a part of it. They are just those white people who don’t think racism, sexism, and so on are problems, except for reverse racism, reverse sexism, which they see as directed against them. It’s why Trump’s and other Republicans’ demands to see Obama’s college transcripts are not matched by demands to see Trump’s. Trump got into Wharton with mediocre performance because his brother knew someone in the admissions office, and that person knew who Trump’s father was. The same, for example, for George W Bush, a mediocre person all around who attended Yale and Harvard Business School. Whereas, Obama gives every evidence of being an intelligent, disciplined, and hard-working man.
Today’s so-called alt-Right, white nationalists, and groups such as the KKK, and members of minorities, such as blacks and Muslims all hear Trump clearly. They know who he is and what he stands for. The great middle of America opinion, however, is confused about racism, and its role in American history and current events. The same for bigotry.