We need to prove that government can work for all Americans, despite racial and ideological divides. Kathleen Odell Korgen, editor of Race policy and multiracial Americans, looks at why we must listen to Trump supporters.
“As the news of sexual harassment charges… emerged last week, many conservatives blasted the accusations as anonymous sniping against [the] Republican contender and blamed the ‘liberal media’.” Washington Post
“Many white conservatives continue to embrace [him] — even in the face of recent sexual harassment allegations — while black voters steer clear.” NPR.org
These quotes may sound familiar but they are not about Donald Trump. They refer to Herman Cain, the wealthy businessman who, at one point in the 2012 election, was the leading candidate in the Republican party’s presidential primary.
Cain, a Black man, was attractive to many White voters because of the combination of his own race and his views on poor Black people. As Jack E. White put it in 2011, “Cain tells [conservative White voters] what they want to hear about blacks, and in turn, they embrace him and say, ‘See? That proves we’re not racist'”.
Today, many of those same White conservative Cain voters are rallying around Trump—but they have no easy way to appear non-racist. They still resist the “racist” label, however. Despite widespread evidence of persistent racial discrimination in housing (and Trump’s own record in this area), employment, medical care, and policing, they, in fact, see themselves as victims of a government tilted in favor of a rapidly growing population of color.
“Whites without college degrees feel both socially and economically left behind.”
The U.S. has become more diverse than ever before and Whites without college degrees feel both socially and economically left behind. Trump voters yearn for the days when they were higher in the social and economic hierarchy than almost all people of color—the time before the Civil Rights movement and affirmative action programs, when government supported, rather than tried to dismantle, the racial hierarchy; and a way of life without deindustrialization, globalization, and the EPA.
This perception is not baseless—our government has failed to protect them, and many other Americans, from the negative repercussions of globalization and economic and environmental destruction by large corporations. Mirrored across the Atlantic, this sense of powerlessness, accompanied by growing racial and ethnic diversity, has also been seen as a cause of the recent UK Referendum vote to leave the European Union.
While the life expectancy of Black and Hispanic Americans has risen since 1999, the life chances and life expectancy of Trump supporters have fallen. Trump (and Cain) backers have been on the losing end of the growing inequality gap in the U.S. And whom do they blame? The government and people of color.
“We must show them that our government can work for all Americans”
As we revise existing policies and create new ones to deal with growing inequality and changing demographics in the U.S., we must keep in mind the perspective of Trump and Cain supporters. We must show them that our government can work for all Americans. In an era in which many people believe Donald Trump and disregard the findings of climate scientists, this will require more than displaying facts. It will entail listening to their stories, acknowledging their fears, and finding common ground—across racial and ideological divides.
Only then can we begin to work together to hold government leaders to their obligations to protect and serve the people. Lax regulation led to the financial crisis, the Great Recession, and dramatic increases in inequality. Our governmental institutions must now tackle what they helped create.
Instead of dividing ourselves by race, we must work across racial lines to make sure that elected officials work for all Americans—of all races.
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