Yes, It Really Is About Race Skip to content

Yes, It Really Is About Race

5 min read

By word and deed, Donald Trump is a racist.

Yet much of the mainstream media plays down race as a big, if not the biggest, factor in the president’s appeal to white voters. “The race thing freaks them out,” said Joy Reid, host of MSNBC’s AM Joy.

Mainstream Media Is Scared To Name It

Joy Reid

On Reid’s show, Eric Boehlert of Media Matters said Fox News has scared its media rivals away from linking racism to Trump’s popularity with whites.

Fox—and the rest of the conservative media echo chamber—seldom misses a chance to slam the “liberal media,” meaning the mainstream media. In turn, a significant part of that mainstream media has reflexively swerved right to prove Fox wrong, according to Boehlert.

Eric Boehlert

“This is all part of the press’s obsession to not appear liberal,” he said. “The drumbeat from Fox News has been going out for decades.”

Former Louisville Courier-Journal editor David Hawpe essentially agreed with Boehlert. But he cautioned against using “the press” and “the media” as catchall terms. The Fourth Estate isn’t monolithic, he pointed out.

“‘The media’ includes talk radio, which is overwhelmingly right wing, as is Fox broadcasting, as are the editorial pages of The Wall Street Journal and any number of conservative major city newspapers, as well as many columnists, including some very fine ones like David Brooks and George Will and publications like National Review and endless blogs,” he said in an email. “It’s simply a fiction that ‘the media’ are uniformly liberal.”

Hawpe, a Pike County native and Louisville resident, isn’t the only veteran journalist to debunk the myth of the “liberal media.”

He added, “But if the question is why are so many liberal-progressive cable-based commentators and newspaper columnists, as well as the editorial pages of The Washington Post and The New York Times, afraid to brand the Trump phenomenon as racist, I think it’s years of conditioning.

“They’ve been dismissively branded as the liberal left for so long, in self-defense they’ve tried very hard to escape that label. They have overcompensated by pulling their punches, especially on race, which is still the deepest fissure in American culture and politics. They have bent over backward so far, to avoid the liberal stereotype, that they’ve fallen on their behinds.”
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But Race Really Was, and Is, the Issue

While many pundits, even liberals, claim that economic anxiety motivated most Trump voters, Sean McElwee and Jason McDaniel wrote in The Nation that among most Trump voters, racism trumped worry over jobs and job security.

They analyzed a comprehensive American National Election Studies pre- and post-election survey of over 4,000 respondents and concluded that “Trump accelerated a realignment in the electorate around racism, across several different measures of racial animus—and that it helped him win. By contrast, we found little evidence to suggest individual economic distress benefited Trump.”

Reid pointed out that Trump “won every income group of white Americans. He didn’t just win the struggling. He won people who were quite well off. But the media also doesn’t want to talk about that.”

Added McElwee and McDaniel: “Trump built upon a decades-long campaign to erase support for the safety net by racializing government programs, but extended it further by openly demonizing people of color.”

David Hawpe

Shortly after President Barack Obama was reelected in 2012, Hawpe, who had retired from the C-J, wrote in the Lexington Herald-Leader that “beyond the rhetoric and the numbers lies a great truth about red-state politics below the Mason-Dixon line. [Democratic President] Lyndon Johnson, as he pushed civil rights and voting rights bills [in the 1960s], knew he was signing the Democratic Party’s death warrant in the South.”

Also in his H-L op-ed musing, Hawpe acknowledged that Kentucky was one of the country’s most Obama-unfriendly, Republican red states. “And it’s not just a coal thing. Nor is it just about Kentucky’s religious, conservative, rural values. [Kentucky Sen. Mitch] McConnell used the GOP Southern strategy handed to him by [Sen.] Barry Goldwater [the 1964 GOP presidential candidate] and [President] Richard Nixon, took Western Kentucky away from the Democrats, and changed the state’s political personality.”

Hawpe concluded, “Nobody wants to say it out loud, but race is part of the political equation, in Kentucky and elsewhere. We’re not post-racial, yet.

And the Other Factor? Fear of Change

In his email, Hawpe also said that Trump’s rise “is powered by more than racism. It’s a reaction to fundamental change that has come faster than it could be absorbed in some parts of the country and in some parts of American society. Large numbers of people see themselves as victims of revolutionary change for which they hold the civil rights movement and the women’s movement responsible.

“They feel victimized by the collapse of government-sanctioned primacy for the Christian religion, by the development of a multicultural majority, by the sanctioning of abortion as a choice, by the mainstreaming of an LGBT community, by the environmental priorities forced on industry, by the implications of an international economy, by the rampaging development of new technology and of course by the emergence of both domestic and international terrorism.

“They also are infuriated by a liberal establishment that pooh-poohs their fears and addresses them as moral inferiors.”

Race and Fear – Still Driving the Trump Strategy

Nonetheless, Hawpe said the race issue is ever-present. “Many voters supported Barack Obama as a change agent, but others saw him as a manifestation of unwanted change. And as a cool, cerebral and accomplished black man, he could not be dismissed in the usual way. The historian Arthur Schlesinger Jr. got it right when, at the beginning of a New York Times Magazine article on the great American presidents, he said race is the thread that has run true through all of American history.”

“The problem of the twentieth century is the problem of the color-line—the relation of the darker to the lighter races of men in Asia and Africa, in America and the islands of the sea,” American scholar and civil rights activist W.E.B. Du Bois wrote in The Souls of Black Folk (1903).

Du Bois, the longtime editor of The Crisis, the NAACP magazine, died in 1963. Were he alive, he might propose that the color-line is the 21st century’s problem, too, especially with the election of Trump and the emergence of other reactionaries in the GOP, notably Alabama Republican U.S. Senate candidate Roy Moore.

In addition to racism, Trump and Moore pander non-stop to sexism, misogyny, homophobia, Islamophobia, nativism and religious bigotry. Their most ardent supporters include avowed white supremacists.

As much as many in the mainstream media don’t want to name it, the obvious is still the obvious: race and fear are still drivers in politics, and Trumpism is exploiting them.

[tweet_box design=”default” float=”none”]Race and fear are still drivers in politics, and Trumpism is exploiting them.[/tweet_box]


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