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.