Donald Trump is both channeling and nurturing the anger of what Walter Russell Mead calls “Jacksonian” whites, who see our nation and our world changing, and feel left behind…. (More)
I’m Shouting, Part I: Left Behind
This week Morning Feature looks at the shouting that defines much of the 2016 presidential campaign. Today we look at Donald Trump’s appeal to “Jacksonian” whites who feel left behind by a changing America. Tomorrow we’ll examine Bernie Sanders’ appeal to white liberals who feel left out by a changing Democratic Party. Saturday we’ll consider whether white resentment will win in 2016.
“President Obama and his coalition aim to crush what Jacksonians love, empower what they fear, and exalt what they hate”
So writes Walter Russell Mead at the conservative American Interest, in a fascinating analysis that traces Trump supporters’ rage back to Andrew Jackson:
Historically, Jacksonian America has been the enemy of many of what President Obama, rightly, sees as some of America’s most important advances. Jacksonian sentiment embraces a concept of the United States as a folk community and, over time, that folk community was generally construed as whites only. Lynch law and Jim Crow were manifestations of Jacksonian communalism, and there are few examples of race, religious or ethnic prejudice in which Jacksonian America hasn’t indulged. Jacksonians have come a long way on race, but they will never move far enough and fast enough for liberal opinion; liberals are moving too, and are becoming angrier and more exacting regardless of Jacksonian progress.
Just as bad, in the view of the President and his allies, Jacksonians don’t have much respect for the educated and the credentialed. Like William F. Buckley, they would rather be governed by the first 100 names in the phonebook than by the Harvard faculty. They loathe the interfering busybodies of the progressive state, believe that government (except for the police and the military) is a necessary evil, think most “experts” and university professors are no smarter or wiser than other people, and feel only contempt for the gender theorists and the social justice warriors of the contemporary classroom.
Virtually everything about progressive politics today is about liquidating the Jacksonian influence in American life. From immigration policy, touted as ending the era when American whites were the population of the United States, to gun policy and to regulatory policy, President Obama and his coalition aim to crush what Jacksonians love, empower what they fear, and exalt what they hate.
With no apparent sense of irony, Mead describes Jacksonians as “radically egalitarian,” by which he seems to mean that all white heterosexual men should be equal. He warns of the “holocaust of lower and lower middle class whites” – by which he means the alarming death rates due to suicide and drug and alcohol abuse – and which he implicitly blames on “an upper middle class intellectual and cultural establishment that not so secretly hopes for a demographic change in America that will finally marginalize uncredentialed white people once and for all.”
As to Trump’s prospects for success, Mead concludes:
Whatever happens to the Trump candidacy, it now seems clear that Jacksonian America is rousing itself to fight for its identity, its culture and its primacy in a country that it believes it should own. Its cultural values have been traduced, its economic interests disregarded, and its future as the center of gravity of American political life is under attack. Overseas, it sees traditional rivals like Russia, China, North Korea and Iran making headway against a President that it distrusts; more troubling still, in ISIS and jihadi terror it sees the rapid spread of a movement aiming at the mass murder of Americans. Jacksonian America has lost all confidence in the will or the ability of the political establishment to fight the threats it sees abroad and at home. It wants what it has always wanted: to take its future into its own hands.
The biggest story in American politics today is this: Andrew Jackson is mad as hell, and he’s not going to take it anymore.
“If anger were tied to hardship….”
Objectively, Mead’s analysis of White Plight is laughable. Consider the Esquire/NBC News survey on voter anger:
EXPECTATIONS: Are you disappointed? Do you feel stifled and shortchanged and sold a bill of goods? Then you’re probably pretty angry. Consider the white men and women in our survey: From their views on the state of the American dream (dead) and America’s role in the world (not what it used to be) to how their life is working out for them (not quite what they’d had in mind), a plurality of whites tends to view life through a veil of disappointment. When we cross-tabulate these feelings with reports of daily anger (which are higher among whites than nonwhites), we see the anger of perceived disenfranchisement – a sense that the majority has become a persecuted minority, the bitterness of a promise that didn’t pan out – rather than actual hardship. (If anger were tied to hardship, we’d expect to see nonwhite Americans – who report having a harder time making ends meet than whites, per question three – reporting higher levels of anger. This is not the case.)
Yes, white Americans’ death rates are rising due to suicide and drug and alcohol abuse. But those deaths are not the work of a genocidal elite. Instead they are self-inflicted, a bitter response to “perceived disenfranchisement … rather than actual hardship.” They reflect aggrieved entitlement, a sense that whites – and especially white heterosexual men – should be first in line when the pie is cut … and women, people of color, and LGBTs should split whatever crumbs white men leave.
“A consistently loose relationship with the truth”
That white-men-first entitlement describes most of U.S. history. But here’s the thing. It still does. University of Chicago law professor Nicholas Stephanopoulos found that white men’s opinions still dominate our politics:
There are also significant points of disagreement along racial lines. African Americans below the age of 30 are more likely than whites to support the Affordable Care Act. African Americans in general are also much more liberal in their politics – recent statistics show that approximately 80 percent of African Americans are registered Democratic voters, while only 40 percent of whites are. At the same time, a greater percentage of white people support same-sex marriage, perhaps because significantly more white Americans believe that people are born – rather than choose to be – gay. Among the millennial generation, white people are significantly more likely to identify themselves as pro-life compared with African Americans.
In cases with strong disagreement, like the above, Stephanopoulos has found that women fare far worse than men, while racial divides exist both between African American and white constituents, and between non-Hispanic whites and Hispanics. Income also seems to play a role, as those in the top 10th percentile had sway over the voices of those lower down the economic ladder.
Simply, if most white men want something, then government is more likely to do it. But if most women or people of color want something, then government is more likely to refuse it … unless white men want it too.
If white men still wield outsized political influence – and data show they do – why do so many white men feel so powerless? FiveThirtyEight’s Anne Pluta finds the answer is carefully-nurtured misinformation:
Donald Trump has a consistently loose relationship with the truth. So much so, in fact, that the fact-checking website PolitiFact rolled his numerous misstatements into one big “lie of the year.” But all the fact-checking in the world hasn’t pushed Trump toward a more evidence-based campaign, and his support has held steady or even increased in some polls. What explains Trump’s ability to seemingly overcome conventional political wisdom?
One way to understand Trump’s longevity is to look more closely at his supporters. Trump’s backers tend to be whiter, slightly older and less educated than the average Republican voter. But perhaps more importantly, his supporters have shown signs of being misinformed. Political science research has shown that the behavior of misinformed citizens is different from those who are uninformed, and this difference may explain Trump’s unusual staying power.
In 2000, James Kuklinski and other political scientists at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign established an important distinction: American citizens with incorrect information can be divided into two groups, the misinformed and the uninformed. The difference between the two is stark. Uninformed citizens don’t have any information at all, while those who are misinformed have information that conflicts with the best evidence and expert opinion. As Kuklinski and his colleagues established, in the U.S., the most misinformed citizens tend to be the most confident in their views and are also the strongest partisans. These folks fill the gaps in their knowledge base by using their existing belief systems. Once these inferences are stored into memory, they become “indistinguishable from hard data,” Kuklinski and his colleagues found.
For these misinformed voters, empirical evidence on racial and gender disparities in unemployment, median incomes, household wealth, and political influence do not matter. What matters is the belief that white heterosexual men deserve more, and that any successful woman, person of color, or LGBT must – by logical necessity – have stolen opportunities that rightly belonged to white heterosexual men. Period.
“How was Obama supposed to bridge that divide?”
Despite braying about “personal responsibility,” these angry white men blame President Obama for their rage:
A congressman from Alabama who once joked about shooting undocumented immigrants criticized President Obama on Thursday as “the most racially-divisive president” of the United States since the Civil War.
“There probably has not been a more racially-divisive, economic-divisive, president in the White House since we had presidents who supported slavery,” Rep. Mo Brooks (R-AL) said during a radio interview on the Dale Jackson Show.
President Obama seemed willing to shoulder that burden in his State of the Union Address, but The Hill’s Juan Williams says the president should place the blame where it belongs:
While I’m all for humility, the president is not to blame for the rancor and polarization that have characterized his presidency.
The calls for the GOP majority in Congress to block Obama at every turn are rooted in paranoid, arguably racist, fringes of the electorate.
“Has Mr. Obama always confronted a ceiling in how widely he would be loved or even accepted because he is the nation’s first African-American president?,” Wall Street Journal columnist Gerald F. Seib wondered last week.
Good question. Let’s not forget that the current front-runner for the GOP presidential nomination, Donald Trump, made his name among Republicans back in 2011 by talking up conspiracy theories about the president’s birth certificate.
Last September, a PPP poll found that 61 percent of Trump supporters believe Obama was born in another country and 44 percent of all Republicans hold to the same misconception. A CNN poll found that 43 percent of Republicans believe the president is a Muslim, not a Christian. These are the same Republicans who desperately tried to cripple Obama in the 2008 election for being too close to his Christian minister, Rev. Jeremiah Wright.
Again, how was Obama supposed to bridge that divide?
He couldn’t have, and the reason lies in Mead’s admission that the Jacksonian “folk community was generally construed as whites only.” And by “generally construed,” of course Mead means by whites …
But we’ll save that version of white shouting for tomorrow….
Photo Credit: Jayson Bradley