The Fear of the ‘Darkening’ of America Is Really a Fear of the Fall of White Privilege

Since the election of Donald Trump, two competing theories about the why's and how's of his victory have developed. One explanation says that Donald Trump won due to economic anxieties and his position on trade - particularly his dislike for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (T.P.P.). The other explanation says that Trump won due to xenophobia, misogyny and as The Nation shows, the fear of rising diversity in America.

While I believe both played a role, I think one explanation overpowers the other. After the election, I laid out five reasons why Progressives shouldn't freak out over the results. One explanation centered around the fact that Hillary Clinton beat Trump 52%-42% among people who said the economy was their biggest concern. She also dominated him by 11 points among the group of Americans who make less than $50,000/year. These are very important facts to point out if we're debating which explanation has more power over the other. It means Trump got the support from a lot of people who have money and also who don't think economic concerns are the biggest things they need to worry about.

In comes the research compiled by Jason McDaniel and Sean McElwee writing for The Nation about the rising fear of diversity. A trend that appears to also be taking place across parts of Europe. Before really delving into my interpretation of the data, here's what they found.

The researchers used recently released survey data and compared it past general elections. They analyzed voters who switched from Obama in 2012 to Trump in 2016, and compared them to those voters who did not support Trump in 2016 but voted for Romney in 2012. They were also able to understand how opinions about growing racial diversity in America influenced the election - specifically how it helped Trump gain more support than the previous two Republican candidates in 2008 and 2012.

 Chart showing the breakdown of positive and negative views of rising diversity
Chart showing the breakdown of positive and negative views of rising diversity

As the chart above shows, the more to the right a group is - the more negative they view rising diversity. Whereas the further to the Left one goes, the more positive their views of rising diversity in America. As you can see, Republicans, those with a high school diploma or less and Whites had the most negative views of rising diversity. One has to combine this data with other bits of research to form a larger picture of what's going on here. I wrote an article in May of 2016 about state violence apologizing and how different Whites and Blacks not only view police killings, but how the two groups even view protesting differently depending on who is doing it.

The chart also shows that Democrats, those with a college degree or more and Blacks were the most favorable to rising diversity. Just based on this data alone, one could make the argument that Blacks are the most tolerant ethnic group in the country, which shouldn't be surprising given the history of intolerance that the Black community has had to deal with since we've been here.

The data doesn't end there though...

 Support for Trump, McCain and Romney based on views on rising diversity
Support for Trump, McCain and Romney based on views on rising diversity

The chart above shows that probability of support for Trump increases sharply with negative views on rising diversity, and positive views towards diversity decrease the probability of voting for Trump. Interestingly, these attitudes have no significant effect on probability of voting for Romney or McCain. The researchers created a model that controls for age, race, education, income, gender, party identification, concern about rising immigration, racial resentment, and worries about personal finances. They also factored in voting models for Mitt Romney in 2012 and John McCain in 2008.

As you can see Trump voters (moreso than Romney and McCain voters) supported him more based on how negative their views were of rising diversity were. This means that people who voted for McCain and Romney didn't increase the strength of their support based on how negatively they viewed the darkening of America. This is because both McCain and Romney ran traditional establishment Republican campaigns. Neither used xenophobia as a campaign tactic, so there would be no reason to think white Americans driven by xenophobic views who gravitate towards them more than normal...but Donald Trump did. Trump inspired this sect of the electorate in ways the previous two candidates had not.

For more detail about their findings, click the link to the article above. The researchers did test for feelings with regards to trade policies and America having a rigged system and they found that neither could be used to predict Trump's support. They found that where income could be used to predict support for McCain and Romney, the same wasn't the case for Trump.

Fear of the Fall of White Privilege

One should ask themselves this question, why should people be afraid of different groups of Americans having a strong influence on American politics? Where is this perceived threat coming from? Part of it is the culmination of decades of right-wing propaganda that has fed into highly problematic, if not flat out racist, beliefs and concepts. Much of the right-wing propaganda went into overdrive during Barack Obama's eight years in office where people like Donald Trump fostered a racist conspiracy theory that Obama wasn't a "real American" and was born in Kenya.

Looking back, one can't downplay the role that "birtherism" played in the rise of Donald Trump. Even though everyone on the Left knows it's horse crap, enough people on the Right believed it (or at least heard it enough via right-wing sources) and it could explain the findings from The Nation.

The problem is deeper than that though and I believe gets into the reality that many in America don't view inclusion and diversity as a good thing. This is a historical reality of America that some have allowed themselves to believe is no longer a factor in how major decisions like who becomes President are made. While it doesn't mean everyone who views rising diversity as a threat are card-carrying white supremacists, one could theorize that these are the same Republicans who view state violence by law enforcement as isolated incidents and not as part of a trend. They're the same ones who have no problems with Americans in general protesting, but when it comes to black Americans in particular...a majority of them don't view protesting as a positive.

This view of diversity as a threat comes from generations of white Americans being led to believe that this was their country and it didn't have to be shared with non-Whites who were kept in a subservient status. All of that changed in the 60's and ever since then Conservatives have been slowly losing the culture war as diversity and multiculturalism have taken hold. Couple that with an ever decreasing number of white Baby Boomers and declining birth rates in the white community and you have the makings of a major nativist trend that may only be beginning.

Many have called this the last hurrah of white supremacy and it may well be. We don't know how long it will last though or how much damage will be done to American democracy as a result of this socio-political outburst. What is clear is that the divide is very real and solutions are small in number. 

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