Trump win reveals new white extremism in middle America: Saunders

Good long and sobering read by Doug Saunders on white extremism/radicalisation (exit poll data indicates that Trump did slightly better with minorities than Romney but still the white/minority divide is striking):

“You’d better watch yourself – I wouldn’t go anywhere near there,” she said. It was the source of fear, the inner-city “hell” of Donald Trump’s speeches. That Ybor City has become an upwardly mobile place has escaped notice. (It was also, not coincidentally, the site of peaceful anti-Trump protests this week.)

Her anxieties fall into one of the biggest mysteries of far-right support among white people: the phenomenon that has traditionally been called the “halo effect.”

By contrast, white people who live in areas where they’re immersed in longstanding populations of immigrants and minorities – that is, in big cities – don’t generally tend to vote for the politics of racial intolerance. That’s called the “contact effect” – you don’t get anxious about immigration if you live around immigrants. But people who live in mainly white areas that adjoin cities with greater diversity often show very high levels of support for people like Mr. Trump.

“The general consensus in the literature is that you get the strong anti-immigration sentiment when you have a relatively low local share of minorities and immigrants coupled with a high rate of change,” says Eric Kaufmann, a professor of politics at the University of London and author of The Rise and Fall of Anglo-America: The Decline of Dominant Ethnicity in the United States. “That is, if you live in a very white area but you’re close to an increasingly diverse area.”

Prof. Goodwin’s research suggests that it is instead white people in areas with sudden changes in immigration numbers who tend to become intolerant. But Prof. Kaufmann says this is an initial effect, after which they typically become more tolerant after a few years, when the contact effect has been able to kick in.

In other words, proximity is a bigger driver of extremism than is actual experience: It is not economic decline or immigration that cause people to become right-wing radicals, but proximity to those things, from a vantage of white security that feels threatened by the unknown.

…The propensity of white people to turn to radicalization does seem to be much more rooted in deep psychological anxieties than in anything material or economic.

“It all largely comes under the rubric of cultural and social identity motivations, and not personal economic circumstances – the notion of the ‘left behind’ voter is quite flawed in my mind,” says Prof. Kaufmann.

What is particularly surprising is that the personal circumstances of most Trump voters have improved during recent years: His movement is not a knee-jerk reaction to an actual economic setback (which would have been more the case in 2008 or 1980, when different sorts of U.S. politics prevailed). Rather, it is based on a deeper psychic sense of loss, one not so solidly moored in lived reality.

Carol Anderson, a historian at Atlanta’s Emory University who recently published the book-length study, White Rage: The Unspoken Truth of our Racial Divide, sees the turn toward Trumpian extremism as a psychological response among many white people not to any actual loss – the Trump voters are typically more well-off people, who have gained in recent years – but to a sense of relative loss of influence caused by the increasingly equal status of black and brown Americans.

“When you’re talking about the angst and anxiety and feeling of being stifled and that kind of despair, what I see is that, as African-Americans advance in this society in terms of gaining their citizenship rights, that there is a wave of what I’ve been calling ‘white rage,’ which are the movements within legislative bodies and within the judicial sector in terms of policies and laws and rulings that undercut that advancement,” Prof. Anderson said during a panel last month organized by the online publication, Politico.

“You know, if you’ve always been privileged, equality begins to look like oppression,” she said, in what may be the most definitive phrase to describe the crisis of white extremism. “That’s part of what you’re seeing in terms of the [white] pessimism, particularly when the system gets defined as a zero-sum game – that you can only gain at somebody else’s loss.”

Of course, the American experience has not been zero-sum: The inclusion of minorities and immigrant groups into the middle-class economy over the last five decades has not diminished living standards or earnings; they’re better than they were in the 1950s. Trade with Mexico and China did hurt employment in the 1990s, but it is not doing so today; the economic precariousness of the Rust Belt is caused by technological change, not by trade or immigrants.

But a psychology of wounded ethnic pride – and often of wounded virility – has overtaken a large part of the white community, and not generally the part that is actually feeling economic pain. If those of us worried about the extremists in our midst want to root them out and turn them around, we need to speak to this underlying sense of loss. It may not be rational or realistic, but it has become profound enough that it has provoked the most extreme and dangerous political event of the century.

Source: Trump win reveals new white extremism in middle America – The Globe and Mail

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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