Trump: the latter-day George Wallace Skip to content

Trump: the latter-day George Wallace

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A slew of Republicans claim they’re clueless about the president’s re-election strategy, Michelle Goldberg wrote in The New York Times.

“He has no message,” she quoted a GOP bigwig’s lament. Goldberg can’t decide whether these purportedly puzzled Republicans really are naïve, or are faking it “so they don’t have to admit what a foul enterprise they’re part of.”

Either way, Goldberg argued that Trump is sticking to “a stark and obvious” message — “white power.’”

She recalled that some pundits “spent the first year or two of his presidency dancing around the reason he was elected, spending so much time probing the ‘economic anxiety’ of his base that the phrase came to stand for a type of willful political blindness.”

As for me, I never bought the “economic anxiety” alibi.

Trump was the Great White Hope, the culmination of the old Republican Southern Strategy gone national. He was the Yankee George Wallace.

He reprised the segregationist, ex-Alabama governor’s ’68 presidential campaign. Like Wallace, Trump race-baited, non-stop. He pandered to whites who pined for a past where straight, white Protestant men ruled the political and societal roosts, where African Americans were invisible men and women, LGBTQ folks stayed in the closet, Latinix stayed south of the border and wives stayed at home, raised the kids, and obeyed their husbands.

Some liberals refused to believe that the virus of racism still infected so much of the white body politic after the country elected and re-elected an African American president. “How could it be racism when so many white people who voted for Obama voted for Trump?” they challenged anybody who suggested it wasn’t the economy, stupid.

“The unspoken premise behind this question is an assumption of a certain kind of white redemption narrative: By voting for Obama, white America exorcized its racial demons,” Zach Buchanan wrote in Vox in 2018. “But the truth is nothing of the sort. For one thing, Obama lost the white vote by 12 points in 2008 and 20 points in 2012.”

Added Buchanan: “For another, voting for Obama once or even twice doesn’t automatically mean that someone is not prejudiced against black people or immigrants. It’s possible to support Obama in particular while maintaining overall anti-black or anti-immigrant attitudes. In those cases, some other factor, like the Iraq War catastrophe or financial collapse, may have predominated over white voters’ racial hang-ups in the 2008 and 2012 election.”

He cited a study of a large sample of Obama voters who turned to Trump. The three political scientists who authored the study found that the switchers “tended to score highly on measures of racial hostility and xenophobia — and were not especially likely to be suffering economically.”

A ton of other studies refuted the “economic anxiety” media narrative. They also revealed that racial resentment was the main motivator for most Trump supporters, across the board. Click here, here, here, here, and here.

“People voted for Trump for reasons besides racism,” Goldberg wrote, pointing to sexism. I’d add misogyny, nativism, xenophobia, homophobia, and religious bigotry.

She also wrote: “Some voters were just partisan Republicans, or thought that reality TV is real and that Trump was as successful as ‘The Apprentice.’”

I know a guy who voted for the president because he “wanted to give the middle finger to Washington.” He’s now a penitent firmly in the “I-wouldn’t-vote-for-the-SOB-for-dog-catcher” camp.

Goldberg, too, mentioned an Obama voter who went for Trump because he was worried that his taxes would go up with Clinton.

“Trump, however, seems to grasp that racism is what put him over the top. It’s what made his campaign seem wild and transgressive and hard to look away from,” Goldberg wrote.

Trump is banking on white folks, especially evangelicals, delivering him a second term. A recent Pew poll showed that most white evangelicals are still aboard the Trump train, though he’s evidently bombing in the white burbs, where he fared well in 2016.

“Polls show that a growing number of [white suburbanites], particularly women, are repelled by Trump’s race-baiting and divisiveness,” Goldberg wrote. “But Republicans who complain that the president is undisciplined, that he can’t adhere to a strategy, miss the point: Bigotry has always been the strategy.

“The Republicans who support him are yoked to that strategy. Their real frustration isn’t that it’s ugly but that it’s no longer working.”

Besides the Jesus-loves-me-but-He-can’t-stand-you, the guns-uber-alles, and the neo-Confederate crowds, Wall Street and small-town country-club Republicans are standing by their man, too, because he delivers their goods.

The billionaires and the Babbitts might be a tad queasy with Trump’s boorish bigotry. But they dote on The Donald because he cuts their taxes, trims government regulations, and is all in for union-busting.

At the same time, the president and his enabler-in-chief, Mitch McConnell, have teamed up to stack the federal courts with far-right-wing judges who seem to think that America ought to be a conservative Christian theocracy, that government has no responsibility to help those who need help, and that organized labor is of the devil.

Now Trump’s poll numbers are cratering, we have double-digit unemployment, and our pandemic-ravaged nation has been rendered an international pariah,” Goldberg wrote. “America is faring exactly as well under Trump’s leadership as his casinos, airline, and scam university did. It’s not surprising that he’s returning to what he knows, and what seemed to work for him before.”


Originally published in LA Progressive.

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Bruce Maples

Bruce Maples has been involved in politics and activism since 2004, when he became active in the Kerry Kentucky movement. (Read the rest of his bio on the Bruce Maples Bio page in the bottom nav bar.)

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