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Thursday, January 27, 2022

Smith: The root of the problem

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Left-leaning pundits frequently argue that today’s GOP is the party of white grievance and that Donald Trump is the personification thereof. While this view is becoming more common even among right-leaning commentators, many Republicans still vociferously reject the characterization. However, a recent survey found that, based on the views that Republicans themselves hold, the allegation is on target.

According to the study, 84% of those who voted for Donald Trump say that they either “strongly agree” or “somewhat agree” that discrimination against white Americans will increase over the next few years. Just 38% of the respondents who voted for Biden share that view. The survey was sponsored by the University of Virginia and Project Home Fire, a UVA initiative that examines the differences between people who voted for Donald Trump as compared to those who voted for Joe Biden.

In short, the vast majority of those who voted for Trump are concerned that white people are losing their historical social, political and economic status. This is why, for example, Tucker Carlson repeatedly highlights “white replacement theory” on his eponymous show. Even more to the point, this is the express concern of the tiki torch-bearing white nationalists who goosestepped in Charlottesville. Am I being hyperbolic? Not at all. Any differences that these various groups have are merely in degree, not in kind. The views that neo-Nazis espouse are the logical outcome of Trump’s proto-fascist tendencies.

Of course, the respondents have substantially different views regarding discrimination against people of color. Eighty-seven percent of those who voted for Biden believe that white people have advantages as compared to people of color; just 38% of Trump voters have that view. Moreover, 91% of Biden voters believe that systemic racism is a problem, while only 45% of Trump voters agree. The study concludes that “American racial and ethnic politics have reached their breaking point.”

The UVA study’s findings are consistent with another recent study that was sponsored by Brigham Young University and Deseret News (a Utah newspaper). It should come as no surprise that, according to this study, Americans of different racial groups have highly divergent perceptions regarding the challenges that people of color face. Slightly more than half of white Americans agreed with the statement “Black families face obstacles that white families do not.” Nearly half believe that Hispanic and Asian families have similar challenges. Not surprisingly, Americans who are Black or Hispanic are even more likely to agree with those statements than are white Americans.

Interestingly, the BYU survey revealed something that might give most people pause. Specifically, one’s party affiliation is a better predictor of how one feels about race than one’s own race. In other words, the difference in views about racial discrimination between white Democrats and white Republicans is greater than the difference between Americans of different races.

For example, 88% of white Democrats agree with the view that Black families face obstacles that white families don’t. This is compared to just 24% of white Republicans who feel that way. Even discussions about race that white Americans have at home differ substantially by party affiliation. While nearly 70% of white Democrats report talking about policing and racial discrimination with their families, only 21% of white Republicans report doing so.

This brings me to the as-yet-unannounced Trump 2024 presidential run. (It’s clear that’s what he’s planning to do.) His obsession with repeating the “Big Lie” about the 2020 election is intimately related to the racial anxiety that most of his supporters feel. While there certainly are other factors at play regarding his popularity among Republicans, such anxiety is at its root. The short-term result is the fact that Republican legislatures across the country are rewriting voting laws that are designed to curtail Black voters’ access to the polls.

It is crucial that all people of goodwill — all people who love democracy — take a stand. The future of our nation depends on it.

Larry Smith is a community leader. Contact him at larry@leaf-llc.com.

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