Media pundits and others have been deeply perplexed as to why so many Americans in this election–70 million in fact– nonetheless voted for Trump.
But it’s not all that difficult to understand. There are 3 major explanations: One economic. One health. And the third, and most important, a matter of culture and racism manipulated by clever politicians for the past quarter century at least.
The first explanation—economics—is that the red states (Trump’s base) did not ‘suffer’ as much economically from the recession as have (and are) the blue states and big urban areas. The red states shut down only in part and for just a couple weeks then quickly reopened as early as May. A few hot spots in New Orleans and Florida were quickly contained. By reopening quickly they economically minimized the negative effects of the shutdowns and quarantines. They would eventually pay the price in health terms for early reopening, but they clearly chose to trade off later health problems for early economic gains. At the same time they quickly reopened, the red pro-Trump states still received the economic benefits of the March-April Cares Act bailout that pumped more than a $trillion into the economy benefitting households directly–i.e. this was the $670 billion in small business PPP grants, the $350 billion in extra unemployment benefits, the $1,200 checks, and other direct spending on hospitals and health providers. The Trump states got their full share of the bailout, even if they didn’t need it as much after having reopened early. Finally, if Trump supporters lived in the farm belt sector of Red State America, they additionally got $70B more in direct subsidies and payments from Trump that was designed to placate the farm belt during Trump’s disastrous China trade war. That’s 3 main sources of added income the red states as a general rule received that the blue states, coasts, big cities elsewhere did not get. In short the economic impact of this recession was therefore far less severe in the geographic areas of the greatest concentration of Trump’s political support.
Second, Covid did not negatively impact the red states as much as it did the blue states and major urban areas of America—at least not until late in Sept-Oct after which much voting had already begun and political positions had hardened. And then when Covid did hit the red states late, it impacted relatively more the larger cities and not as much initially in the small towns and rural areas of Trump’s red states. Covid’s impact economically was therefore relatively worse in big urban areas, especially in the coasts.
But even more important than these relative economic and health effects, the continued support that exists for Trump in his base of red states—i.e. in the small town, rural, small business, and religious right areas—is grounded in the ‘ethnic’ composition of his mostly White European heritage followers who are fearful ‘their’ white culture is being overwhelmed by the growing numbers and diversity of people of color in America.
This fear is the foundation of his—and their—white nationalism which is really a form of racism. So too is their anti-immigration. It is anti-immigration directed against people of color–whether latinos, blacks, muslims or whomever. White European heritage, small town, rural, evangelical, small business ‘heartland’ of the south & midwest America sees ‘their America’ disappearing or at least having to share more equally with people of color America. The latter are now almost equal in population to White Europeans but are not equal politically or economically. They are knocking on the door and want in. They want their equal share.
But clever politicians have convinced White European America that it’s a zero sum game: what people of color America may get will be only at their expense! Sharing is not possible. Trump and others, who are manipulating this fear and discontent for their own political careers, have convinced them that it’s an ‘Us vs. Them’ zero sum game. That way those with wealth and real power redirect discontent from their four decades of obscene wealth accumulation at the expense of everyone else, white or non-white Americans. Whipping up and redirecting discontent into identity and racial identity themes means the super well off won’t have to share with either White European or non-White European people of color.
Pit the one against the other, while they–those of wealth and power–continue to ‘pick the pockets’ of both. That was, and remains, Trump’s strategy in a nutshell. It’s also the strategy of his wealthy backers. It’s the age old American ruling class racism ‘shell game’. Just now in the form of ‘old wine in new bottles’, as they saying goes. ‘America First’ means in effect White America of his political base comes first. Trump and financial backers and power brokers–like the Adelsons, Mercers, Singers and their allies–have convinced White European America in the heartland to be fearful and oppose equality for Americans of color elsewhere. That’s why Trump sounds very much like a ‘White Nationalist’, and even at times as pro-fascist because that’s the message of the far right as well. His theme of ‘Make America Great Again’ is really, when translated, make White European America safe again and stop the hoards of people of color taking ‘their America’ from them.
Here’s why they fundamentally support him: Trump has become their ‘bulwark’ against this demographic change which they fear above all else. That’s why Trump could do or say whatever he wanted and move increasingly to further extremes, and they’d still support him. They would support him even in dismantling what remains of truncated Democracy in America, if it were necessary in their view. And they still will continue to support him. Neither Trump nor Trumpism is going away. It has taken deep root in the 70 million, waiting for a resurrection in 2024 or even 2022.
All this is not unlike what happened in the USA in the 1850s decade. The USA is about at 1854 in terms of historical times and events. The 2024 election may therefore be even more ‘contentious’, should Biden and the Democrats fail to aggressively resolve the economic and health dual crises deepening this winter in America. Should Biden adopt a minimalist program and solution–in the name of a renewed ‘bipartisanship’ strategy aimed at placating Mitch McConnell’s Republican Senate–then ‘Bidenomics’ is doomed. It will result in a midterm 2022 election sweep return of Trump forces, maybe under the leadership of Trump, or maybe a Ted Cruz, or maybe a Marco Rubio. Or maybe some clever new face. A minimalist Biden program will suffer the fate of Obama’s minimalist economic stimulus program of January 2009, which resulted in a massive loss of electoral support for Democrats in the midterm elections of 2010 and in turn led to the loss of the US House of Representatives Democrat majority and then the Senate soon after. The economic consequences of that particular gridlock following that are all well known. There is a great risk of the same occurring in 2021-22.
The 2020 election looked in some fundamental ways a lot like 2016, with the differences today being the working and middle classes in the swing states of Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania flipped back to Democrats in 2020 after having voted for Trump in 2016. It was a 3 state flip. That flip was because Trump simply did not deliver on his 2016 promises to bring good paying industrial jobs back to those states after 20 years of free trade, offshoring, and the de-industrialization of the region. A good example of Trump’s failed promises was the Asian Foxconn Corp., maker of Apple iphone parts. Trump and Foxconn promised to bring 5000 jobs to the US upper midwest. It never happened. Foxconn’s operation in the US today is limited to only 250 jobs in a warehouse. So the upper midwest again slipped back by narrow margins to the Democrats. But if the Democrats now can’t deliver jobs either, they’ll just as easily slip back again in 2022 and 2024.
The other difference in 2020 from 2016 is the emergence of real grass roots movements in Georgia and in the southwest in Arizona-Nevada; Black folks and their allies in Georgia and Latinos and Native Americans in the southwest. Also new organizing and mobilizing of people of color and workers in places like Philadelphia, Detroit, Erie, Pittsburg, and elsewhere.
These new growing grass roots movements are the real political forces that determined Biden’s win, along with the working class and middle classes disenchantment with Trump’s failed promises. Biden’s win had therefore less to do with Nancy Pelosi’s strategy of targeting suburban white women, vets, professionals and independents. That strategy failed to produce any ‘blue wave’ whatsoever. In fact, it resulted in Democrat loss of seats in the House of Representatives, while wasting tens of millions of dollars on futile Senate races like that in Kentucky against Mitch McConnell. Just think if that money was spent in Georgia. If it was, there might not be the need to have runoff elections there this coming January for the state’s two Senate seats.
No, the Democrat leadership grand strategy was a definite failure; the strategy of mobilizing the grass roots in Georgia and the southwest, a strategy not supported much financially by the Democrat party leadership, is what has put Biden in the White House.
What remains to be seen is whether Pelosi, Schumer and the moneybag corporate donors of their party will understand what has really happened this election cycle and really why Biden won (and the House and Senate campaigns largely failed). If the leaders of the party now go the route of a minimalist program in 2020, as did Obama in 2009, they will no doubt come 2022 suffer a similar fate as Obama and they did in 2010. Then we will all be back to ‘square one’ with a resurgence of Trump and Trumpism once again.
The Democrats are at an historical crossroads. They can either understand the real forces behind the 70 million supporters who voted for Trump, or they can ignore history in the making and repeat history of the past of 2009-10 and subsequently suffer the same consequences in 2022 and certainly 2024. But don’t expect the media pundits to understand any of this, any more than they can even now comprehend why Trump’s followers number in the tens of millions despite his loss. They and Trump are not defeated yet. They have been merely ‘checked’ for a while.