The renowned historiographer E.H. Carr famously compared the historian with his facts to the fishmonger with fish on the slab; the historian collects the facts, takes them home, and cooks and serves them in whatever style appeals to him. Naturally, the historian will add spices and other ingredients to draw out the precise flavor needed to make an average meal into a palette-pleasing feast for the senses. But, in doing so, there is the ever-present danger that the spices, the tantalizing aroma, and the aesthetically pleasing presentation are merely an attempt to mask the fact that the fish has long since turned rotten.
And when it comes to the course of US politics, there is the distinct stench of putrefaction. And, while America’s putrescent corpus decays further, the unmistakable rasp of circling vultures becomes inescapable, the smell overwhelming.
Enter: Donald Trump – the vulture made flesh. And, as the President-elect circles high above his prey, awaiting the moment that he and his Wall Street-Pentagon flock can begin their feast, it remains for the rest of us to consider just what we’ve lived through, and how the history of this low-water mark will be written.
A distinct narrative has already emerged from various corners of the media and blogosphere: Trump’s victory was due to discontent with neoliberalism and the decades of economic neglect and exploitation of the white working class. And, of course, this makes sense and is undoubtedly a significant factor. However, is it entirely true? Was Trump’s path to the Oval Office truly paved by the precarious economic existence of millions of blue collar white Americans?
But in answering that question, we’re confronted with another, even more complex question: how is economic disaffection among White America actually expressed? And do those expressing that rage have any cognizance of the root causes of their socio-political outlook?
By examining the available data, it becomes clear that while seething anger from economic hardship brought on by neoliberalism may be an aspect underlying much of the core of Trumpism, it is not the dominant factor. Rather, Trump’s win should rightly be understood as the triumph of white identity politics. And the data supports this conclusion.
***A recent study conducted by researchers at the University of Massachusetts Amherst entitled Explaining White Polarization in the 2016 Vote for President: The Sobering Role of Racism and Sexism found that “while economic dissatisfaction was part of the story, racism and sexism were much more important and can explain about two-thirds of the education gap among whites in the 2016 presidential vote.” The analysis used data from a national survey conducted during the final week of October (just days before the election), and concluded that the negative effects of neoliberalism and the rule of Wall Street were not the single most important factor in the victory for Trump. Rather it was “whiteness” and misogyny which played a pivotal role.