If you assume some factor is behind everything, it is very easy to find it everywhere you look–you just project it onto phenomena. Marxists assumed everything was driven by class dynamics and–surprise, surprise—they found it everywhere they looked. As a friend of mine said to me years ago; Marxist academics didn’t look for evidence, they looked for footnotes.
As the modernist left has been overtaken by postmodern identity progressivism–folk who have drunk the “post-Enlightenment” Kool Aid, which turns out to be just the Counter-Enlightenment rebooted–so has risen the pattern of assuming malicious group projection (racism, misogyny, homophobia, Islamophobia, transphobia, etc) is behind everything and—surprise, surprise—they find it everywhere they look.
According to exit polls, The Donald in 2016 won slightly less of the white vote than Mitt Romney in 2008, and more of the African-American and Hispanic vote (though there is some dispute about the scale of the latter shift). In terms of actual votes, the 2016 Presidential was less ethno-racially polarised than the 2012 election and was less ethno-racially polarised primarily because of net shifts in non-white votes away from the Democrat ticket. (Mainly because a lot of non-white voters did not vote.)
If the actual vote was less ethno-racially polarised in 2016 than 2012, what would account for the shift? Economics: The Donald explicitly pushed economic issues as his great differentiator from Hillary Clinton. Which clearly worked: in scores of counties, working class voters who had voted twice for Obama (in 2008 and 2012) shifted massively to The Donald.
Immigration does not provide universal gain
Yes, The Donald talked about immigration, but immigration is, for working class voters, primarily an economic issue and always has been. It is economic competition which is their primary fear from immigration; that fear has often, historically, been framed in group terms (ethnic, linguistic, racial, religious, whatever marker most easily has distinguished newcomers from the residents), with rhetoric to match, but was and is primarily driven by concern for their incomes and livelihoods. The resident working class is, after all, the group economically most vulnerable to immigration.
Nor, despite folk wielding somewhat tendentious economic studies to the contrary, is this fear irrational. Yes, a larger population means more economic activity and Smithian growth from larger markets. But the benefits from such growth go primarily to the migrants (who get access to better institutions than where they came from) and holders of capital (who get an increased scarcity premium relative to labour). It is very easy for the resident working class to be net losers from migration (unless migration policy takes considerable care that they are not) and being net losers is what both elementary economic theory, and the evidence, suggests has happened to much of the resident working class in the US.
The Rogowski political economy of trade [pdf] is very simple–plentiful factors of production want free trade because they want access to larger markets, scarce factors of production want trade protection because they want to preserve their domestic scarcity premium. If a country is importing that factor of production, or its products (given you cannot import land), then that factor of production is domestically scarce. Immigration is, in these terms, trade that moves in (so with a much wider range of effects, of costs and benefits).
Folk who work in the public sector, or are welfare dependant, or work in a non-traded sector (such as most professional folk) tend to be pro free trade, as it gives them access to cheaper goods. People who work in the public sector also tend to be pro immigration, as it broadens their career opportunities. Similarly with professional folk, as long as (1) migrants are not likely to compete with them: which, particularly given the long term trend to increased occupational licensing in the US, is generally true, or (2) they already work in a global market (as do most academics, entertainment, IT and media folk). For the welfare dependant, it depends on whether the migrants are seen as tax-cash-cows and/or potential pro-welfare voters (pro-migration factors) or competitors for scarce welfare resources (anti-migration factors).
More broadly, if migration is seen as directing scarce policy attention and public goods to your area, it is likely to seen as a positive; if it is seen as directing scarce policy attention and public goods away from your area, it is likely to be seen as negative. (Hence, for example, areas in England with relatively few migrants voting for leaving the EU.) On these grounds alone, migration is likely to be seen as a positive in big city US and as a negative in rural and small town US.
If you work in an industry which exports, then you have an interest in free trade (or at least in access to foreign markets). But, if you are a worker in such an industry, you do not have the same interest in immigration if the migrants are going to compete with you.
Given that the US imports labour, labour is domestically scarce. Hence workers tend to be protectionist and, even more, sceptical about immigration. This is not stupid, ignorant or racist of them: it is rational economic self-interest. Indeed, if you bar any opposition to, or concerns about, immigration as xenophobic, racist, etc, you are basically demanding that workers not be concerned about their interests and the interests of their family. (There is also good reason to think much of the benefits of expanded trade have gone to others.)
Given a choice between a candidate who tells the world that anyone with such concerns is a “deplorable” and a candidate who tells them that their concerns are legitimate and justified, who are they going to vote for? The answer is obvious: and, indeed, it is now electorally obvious.
It wasn’t racism that drove working class voters to The Donald, especially not the same working class voters who had voted for Obama twice: it was the Democrat’s embrace of the religion of anti-racism which drove them away from Hillary. Indeed, there were hints that the North-Western “Rust Belt” working class was shifting even before The Donald was a surreal possibility. The Donald simply capitalised on the market opportunity that the Democrats systematically handed to him; a market opportunity that Democrat progressivism has been progressively handing to Republicans for decades, but The Donald exploited much more precisely. (Apparently helped by a slick data operation.)
If the economics of immigration are conceived in terms of the winners being the migrants and the holders of capital (with the more capital, the bigger winner you are) and the losers being resident workers and those dependent on them, then the 2016 political alignment makes perfect sense–migrant groups, public sector folk, the welfare dependent, professionals and the wealthy voted for Hillary (Orange County voted Democrat for the first time since FDR); the working class and local business folk voted for The Donald. Especially given that low economic growth since 2008 provided less growth-goodies to offer and flat median income and wage growth since the 1970s says that many households have not been getting such goodies even when there was lots of growth. No racism is required as an explanation: on the contrary, that the electorate was less ethno-racially polarised than in 2012 makes perfect sense.
Really, it’s the economy, stupid. (And it is a rich irony that it was a Clinton campaign who got that so wrong–though not, apparently, Bill himself: but he always was a much better politician than his wife.) Hence the better performance of standard economic and political science models than poll-dependent ones in predicting the result. (With a political scientist who has published an excellent study of the American right being a particularly good predictor.)
Even better, the above analysis not only explains the election result, it also explains why The Donald won the Republican primaries. There really was a swathe of Republican voters who were (1) refugees from pro-immigration, identity-group Democratic politics that (2) conventional movement conservatism was not connecting to and that The Donald did. His politics may not have been movement conservative, but they actually harked back to a time when the Northern working class voted Republican, then the Party of protection.
Illegal immigration and ostentatious political powerlessness
All this without considering the constant progressivist rhetorical conflation of attitudes to immigration in general with attitudes to illegal immigration specifically. For most people, the vote is their only political lever. If laws are not being upheld, then they have no lever. Extolling illegal immigration is explicitly rubbing their face in their powerlessness. Of course they are going to react negatively. Sanctuary cities may play well as virtue signalling, but it also shouts to American voters how much say they are not having. (The disjunct between folk who apparently think every economic or other problem has a regulatory solution, yet shout their intention to subvert laws they don’t like, is also not exactly endearing.) Polling suggests American voters are strongly against illegal immigration (and are not keen on sanctuary cities either).
Consider The Donald’s infamous rant when announcing his candidacy that:
When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.
Let’s start with the obvious: he did not say that Mexicans were rapists. The message he was conveying, in typical The Donald rhetoric, was simple: a process that American voters have no control over is (1) one that they have no control over, (2) is not one that is likely to operate in their interests and (3) has obvious problems about who gets in.
By constantly insisting on the “racism! racism!” framing, not only was the mainstream media studiously missing the actual message, and feeding “the lying media” theme, they were also constantly broadcasting the negative association with illegal migrants, an association that got an automatic boost anytime any migrant did something criminal or otherwise problematic. They thought they were demolishing The Donald by pointing out his awful sinfulness; in fact, The Donald was playing them, and playing them all the way to the Presidency.
Meanwhile, in projection realm
If we move away from the electoral facts, and the sectoral economics of free trade and immigration, and to the devotees of the religion of anti-racism (not un-coincidentally, also those who work in the global markets of academe, IT, entertainment and the media) we see folk over-run with self-interested projection.Self-interested in that what they project onto others serves their economic (and status) interests. Projection, in that they insist on seeing an election marked by lowered ethno-racial polarisation in voting in ethno-racial terms: as “white won” or “the end of the postracial myth“. (What on earth is “post racial” about politics explicitly based on putting together a rainbow coalition of ethnic, racial and other identities?)
But projection that is also utterly hypocritical in ethno-racial terms. If African-Americans overwhelming vote as a racial bloc, that’s just great. If Hispanics strongly vote in a particular direction, that’s fine too. But if white folk vote much less tribally, that’s clearly a result of evil racism. This is projection that is way, way into self-delusion. They are not only not listening to other folk, they aren’t listening to themselves.
Here is a basic fact of identity politics: identity politics requires counter-identities, folk that you are being protected from. People who then become repositories of blame to hold your identity coalition together. Everything bad becomes the fault of the bad folk: more specifically in the American context, bad white folk. (How you identify bad white folk? They are the ones who wilfully refuse to see how much of the bad things that happen are the fault of bad white folk.)
Being repositories of blame makes it very hard for such folk to vote for you: they will obviously seek a different framing of political issues. This is what the Republicans have provided somewhat for decades, but The Donald provided in much more targeted fashion.
But, in the self-serving, self-reflecting world of identity-projection politics, rejecting your framing, the framing of Good Folk Who Understand And Care, can only be understood in the same way all disagreement outside the framing is understood; as the malicious group projection (racism, misogyny, homophobia, Islamophobia, transphobia, etc) which is behind everything that doesn’t turn out “right”. No other framing of politics is to be accepted and any move to change the framing is, by definition, motivated by evil, malicious projection. The pattern is completely self-referential: so self-referential, no other perspective is allowed in.
Hence the hugely overblown claims about the Republican’s Southern Strategy, based on the deeply stupid idea that Southern whites were going to remain unrepresented, and completely failing to notice that the Republican Party changed the framing of Southern politics. Since, of course, not following the framing insisted on by postmodern identity progressivism is, itself, evil.
If you think this is an implicitly totalitarian mentality, you would be right. A mentality that is increasingly replicating within “mainstream” Western media and public discourse the so-easily-mocked disconnect between reality and public approved thinking that marked Soviet bloc countries.
The disconnect being particularly strong when dramatic events that cried out for different framings–such as jihadi attacks, or serious criminal activity–nevertheless had the identity-projection framing imposed on them. The arrogant, tone-deaf cognitive insularity involved alienates anyone not committed to said framing while providing a wonderful opportunity for political and ideological opponents.
Part of the problem has been the growth of knowledge elite or eduction gap politics: if knowledge is simply expertise, then folk can apply their various values and get various results. If, however, knowledge becomes confused with moral wisdom, so that “the consensus of my educated social milieu” is confused with “the good”, then serious moral or political disagreement (particularly views not represented in said educated, and so knowledge-defined, social milieu) becomes illegitimate. With the malice-projections of identity politics being the currently preferred device for asserting such “moral wisdom” and the illegitimacy of disagreement. (See this screed for belittling rage at cognitive difference–that is, belittling rage at others about differences that are so much less consequential than implied.)
The Alt Right distraction
With enough intensity, prosecuting identity politics does encourage the development of counter-identities–what the Alt Right is essentially doing. But that was far from the focus of The Donald’s campaign.
Indeed, apart from means of doing end-runs around a hostile media (developed particularly during Gamergate), whose main electoral significance was to encourage working class voters in the industrial North-West in their increasing confidence that The Donald would not be media-bullied into not talking about the issues they cared about, there is precious little evidence of the Alt Right having much other significance of the election result. That the only prominent alleged Alt Right figure in The Donald’s inner circle is Steve Bannon, online media CEO, then makes sense–media mechanics are where any Alt Right influence mattered, not substantive electoral politics. Especially given the electoral results were, in fact, less electorally ethno-racially polarised than in the previous Presidential election.
If one Party seeks to be the Party of Minorities and Migrants (the Democrats) then, in a dynamic two-Party system, the other Party will be the Party of not-such-groups (the Republicans). Since minorities and migrants are overwhelmingly concentrated in the major cities, that makes their rivals the party of rural and small town America; with the suburbs as contested terrain. Which also makes the latter the intact-family Party and the stable-social-expectations Party.
Oh look, the current dynamics of American two-Party politics–including the pattern of increasing division into one-Party jurisdictions— explained without any reference to racism, misogyny, homophobia, transphobia, Islamophobia, etc.
This is particularly important with regard to racism because, when one looks for hard evidence of actual racism (not things framed as racism, parsed as racism, or re-characterised as racism) but actual serious differential treatment on the basis of race, in American society, the evidence is just not there, except as a marginal phenomenon.
Thus, to take two prominent examples, race has little effect on income corrected for productivity or on incarceration rates corrected for law-breaking. Even black-white dynamics in the US can be overwhelmingly explained by the social implications of two factors: (1) the much higher homicide and crime rate of African-Americans and (2) their significantly lower average IQ [pdf] (and all the myriad social outcomes IQ is correlated with, particularly group outcomes).
The most self-serving politics in the US are not epitomised by the Republican Party, but by urban, global market (and therefore globalist) postmodern identity progressivists who refuse to see people as they are and insist on framing issues, events and people in ways that serve their own status and economic interests while keeping themselves utterly trapped in a shared, narcissistic bubble of self-regard. A very attractive narcissistic bubble that has come to dominate the industries which are supposed to reflect a society back to itself, and which so fail to do so; indeed, fail spectacularly badly to do so.
With, in the case of the mainstream media, the lack of standing to match; indeed their public regard is clearly falling. This is hardly surprising, given the contempt with which they so often regard most of their fellow citizens–a point which applies especially to the stunning low levels of confidence by Republican voters in the mainstream media. (And confidence in the media among independent voters is hardly impressive either.)
The result of the progressivist bubble realm’s collective narcissistic self-regard, their self-serving failure to do the most basic tasks of what they are supposed to be about, what they are allegedly trained and paid to be about, has been the elevation to the US Presidency of a billionaire demagogue with a postmodern media persona. A result of an interlocking pattern of official progressivist politics (the Democrats), progressivist media and the de-stabilising of the Republican establishment. (Unsurprisingly, Brexit had somewhat similar dynamics.)
But, with few exceptions (apparently The Hollywood Reporter is a good place to go for media self-reflection), those in the projection realm have and will, blame their fellow citizens, completely blind to the depths of their own self-delusion, and their moral and intellectual failure. Because it is all about The Good People Who Care And Understand, and if you don’t get that, you are racist, homophobic, misogynist, Islamophobic, transphobic and fill-in-the-blank hateful.
[Cross-posted from Thinking Out Aloud.]