For a year or more, we’ve been reminded about all the angry white people out there, men mostly. These were guys who lacked education and felt deeply aggrieved because they saw themselves as ignored by elected leaders and victims of the global economy.
More than that, they were told for years through clever Republican messaging that their “traditional” way of life, such as their Second Amendment right to firearms, was under attack.
But this has been going on much longer than just Donald Trump’s campaign.
It has been simmering within Wisconsin for years, which Kathy Cramer, a University of Wisconsin-Madison political scientist, discovered. She described the so-called politics of resentment and used the phrase as a book title after wandering the hinterlands of Wisconsin, talking mostly to white guys in restaurants and gas stations, men who somehow felt perpetually angry and persecuted.
As Trump did on Tuesday, Scott Walker tapped into that anger, in Walker’s case to win three elections for Wisconsin governor by specifically demonizing public educators and more generally the educated elite and non-white residents of the state.
Trump, eschewing Walker’s subtlety, demonized and ridiculed virtually everyone who was not a white male. That clearly worked far better than anyone could have imagined.
Now, I guess, it is our turn. It is time for people who occupy the educated political left and center in this country to be angry … and afraid.
Oh, in coming days, we will probably hear from the chorus of thought leaders saying that now more than ever we need to move beyond the hyper-partisanship that has been so awful in recent years.
We need to better understand these low-education white Trump voters and start to better position Democratic candidates to speak to their issues and concerns.
Speak to what?
Speak to their racism, their sexism or their selfishness? You tell me.
What just happened is simply a victory for those who want back into a 1960 America, an America I recall as a young child as a place where African-Americans and Latinos — and women for that matter — knew their place.
White men, even those without educations, were in charge and there were few distractions around topics such as civil rights and feminism.
You know, when America was great.
Far from the post-racial America so many of us had hoped Barack Obama would shepherd in, the past eight years have apparently been profoundly, relentlessly upsetting to much of white, non-urban America.
This intellectual black dude with the exotic name was a lifetime hero for people of color — as well as many others of us — but he apparently represented a political malignancy to others. I recall a New York Times map of how Obama struggled in the south versus a previous Democratic candidate, John Kerry. Obama’s race, not his ideology, was the sole plausible explanation.
This has happened even though Obama has governed effectively as a center-left pragmatist who has been exceedingly careful with military action, certainly compared to the irresponsible cowboy George W. Bush.
And yet, many who elected Trump Tuesday would talk about how Obama is weak or untrustworthy. An important but unstated variable was that he was born black.
Seething as they have been, they were able to take that pent-up racial/gender animus out on Hillary Clinton, who had the disadvantage of running for the White House while female.
It really wasn’t the emails or the Clinton Foundation. It didn’t matter how much of her life she had spent working for children and families. I believe there is a large segment of white, working-class voters who are simply against blacks and women who seek positions of power, whether they tell pollsters or not.
What so amazes me about this white, non-urban, low-education voter is that he or she —mostly he — has long complained about how African-Americans have failed compared with other ethnic groups to pull themselves up by their bootstraps.
If that is the case, why haven’t these presumably under-employed white guys modeled that up-by-the-bootstraps behavior themselves instead of always griping and blaming government?
You can imagine how it bothers them when a woman becomes the family doctor or lawyer, or if their child’s teacher has decent health benefits. It must make them feel less masculine, less in charge. Suddenly, Donald Trump’s outlandish promises sound plausible.
One irony is that Obama has been criticized as being too careful about using our military and shedding American blood abroad. Now you will have an unhinged president who may well shed plenty. And those sacrifices would most likely disproportionately fall on the rural households that have just backed Trump.
In sum, please don’t come to me and say, in order to move ahead, we have to listen to egocentric, racist and misogynistic white men who formed the most-motivated core of Trump’s support.
Now, about fear. Trump is genuinely scary. Even traditional mainstream Republicans could see that as global markets initially plummeted after the election amid fear of an unstable and undependable superpower. Again ironically, some of those Republicans actually financed the negative political advertising that helped create the Trump campaign brand and may have hurt themselves financially.
I wonder if some of these educated conservatives now regret being part of a 40-year crusade to exploit for political gain our racial, gender and other social divides, appealing to the darkest, most sinister self-interests of white voters.
That is precisely what they did, so now we will sit back and watch the unfolding instability of the economy and international affairs.
There’s no mincing words here: This election result is the darkest of my lifetime. The one bright spot in an otherwise dark period is that Madison remains a distinctive place, a city with social challenges but filled with educated, caring, giving and thoughtful people who form a truly positive community. We can continue to have our community operate in that bubble, I suppose.
During his hellish campaign, Trump asked African-Americans what they “had to lose” if he were elected.
Blacks — and the rest of us — are about to find out.