I enjoyed Jamelle Bouie’s presentation and discussion at our first “Conversations for Change” and think that our Senior Minister, the Rev. Paige Getty, did an excellent job as host and moderator. However, I felt that the presentation wasn’t as illuminating as I had hoped, and I think that one reason might be that Bouie ended up not talking about his area of special knowledge — the D.C. beat, about which I’m sure he could have provided us with many keen insights and great anecdotes — but instead about the hearts and minds of Trump voters, a topic on which I surmise he has no special expertise. Bouie is a journalist, not a sociologist, and like most of his audience is an educated upper-middle-class Beltway-area denizen for whom Trump’s rise has been very hard to understand.
Bouie’s surmise that the rise of political racism played a key role in Trumps election may be confusing cause and effect. Almost 10% of US counties (298) went for Obama in 2008 and 2012 then flipped to Trump in 2016. Voters in these counties may be racist, but that can’t explain their voting behavior. A more common explanation is that a growing number of working-class white Americans want the government to provide them with more economic security than they have under the status quo; Trump voters heard a plausible promise to provide that security from Trump but not from his opponent.
Based on the questionable premise that Trump’s rise reflects racism rather than economic insecurity, Bouie suggested that overcoming Trumpism depends on right-thinking white people calling out the racism of their Trump-voting friends and relations. Indeed, we must always call out explicit racism, no question. But many Trump voters apparently believed that they were voting to have factories reopened and the ACA replaced with something better; I can’t imagine that accusing these voters of racism is an effective strategy for change.
In my view, Progressives must communicate a more persuasive case that progressive policies are the best route for economic security for everyone. I’d be interested learning how this could be done.
Conversations for change series:
These comments by UUCC member Karl Branting first appeared on UUCC’s private listserv. They were first published on this blog March 12 2017, and are being republished along with two responses that originally appeared as comments. UUCC values its diverse views and we wish to re-present these reactions to the important topic of racial justice as a tryptych.