In terms of campaign strategy, the formula for Donald J. Trump’s presidential bid has been quite clear: Take the themes of racism and nativism once popularized by George Wallace, add contemporary references and essentially tell the electorate, “This is the remix. The jeeps pump this new remix.”
From talks of a “big, beautiful wall” to separate
white people us from the purported “rapists” known as immigrants from Mexico to his recent plans to put forth an ideological test for Muslim immigrants before entering the United States, the Republican nominee’s ethos has long proved to be, more or less, "Segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever."
Given that this is the party of the “Southern strategy,” it makes sense—no matter how loudly establishment Republicans cry to the contrary. And yet when it comes to categorizing Trump’s supporters, some have continued to be reluctant to declare that they, like Trump, have political interests majorly motivated by bigotry.
The predominant narrative has been that what fuels support among Trump’s claimed core base—white working-class voters—is economic anxiety, not prejudice. There have been other explanations given, too, including this notion that Trump the billionaire is “an image of their aspiration.”
That may be true, to an extent, but select political writers have continued to belabor the point that these voters are “being left behind, by the economy and by the culture.” This line of categorization doesn’t go nearly far enough to calling a thing by its name.
Meanwhile, there have been reports out for months now arguing to the contrary—highlighting that Trump supporters are better off economically compared with most Americans. A more recent and in-depth study has elaborated on that tidbit, piling on that for all of Trump’s chatter about trade and immigration, most of his supporters have not been affected by that, thus making all framing of his voters that evades the role of racism read as disingenuous.
Even a recent tweet by Vox related to the latter study reads, “Trump's base is not poor whites—it's way more complicated than that.” Beloveds, is it truly that complicated? Racism is not complicated; calling out racism surely seems to be, though.
In “Dismissing Trump Fans As White Trash Gets Our Class System All Wrong,” writer Nancy Isenberg argues, “Why are Americans so reluctant to talk about the real and enduring character of our class system?”
It’s a valid question, but not in the context of denoting why white Americans of every class support Trump’s candidacy. Some have even penned essays like “Even if You Don’t Like Donald Trump, You Should Understand the Pain of His Poor White Supporters.” Another one like it is titled, “Why ‘White Trash’ Americans Are Flocking to Donald Trump.”
Nuance is typically a necessity, but in this instance, it’s long been proved that poor white voters will vote against their economic interests. Likewise, we have known that suburban white women in the suburbs will do the same where applicable. The same goes for white men of any class.
What do you think unites them? We could try a séance to contact Richard Nixon or Lee Atwater and ask either of them to please advise, but we needn’t go back that far. The Grand Ol’ Party has always hinted at it; Trump just amped the volume and skipped the pretenses.
Just this week, Amy Walter, national editor of the Cook Political Reporter and a frequent political commentator, tweeted this about Trump: “Trump is right that voters want outsider/disruptor but his temperament—not his message—is the problem for them.”
Trump’s message is rooted in xenophobia, racism, sexism and other party favors of white nationalism. How is that not a problem? That said, I also saw someone on MSNBC declare, moments after Trump, speaking before a white audience, told black people they were being duped by Democrats for decades, that we should commend him for reaching out to black audiences.
I seem to have misplaced my gratitude, but I’m sure it’s somewhere lost in the history of Trump’s anti-black business practices and language over decades. Perhaps the punditocracy’s ambivalence with this is unanimously tied to white people’s collective anxiety over the term "racism." So many act as if it’s the second-worst word behind “n—ger” while notably failing to understand that being called “racist” isn’t the worst thing in the world; being subjected to racism is.
Trump has not toed the line of racism; he has directly danced on it for decades on end. Racism is varied in every single way, and Donald J. Trump exploits it at every single level. He’s not alone in that in politics, but he is the Republican presidential nominee and the most vocally racist presidential contender in decades.
For well over a year, amid his racism and xenophobia, we’ve been subjected to a narrative about the core reasoning beyond those supporting his vision of America.
Now we know it is a false one. With that comes the opportunity for those to call his supporters as racist as their candidate. Those who seize on that will be late as hell, but late is better than never.
Michael Arceneaux hails from Houston, lives in Harlem and praises Beyoncé’s name wherever he goes. Follow him on Twitter.