Census projects that the US will become predominantly non-white around the year of 2045. What some people consider as a story of success, might be seen as a substantial sociocultural threat from others. And in this turn, is important in explaining how authoritarian politicians seize power. “Decades of cross-national empirical research” reveal that the weightiest variables for explaining surging authoritarian sentiment among the electorate are not economic grievances, but rather perceptions of sociocultural threat. In this article I want to shed light on why skin color mattered regarding Donald Trump’s election.
First of all, there is the question of who is actually white. The federal government of the US ascertains a person’s race and ethnicity during the census with two questions. The first question enquires if the specific person is of Hispanic origin, and the other the person’s race. One only counts as white if one is white and non-Hispanic. But the perception of race differences does not necessarily have to carry negative consequences.
There are a bunch of factors which can accentuate racial identities. A study from the University of California deals with this topic. “After controlling pre-college socialization and racial differences, results show that race identity was more salient among students that experience discrimination/bias, but also among students who had in-depth conversations outside of class on issues of racial/ethnic diversity […].” This follows the Social Identity Theory which consists of three mental processes: Social categorization, social identification, and social comparison. Social categorization can be explained as the process during which individuals group other individuals mainly based on sex, race, and age. Social identification is the second stage. It is the way of how individuals adopt the identity of the group of which they have themselves categorized as a member. This leads to the third stage, social comparison. After individuals have categorized themselves as part of a specific group and feel affiliation they start to compare: The in-group, the affiliated group, with the out-group, the others.
Chiefly, this doesn’t pose a societal problem. The sense of one’s own race is dormant as long as it is affiliated to a majority. The prospect of becoming a member of a minority can consequently make the race salient. And this again leads to the emergence of prejudices, because the minority retrieves itself in a competition.
This perception of racial competition, no matter if the competition is evident or not, can nudge people to more conservative attitudes and behavior. The concerning policies from which this can be seen do not necessarily have to be race-related. A study of Maria Abascal, which evaluates the impact of perceived Hispanic growth on attitudes and behavior, based on an original experiment revealed the following: “Whites in the baseline condition contribute comparable amounts to black and white recipients in a dictator game, whereas whites who first read about Hispanic growth contribute more to white recipients than to black ones. […] whites exposed to Hispanic growth identify relatively more strongly with their racial group than with their national group […].” Means that the growth of the Hispanic population causes anxiety among white people and drives them to reinforce their status needs.
To understand the election of Donald Trump, these findings prove to be revealing. His win was to an extend linked to white anxiety. Republicans with high scores concerning racial resentment were about 30 percentage points more likely to support Trump. It stands to reason that Trump wittingly served racial issues to win the elections.
The connection to the notion of democratic erosion is hereby that the described circumstances promote the rise of populists. Populists can exploit the situation because race affiliation seems extremely important in today’s politics even though task-oriented they are not. This gives populists, like Donald Trump, the chance to exploit the population’s anxiety. The narrative of “us versus them” is an example of how a populist can benefit from a situation like this. In such an environment, where contentual discussions do not matter as much, politicians can come up trumps without proving anything with evidence. The only thing that matters is to maintain the belief among the voters that they were being disadvantaged. Donald Trump credibly stated himself as a representant of the white losers of globalization and they ate him out of his hand. At the point when alarm bells were already ringing for others because of his authoritarian traits, he still enjoyed the unconditional backing of his supporters. Because they have seen in him their only chance to not become forgotten and overruled.
There has to be said that the reasons I mentioned in this post are not the only ones for Trump being elected as the president of the United States of America. Still, these mechanisms are important to understand the outcome of the election and especially the anti-democratic events which he provoked.
In a multiethnic country like the US, these circumstances can’t be desirable. However, it doesn’t look like that this conflict can be settled soon. White communities more and more tend to encapsulate themselves from the rest of the society. This makes the for a conciliation so important interracial exchange less likely. It is needless to say what this may signify for the US democracy.
Really interesting post, Dominic, thank you for sharing it. I had always previously thought that Trump’s economic policies – disregarding how much he effectively delivered on those economic promises – were a lot more of a determining factor in his election win than his much more under-spoken racial opinions. It’s incredibly interesting to see that these were actually statistically a huge factor in determining whether certain people threw their support at him or not. I think this is symptomatic of a larger trend growing through the west however – one that was also shown during Marine Le Pen’s run for presidency in France, where she was much more outspoken on keeping France as a more white country to prevent a similar thing from occuring. On this same page, it is interesting to see why this fear of becoming a minority group persists. While there is definitely a somewhat understandable (at least in my opinion) fear of becoming a minority in a place where you were long held the majority, there is definitely some interesting contradictions that appear when looking at the rhetoric of right wing pundits who fearmonger against this.
Many of them (but for the sake of maintaining the integrity of my argument, definitely not all) claim that the US does not discriminate at all anymore against minorities, yet at the same time fear becoming one themselves. Is this because they don’t actually believe that different ethnicities are treated equally in the country, and therefore fear facing similar oppression then? Because if all they say is true, then there should be no difference should whites become a minority in the United States. Either way, really interesting and thought provoking post.
I love this article and your perspective. You constructed a really convincing casual chain to explain how we got one of the least qualified candidates in the white house. A lot of people will not agree with you, but probably because they are threatened by what you have to say. That is a compliment.
I find it interesting how convincing the evidence is when Donald Trump did his best to appear to be a candidate for all races. He specifically made efforts to try to appeal to Hispanic Americans and Black Americans. This was successful to some degree, but mostly as a comeback for white voters accused of racism. In fact, I believe these campaigns were not to create any improvement in minority communities but were purely in response to the criticisms of racism he consistently got both before and during his campaigns. He knew that if he did not specifically make efforts to appeal to non-white Americans, he wouldn’t get any of their votes. It was a publicity campaign to put a bandaid over the extreme preference for whiteness in his voter base.
As much as white anxiety plays into the outcomes of these elections, it goes hand in hand with denial. Racism is rarely overt, and much more often covered up by superficial support and denial that race has anything to do with their decisions. This denial is why I said your article is controversial- because many of the people that it targets are likely the ones who would like to pretend that this does not apply to them. I really enjoyed this article and it would be interesting to see how these trends and causal chains that you identified evolve and play out in the future, especially as we move towards becoming a predominantly non-white country in 2045, as you say.
I really liked what you wrote! I think something that you could expand on more is the fact that race is simply a social construct. White is whatever we decide arbitrarily is white. Different ethnicities dictate what is and isn’t white, which makes its definition so slippery. Going off of that, I think it is also important to note that there is a difference between ethnicity and race, and I wonder how that might expand on what you found. I also wonder if you encountered any research on the topic of white genocide, the idea that there is a genocide being perpetrated against white culture in the form of increased social diversity. I think this ideology fits in well with your study, as it radicalizes the people you mention in the blog. I also think that leapfrog representation plays a part in what you found. This is a phenomenon that explains why someone from one side of the ideological spectrum will often be beaten by someone farther from center on the opposite side of the spectrum. I feel like this could be similar to the Obama-Trump presidencies. Though Trump did not beat Obama, the nation sent a figure like Trump to the white house after the first African American president in history. This kind of reactionary fits in well with what you found.
Hey Dominic, I always appreciate your insight as someone who was not born and raised in the United States. You truly have an unbiased point of view and it’s fun to read into. Yes, I agree that the victory of Trump was largely due to white anxiety caused by the recent decrease of the population’s percentage, yet I feel as if this anxiety was already there for people who were so willing to support Trump. When Trump became a candidate, it revealed a lot of true colors that shocked a lot of Americans. Trump was seeming to be this powerful businessman who was willing to swoop down from his tower in order to help the white middle class who now had a fear of no longer being the racial majority. It will always baffle me how it was believed that an elitist politician could sympathize with the middle class, but I guess that’s why populism is so dangerous. On a psychological level, I still struggle to understand the attachment to racial identity and why it seems so threatening to others when they may no longer be the majority. Change is inevitable, and with the amount of globalization that we are seeing today, racial identities are growing and changing rapidly. Maybe people just want to cling to any sort of identity as a way to seek comfort. Either way, it is dangerous to democracy to use the continuation of a race as a political goal, and it will be scary to watch Trump run for re-election in 2024. I feel as if many have learned from the mistake of having him in office from 2016-2020, but the 2016 results showed that one can never be sure.
Dominic, I really enjoyed reading your perspective on the 2016 election and understanding your breakdown of the associations between skin color and the electoral results. I think your perspective is valuable since you’re not US-born and offer a perspective we may not otherwise consider. In the case of the 2016 election, however, nearly every facet of the campaigns of both former-President Trump and former-Secretary Clinton was torn apart and scrutinized. I think in a lot of ways and for many people race certainly had a lot to do with the election. From personal interactions with far-right individuals, the election of Trump and Trump himself were seen as reversions to something lost in the transition to the modern age. Symbolically, I think Trump represented a promise to protect whites who had felt that their way of life was in jeopardy or felt they were being left behind from a globalizing international community. Whether or not this has any foundation is to be determined, regardless, the reality is that far-right extremists used Trump as a tool to vindicate and spread blatantly racist ideologies. I think a lot of this is founded in something else, another growing divide amongst Americans–class. Class divides, to me, seem to be the great underlying cause for a large number of contemporary societal problems in the country. I think during the election, a coalition of problems occurred to result in the election of Trump, and I don’t think growing socio-economic divides should be discounted. I’m curious how you think socioeconomics, race, and politics seem to relate from your point of view. Regardless, race has been a very touchy subject in the US and it doesn’t appear that there has been decreased polarization regarding the topic. If the country hopes to continue to be a successful democracy, Americans need to combat these issues head-on and encourage communication between people with different ideas.
Dominic, this was definitely an interesting post to read. My first instinct was exactly what Abbas mentioned. The right-wing rhetoric in the US hinges on the denial of systemic discrimination, outright labeling it a thing of the past. If we are all equal, what is the danger of becoming a minority? Isn’t the fact that we’re all Americans equally protected by law what we should be focusing on? This phenomenon highlights the blatant hypocrisy in the American right. Also, in response to what Abbas said about believing Trump’s success to be more related to his economic policy, I think it is worth recognizing that, due to the fact that a true left wing does not exist in the American environment means that, in the grand scheme of things, the two parties are remarkably close economically; however, the difference is the framing. It is impossible to separate Trump’s economic policy and his anti-immigrant, nazi-like rhetoric of the true Americans being economically harmed by immigrants. This is evidently demonstrated by America’s most-watched conservative, Tucker Carlson, outright asserting that the Democratic Party is intentionally importing immigrants in order to change the demographics of the nation to the detriment of “legacy Americans” (he doesn’t mean Native Americans). This rhetoric contributes to the narrative of protecting the American democratic process by enacting laws that constitute vote suppression in order to maintain the voting power of white Americans. The right is put into the mindset that they must protect themselves from the immoral “other” by any means necessary, which ultimately means a decline in forbearance and mutual toleration, and ultimately, to actions such as those that took place on January 6th of 2021. Those who participated were convinced by their power-hungry party leaders that it was not only a righteous cause, but an especially necessary one.