Author: Robyn Pennacchia/The Frisky
A poll conducted by the Washington Post has found that 54% of Trump voters believe that white people are “losing out” to minorities.
When asked “Which of these do you think is a bigger problem in this country — blacks and Hispanics losing out because of preferences for whites, or whites losing out because of preferences for blacks and Hispanics?,” Trump voters were 12% more likely to say whites were losing out than Republican voters at large–though the fact that 42% of Republicans feel this way is also pretty telling.
The thing is? They’re not entirely wrong. I mean, they’re objectively wrong, given that we live in a society that privileges white skin–but they are losing at the game they’re trying to play.
For the past several decades the Left has wondered what causes “poor whites” to vote Republican against their own economic best interests. A large part of that has been the dog whistle promises from GOP politicians that the end result of their economic policies, which largely benefit the rich, would hurt minorities more than it hurt them. Republican strategist Lee Atwater said as much in a 1981 interview.
The point of these promises had almost nothing to do with economic power – in fact, it was more about social power. Most of those people weren’t necessarily sitting around going “Gee! I sure hope black people stay poor!,” they just didn’t want to be at the bottom of the barrel themselves. A capitalist society is arranged like a pyramid– someone always has to be at the bottom. The trade-off for economic policies that hurt them was the promise that they were still going to get to be better than someone. They’d feel like they were winning even if they weren’t.
While those economic policies did hurt minorities more, the GOP wasn’t able to keep the real promise of allowing them to maintain the amount of social power they wanted. In their minds, they see women, black people, immigrants and LGBT people progressing faster than they are (even while they’re still ahead), having the chutzpah to call them out on bigotry without fear of negative social reprisal, openly discussing things like privilege and in many ways gaining a control over the larger culture that they simply don’t have anymore.
The thing is–this trade-off didn’t work for them. Republican economic policies have had disastrous effects in states like Kansas and Louisiana. The wealth gap has only grown, and at this point it’s near-impossible for anyone without a college degree to get a job where they can support their families. As taxes on the rich have gone down and production has gone up, wages–particularly blue collar wages–have actually gone down. If the estate tax is eliminated, as the GOP hopes, our country will eventually be in the position where almost all our money is held by rich heirs who don’t ever have to work a day in their lives. If funding for education is stripped, as it was in Kansas and Louisiana, these people aren’t going to have the opportunity to provide a way for their kids to succeed.
In the meantime, we have a Black president, same-sex couples can get married, and, for all intents and purposes, they’ve lost the culture war. They have neither the economic security the Left would have provided, nor the social power the Right promised them. It’s no wonder they now feel like they’re losing even when they’re not.
The kind of white people who feel as though white people are “losing out” are those that see things as a zero sum game, and the progress of other groups as a net loss for themselves. If someone else is winning, that means they must be losing, and the only way for them to win is for someone else to lose. Thus, instead of trying to climb up the ladder themselves and pry power from those at the top, instead of demanding better wages and better schools and things that would actually improve their lives, they spend all their time on the second-to-last rung desperately kicking at anyone coming up behind them, just for the small, sad privilege of getting to say “Well, I may not have a pot to piss in, but at least I’m not ____.”
If a Mexican immigrant gets a job somewhere, they see it as a loss for themselves regardless of whether they wanted that particular job or not. They see same-sex marriage as a loss for themselves, because it means that their marriages aren’t “special” anymore. They’re mad at Black Lives Matter for saying that black lives matter in regards to the tendency of police killing unarmed black people, because all they can hear is “and that means YOUR life doesn’t.” They’re mad at store clerks saying “Happy Holidays” because they want to feel like their religion is the most important religion. They’re mad at women and minorities arguing for equal pay, because that insinuates that they didn’t earn their higher paycheck on their own merit. Now, as they see the culture at large encouraging women and minorities, and talking about unearned privileges, they’re lashing out at everything in sight.
Then in comes Donald Trump, promising again – this time far more directly – to give them back the world that they see slipping through their fingers. He feeds their egos. He tells them how important they are, how special they are, how much he loves them, and how he’s gonna give them back their country and the world they believe they were were promised.
Is he going to be able to do that? No. Polls show he has almost no chance of winning the general election. But, even if he did, it’s unlikely that he would be able to restore the social hierarchy to their liking, since most of the things they’re most upset about have nothing to do with anything the President actually has any power over. Even if he wanted to, the President could not issue an executive order making it socially acceptable for white people to use racial slurs, or illegal for anyone to not like what they have to say.
By continuing to see the progress of other groups as a net loss for them, these “angry white voters” are always going to feel like they’re losing–but that’s not anyone’s fault but their own.
Robyn Pennachia is a writer for The Frisky. Follow her on Twitter @robynelyse.