While pundits claimed the Democrats lost the White House in 2016 due to economic anxiety, it is now clear that it was always about racial animosity.
By David Todd McCarty | Tuesday, July 23, 2019
In the wake of the 2016 election, all the post mortem discussions centered around the hypothesis that Democrats had failed to recognize the level of economic anxiety that had gripped the nation, that Democrats had failed to counter the collapse of rural, white economies, and that overall, working class Americans were worried that they had been left behind. Fast forward to today, with the economy enjoying record levels of prosperity and the unemployment rate at its lowest point in decades, you still have Trump crowing, not about the economy, but continuing to stoke racial animosity among his base.
Trump won the election in a perfect storm of unforeseen factors. He was running against a deeply unpopular candidate, the electoral college favored white, non college-educated voters, and he ran on a populist platform that including returning middle America to wealthy, relevant and white. He appealed to coal miners, telling them that he alone could bring back jobs and restore poor white America to their rightful place in society. He appealed to white evangelicals by embracing Christianity alone and feeding into their fear that their way of life was under attack from Leftist radicals and Muslim immigrants.
The economy has continued to grow under Trump as it was under Obama. The economy plays a long game, and nothing Trump has done could be expected to be impacting the economy just yet. The huge corporate tax cuts and deregulation have certainly driven stock prices up, but the majority of Americans don’t see any benefit from that. The top 10 percent of earners in America own 84% of the stock, while 80% of Americans own only 6.7% of it.
There is no question that the wealth disparity gap in America is growing, and it’s also self-evident that although many American’s are feeling positive about the economy, most are not actually better off.
So what is keeping Trump steady in his approval ratings, even though they are stagnant in the low 40’s?
Trump began his amateur political career with “birtherism” an openly racist attack on a sitting Black President, claiming that Obama was an illegitimate President that was not only not from here, but also not the Christian he claimed to be. Trump argued that he was from Kenya, the last where Obama’s father was born, and that he was a Muslim, as his father had in fact been.
From his escalator ride to announce his candidacy, to his many rallies, Trump’s call to arms was one of white nationalism. If only we could go back to when America was great again, when Christian white men ruled the world, and we didn’t have to be bothered by rapist brown people and Muslims. And while he won by the slimmest of margins in unusual circumstances, he nevertheless, inexplicably won.
Two and a half years later, nothing has changed. Trump continues to spout racist rhetoric against immigrants, display distain for anyone not a white, Christian male and attack his opponents as weak, unintelligent and not deserving of his America. He calls his Democratic opponents socialists. He claims they want open borders. He calls Democrats anti-semitic and racist. He calls on all white Christians to rally around him if they don’t want to be subjugated by a non-Christian, non-white, immigrant horde. He uses white nationalistic language to stoke fears that whites will soon be a minority, and therefore in danger of losing all power. He tells Americans to “go back home.”
Nearly everyone not in the top 1% has economic anxiety today. While a slight majority of Americans are satisfied with their economic status, just two in 10 are very confident that they’ll have enough savings for retirement. Nearly half have little to no confidence. The rising tide of the economy has lifted only the mega-yachts, while the rest of us are barely keeping our heads above water, and are, in fact, in real danger of drowning.
We are now in the midst of a Democratic primary, where there is a battle between the moderate establishment of the party and the progressive left. There are those who will tell you that to beat Trump, we need a moderate candidate who can appeal to non-college educated whites who feel disenfranchised by the economy. They’ll tell you if we go too far left, we will hand Trump the election. This argument would only be true if the economy was the bell weather for the electorate. It’s not.
The Democrats are not going to win the election based solely on a moderate message of getting things back to normal. We’re way beyond that. The status quo argument will not put the genie back in the bottle. Trump is going to continue to inflame racial animosity by claiming immigration is a national security issue, that Iran is an existential threat to Christianity and Judaism, and that white nationalism is a call to arms for all Patriots. He will wrap himself in the flag, with his military parades and brown-shirt rallies, and claim that all your problems are caused to brown people who worship a different religion and don’t belong. This is what fascist regimes have done since the beginning of time. Blame the other. Stoke fear and hate. Bask in the glow his followers. He will do this while continuing to give corporations free reign to rape and pillage the land, and handing out fat, juicy tax breaks to the least deserving.
The drive towards the middle will do nothing to combat Trump’s white nationalist appeal to Christian voters. Democrats must fight back by building a multi-ethnic coalition that believes in the American ideal of equality, freedom of religion and expression. We need a leader who will energize the Left to believe in themselves as true patriots who believe in America for all, not just for some. It’s a populist message that everyone deserves a chance to be great, not just white Christians. It’s a message of economic equality, where everyone has a shot at the American Dream, not just the children of the 1%. We need to remind everyone that if we don’t take radical steps towards curbing climate change, we will soon be separated between those who can afford clean water and air, and those who cannot. It’s all tied together. Environment. Economy. Social justice. There are no room for lanes.
What Democrats need is a leader who has the guts to aim high and think outside the box. Someone who is capable of solving problems we haven’t even encountered yet. We have an environmental catastrophe looming ahead of us that scientists predict is unstoppable. How will we stop the unstoppable? The same way we’ve accomplished other great things in America. With ingenuity, creativity and collective sacrifice.
Turning to a candidate of yesterday will do us more harm than good. We have passed the tipping point. We can no longer afford to hope for the best; to return to the status quo when we were all asleep. We need radical solutions to unprecedented problems and we need them now. If we turn towards a familiar face, hoping they will set things right, we will be unprepared for what is to come. We will, in fact, fail.
Believe it or not, Trump is not the most dangerous thing we face today, he’s just the current face of it.
We have allowed the Republicans to sell America’s soul to corporate America. We are in danger of turning into an authoritarian society where anything short of compliance is considered sedition. Where if you are not goose-stepping in support of the military you are not a patriot, and if you are not a white, Christian, you are a threat and should be deported. Where wealth buys education and healthcare and privilege is generational. Where a economic crisis looms while our leaders do nothing, secure in the knowledge that they’ll be dead long before they have to deal with its lasting effects.
This is not a time for safe choices. This is a time for radical action, and we should all be comfortable with that description. The Republicans see compromise as weakness and failure, so there is no reason to try to meet them in the middle.
It’s time to fight for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.