Trump, GOP Use White Resentment to Con Working-Class Voters

Photo by Gage Skidmore.

seems after watching an angry white man walk into a New Zealand mosque and slaughter 50 men, women and children, the mainstream media has finally figured out that white domestic terrorists are a major threat.

People of color have known this for a while. Several months after the Columbine school shooting, Chris Rock joked that when two young white men got onto his elevator, he got off. That was a prescient joke.

However, the Republican Party has coddled white rage and welcomed racists ever since the passage of the Civil Rights Act. This is a point also made by Col (rtd.) Lawrence Wilkerson, Colin Powell’s former chief of staff when he was Secretary of State. In a Salon interview, he said, “The GOP has scores of racists. Under Richard Nixon’s blessing, the GOP took advantage of disgruntled Democrats in the South.”

The Republican Party has used white racial identity politics and culture war issues to win over working-class voters for decades. And there’s a reason for this.

It’s a grand bait and switch. If you analyze Republican policies, they really don’t favor working-class people. Trickle down economics, union busting and slashing social services left working-class people worse off in the 1980s, but many of them loved President Ronald Reagan. Liberal talk show host Thom Hartmann says many of the issues we’re dealing with today are directly tied to his policies.

By the time Reagan became president racial politics had become so sophisticated the GOP didn’t have to be openly racist like segregationalist Sen. Strom Thurmond. They used coded language to appeal to working-class white voters. Lee Atwater, a legendary Republican political operative, explained this.

“You start out in 1954 by saying, ‘N**ger, n***er, n***er.’ By 1968 you can’t say ‘n***er’ — that hurts you, backfires. So you say stuff like, uh, forced busing, states’ rights, and all that stuff, and you’re getting so abstract,” said Attwater. “Now, you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is, blacks get hurt worse than whites.… ‘We want to cut this,’ is much more abstract than even the busing thing, uh, and a hell of a lot more abstract than ‘N***er, n***er.’”

Reagan indicated where he was coming from when he kicked off his political campaign with a “states rights” speech in Philadelphia, Miss., the site of the murder of three civil rights workers. He pandered to white resentment by inventing the story of the fictional welfare queen. He also talked about “strapping young bucks” using food stamps.

It was subtle, but blue-collar workers got the message. Minorities were getting over on their dime. Unfortunately, these kinds of tropes are still popular. If you get into a conversation with a Republican today, it won’t take long before they start railing about “blacks and Mexicans” on welfare being our main problem.

When the Trump presidency eventually ends, working-class whites will find out their lives are worse off. Their wages will still be stagnant, they still won’t have healthcare and college education will still be expensive. And “the Mexicans” will still be here and multiplying.

Trump also used this same bait and switch plan. He told working-class whites he would stop the brown hordes pouring across the border. He made them believe he was one of them. But Trump is a second-generation millionaire. He’s never had to worry about how to make rent, or how to afford healthcare for a sick child or how to put a kid through college.

He’s clueless about the issues working-class people face. But he bonded with them by tapping into their racial resentment. During the 2016 presidential campaign, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders recognized this strategy. He said he had seen the same divide-and-conquer tactics in the ‘60s.

Blue-collar workers who identified with Trump failed to understand America’s complex class system. Trump’s part of the 1 percent and the country club crowd. And if you’re not part of the elite, they don’t care about you, no matter what color you are.

Although Trump’s racist behavior goes back decades, I don’t think he really believes in the white nationalism espoused by the likes of Steve Bannon and Stephen Miller. He’s outsourced labor, hired thousands of undocumented workers and engaged in business deals around the world. He’s literally a globalist! And even though he claimed “Islam hates us,” he has close ties to the Saudi Arabian ruling family. Also, his much vaunted Muslim ban excluded Saudi Arabia, the country that spawned 15 of the 19 9/11 hijackers.

Additionally, the Chamber of Commerce crowd will never allow the GOP to totally clamp down on illegal and legal immigration because they know the country needs labor. Other Trump supporters are not totally committed to white nationalism either. Both Paul Manafort and Roger Stone enjoyed watching their wives participate in group sex with black men. This is an act that should horrify white nationalists.

When the Trump presidency eventually ends, working-class whites will find out their lives are worse off. Their wages will still be stagnant, they still won’t have healthcare and college education will still be expensive. And “the Mexicans” will still be here and multiplying.

Trump and the Republicans never cared about working-class whites or their issues. They used their rage to get them to vote against their interests.

Manny Otiko writes about race, politics and sports. He has been published in Salon and LA Weekly. Follow him on Twitter @mannyotiko.

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