TIME politics

Donald Trump Is the Result of White Rage, Not Economic Anxiety

A "Make America Great Again" hat sits on a table ahead of an election night party for 2016 Republican Presidential Nominee Donald Trump at the Hilton Midtown hotel in New York on Nov. 8, 2016.
Bloomberg/Getty Images A "Make America Great Again" hat sits on a table ahead of an election-night party for the 2016 Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump at the Hilton Midtown hotel in New York City on Nov. 8, 2016

Carol Anderson is the Samuel Candler Dobbs Professor and Chair of African American Studies at Emory University and the author of White Rage: The Unspoken Truth of our Racial Divide

Obama's election was a major trigger for the policy backlash that led to Donald Trump

White rage got us here. While the economic anxiety of Trump supporters is often touted as the driving force behind the mogul’s electoral college victory, that rationale is just a ruse, a clever red herring. The median income of a Trump supporter is more than $70,000 per year, which is well above the national average, and a 2016 study noted that it would take African Americans 228 years to equal the wealth of whites in the U.S. Clearly, Trump’s pathway into the Oval Office is not really about white economic angst. Rather, Barack Obama’s election — and its powerful symbolism of black advancement — was the major trigger for the policy backlash that led to Donald Trump, and which has now put America’s national security at risk.

Republicans carved out this trench shortly after Obama’s 2008 victory. The GOP pushed through a number of laws at the state level to block as many of his voters, primarily African Americans, from the polls as possible. North Carolina targeted black voters with nearly “surgical precision.” Wisconsin Republicans were “giddy” about disfranchising African Americans, especially in Milwaukee. Florida’s GOP cut particular days of early voting to nullify the political participation of black churchgoers. Texas required certain types of government-issued photo IDs to vote and then ensured that nearly 1.6 million black and Latino citizens would have very limited access. Ohio skewed its early voting laws to diminish the turnout in the cities while also implementing a literacy test that officials applied only to those in urban counties.

The end result was that the Republicans had effectively shattered the black and Latino demographic firewall that could have prevented a Trump presidency. A Trump presidency, to be clear, that many in the Republican establishment rightfully feared because of the mogul’s demonstrated unfitness for office.

But they didn’t fear it enough. Because even in the wake of federal court orders striking down many of the most odious, discriminatory features of voter suppression, the GOP resisted, stalled and defied the judiciary until confusion and resignation reigned at the polls. It was too late.

In a horrific Faustian calculation, these Republican patriots put the nation at risk so that Trump could fulfill his dominant campaign promise. And, to be clear, it was not to make America great again, but to make access to America’s resources “whites only” again. The Klan recognized it, as did the white nationalists who gave Trump their full-throttled support. But, this wasn’t just a fantasy of the far right. The allure of a revived Jim Crow nation that proudly, willfully excludes and debases millions of nonwhites was so reaffirming and reassuring that everything else became secondary or tertiary. Everything else, including national security.

Despite his glaring lack of qualifications, patriots shoved Trump into the role of Commander in Chief — a man who had already maligned the U.S. military as a “disaster,” denigrated the generals dismantling ISIS, and disparaged POWs for being stupid enough to get caught. Patriots cheered on as Trump asked the Russian government to hack an American citizen who had led a national-security agency. Patriots acquiesced to a foreign policy that encouraged nuclear proliferation, oozed profound ignorance about the basic fundamentals of U.S. nuclear capability, and kept in play use of the ultimate weapon by a man who has difficulty even maintaining control on Twitter.

Patriots gleefully ignored warnings by the National Security Agency that the hacked documents released by WikiLeaks were actually the result of and washed through Russian intelligence. Patriots didn’t blink when Trump’s economic plan included the possibility of defaulting on the U.S. debt although that “could undermine the stability of global financial markets” on a scale not seen since the Great Recession and cost American taxpayers billions of dollars in higher interest rates. Patriots accepted Trump’s admiration of Vladimir Putin, disdain for the President of the United States, and a foreign policy agenda that matched up smoothly with the Russian — not American — government’s.

In other words, in January 2017, a man will be at the helm of the U.S. military, intelligence and foreign policy bureaucracies, who actually encouraged foreign intervention in an American election and advocated for dismantling the alliances that will aid Russian expansionism and weaken U.S. influence and power. Yet, the patriots bet that the trade-off will be well worth it.

Clearly, white rage has brought us here.

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