One of the major explanations of the Trump victory is that it was a white racist backlash. There is some truth in this. Without question the President elect ran a racist campaign. Without question a proportion of Trump voters are racist – certainly the KKK is and it endorsed him.
But. To reduce his win to this simple formula is to not only insult those who voted for him who are not racist, but also to miss the details of the vote and the quality of his opponent. It leads to a patronizing view of America and Americans, not to an understanding of modern America.
Trump increased the Republican vote among Hispanics. Romney won 27% of the Hispanic vote in 2012, Trump won 29%. How do those who argue a Trump vote is a racist vote explain that? That those Hispanics who voted Trump are racist?
It is more plausible, and less patronizing, that the Trump Hispanic vote looked at the candidates, looked at their economic policies, and voted according to who they thought would do a better job. The same goes for the 8% of the black vote which went to Trump.
If it can be argued that these decisions were not racist votes, it is only fair, indeed logical, that not all of the white Trump votes were racist, just as not all of the millions of women who voted for him are misogynists.
Some of the black and latino trump voters will have given up on Clinton believing their vote was taken for granted. Many will have agreed with their white counterparts that the free trade agreements she supports hurt American workers, especially those on low incomes.
In Pennsylvania 53% of voters agreed that free trade is bad for jobs. Is it so hard to believe that a black or Hispanic voter in that state cannot be among that 53%? Does an unemployed steel worker have to be white to reason that the guy who promises to raise tarifs of Chinese steel dumping might be the one to vote for. Once in power Trump may or may not do that, but he was the one making the case against an opponent who flip flopped on trade from a year ago, to when she was up against Sanders, to when she was the candidate.
Trump said he will tear up some trade deals and bring back jobs to America. You might not believe him, you might think his policies will be disastrous, but it is a patronizing leap to believe that therefore people of colour agree with you, or that white people who do not agree with you are racist.
In 2012 college graduates were 48% of voters in Florida. In 2016 they were 52%. In 2012 67% of Florida voters were white. In 2016 61% were. Clinton still lost.
It is worth stressing again. A significant percentage of the Trump vote will have been racist. But to write off his victory as simply for that reason is to miss a bigger picture.
The liberal CNN political commentator Van Jones was both impassioned and at times brilliant in his summing up of the vote.
“This was a rebellion against the elites, true. It was a complete reinvention of politics and polls, it’s true. But it was also something else…This was a whitelash against a changing country. It was a whitelash against a black president in part, and that’s the part where the pain comes. And Donald Trump has a responsibility tonight to come out and reassure people that he is going to be the president of all the people who he insulted and offended and brushed aside.”
This is a deeply painful moment tonight. I know it’s not just about race. There’s more going on than that, but race is here too and we have to talk about it.”
I agree with Mr Jones, and accept that there was a significant element of a ‘whitelash’ but he’s also right that there’s more going on than that. We need to talk about all of it.