White. Angst. Tr-mp.

If there has been one consistent theme running through this blog for the past nine years, it is this one: the domestic political obstacles President Obama faced while in office and the rise of the still-destructive Tea Party and the subsequent emergence of a corrupt cartoonish racist named Tr-mp are all importantly connected to what I have frequently called “white angst.”

As I use the term, white angst is in some cases merely a worry that something bad is happening to white dominance of the culture. In other cases it is a deep-rooted fear that something bad is happening to that dominance. But in all cases white angst is a foreboding, a concern that something bad is, if it hasn’t already, going to happen if white people don’t put a stop to it while there is still time. I have consistently posited this race-based phenomenon as a significant factor (along with pure partisanship) in the dreadful reaction against Obama, first as a viable presidential candidate, and then as our first African-American chief executive trying to combat a soul-crushing recession, a dangerous economic moment in our country that surely helped him overcome the electoral challenges in our race-troubled history.

Economic anxieties created by the Great Recession in 2008 temporarily put to sleep some of the racial anxieties of white folks. The voter turnout rate for whites that election year fell from 67.2% to 66.1%, while all minority groups increased their turnout rates. And Obama received 43% of the white vote that year. But the Tea Party movement, pregnant with white angst after the election of a black man, raised its ugly reactionary head early in 2009, just after Obama took office. Here in Joplin I attended three tax-day Tea Party events in three successive Aprils. I could hear the worry and fear in the speeches and in the conversations I had with some of the folks who were there. The pretense was that the worry and fear were rooted in economics, mostly about government debt and deficits and the future of “our kids and grandkids.”

But you may have noticed that there were no Tea Party events on any of the eight April tax days during the George W. Bush administration, despite the profligate war spending and tax cuts—and the doubling of the national debt that resulted. And you may have noticed that there were no Tea Party events on tax day this April, despite the news that annual deficits and long-term debt are skyrocketing, much of it due to the lingering effects of past tax cuts and new effects from cuts that Republicans handed out to their wealthy donors and corporations at the end of last year. No, there were no Tea Party events here in Joplin or elsewhere. Just silence from previously worried white teapartiers, a silence that provides some evidence for my past claims of racial angst and its effects on the white electorate. (Some other evidence: Obama received only 39% of the white vote in 2012, after that 43% showing in 2008. And the racist-birther Tr-mp beat Hillary with the white vote 58%-37%.)

Well, well. Now there is much more science behind my ongoing claim, a claim that was challenged by conservatives early on in the life of this blog. From The New York Times:

Ever since Donald J. Trump began his improbable political rise, many pundits have credited his appeal among white, Christian and male voters to “economic anxiety.” Hobbled by unemployment and locked out of the recovery, those voters turned out in force to send Mr. Trump, and a message, to Washington.

Or so that narrative goes.

A study published on Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences questions that explanation, the latest to suggest that Trump voters weren’t driven by anger over the past, but rather fear of what may come. White, Christian and male voters, the study suggests, turned to Mr. Trump because they felt their status was at risk.

“It’s much more of a symbolic threat that people feel,’’ said Diana C. Mutz, the author of the study and a political science and communications professor at the University of Pennsylvania, where she directs the Institute for the Study of Citizens and Politics. “It’s not a threat to their own economic well-being; it’s a threat to their group’s dominance in our country over all.”

The study is not the first to cast doubt on the prevailing economic anxiety theory. Last year, a Public Religion Research Institute survey of more than 3,000 people also found that Mr. Trump’s appeal could better be explained by a fear of cultural displacement.

You can read the entire article if you want (“Trump Voters Driven by Fear of Losing Status, Not Economic Anxiety, Study Finds”), or you can follow-up on the study it was based on (“Status threat, not economic hardship, explains the 2016 presidential vote”), or you can see a study referenced in the article (“Beyond Economics: Fears of Cultural Displacement Pushed the White Working Class to Trump”).  There are other studies that offer similar evidence. With this post, I just wanted to defend myself from attacks long ago.

_____________________________

NOTE for NERDS:

Perhaps I should make something clear about the study that formed the basis for the latest Times article. The problem isn’t just with what the National Academy of Sciences study called “group status” threats related to white people’s perceptions. There is also the group status threat of globalism, “the increasing interdependence of the United States on other countries” and the idea that “Americans increasingly feel that they are not getting their fair share.” Regarding the former, the threat is to white dominance within our country. Regarding the latter, the threat is to American dominance in the larger world. But the study makes some points we shouldn’t miss, so I will quote it at length for those of you who like to get into the weeds a little bit:

Racial status threat and global status threat are technically separable, but they are difficult to distinguish in practice. Because white male Christians are seen as most prototypically “American” (31), they have the most to lose psychologically if they perceive America and/or whites to be no longer dominant. Given that the 2016 election featured discussions of perceived threats from religious minorities, racial minorities, and foreigners, this generalized sense of threat is likely to have spilled over into multiple arenas. For white Americans, the political consequences of racial and global status threat seem to point in similar directions with respect to issue positions: opposition to immigration, rejection of international trade relationships, and perceptions of China as a threat to American wellbeing.

For two of these three issues—trade and China—trends in public opinion clearly support the thesis of increased threat between 2012 and 2016 (3233). For immigration, however, multiple sources instead suggest increasingly supportive attitudes among Republicans and Democrats alike (34). Likewise, to the extent that immigration is perceived as threatening by Americans, scholars find that it is due to the increased economic burden Americans believe immigrants place on the social welfare system rather than a threat to white status (35). Nonetheless, it remains possible that the heightened salience of immigration contributed to Trump’s victory without increasing actual opposition to immigration, consistent with previous findings attributing preference changes to the increased salience of immigration (3).

How plausible is status threat—whether from a sense of declining racial or global status—as an explanation for changes in voting behavior in 2016? With respect to global status threat, the received wisdom from decades of research has long been that “voting ends at water’s edge.” In other words, outside of foreign wars, international affairs are assumed to have little if any electoral importance (36). However, economic globalization has gained prominence in recent years (37). Racial status threat makes perfect sense occurring immediately after 8 y of leadership by America’s first African American president. It is not racism of the kind suggesting that whites view minorities as morally or intellectually inferior, but rather, one that regards minorities as sufficiently powerful to be a threat to the status quo. When members of a dominant group experience a sense of threat to their group’s position, whether it is the status of Americans in the world at large or the status of whites in a multiethnic America, change in people’s sense of their group’s relative position produces insecurity.

Despite multiculturalism’s ostensible goal of inclusion, experimental studies suggest that it is experienced by whites as a form of status threat that produces more negative attitudes toward outgroups of all kinds (38). Simply reminding whites about their impending loss of majority status produces feelings of threat in experimental studies (39), particularly among those who think of the “American way of life” as being white (40). Consequences of exposure to information about impending majority–minority status have included increased conservatism and greater identification with the Republican Party (41) and the Tea Party (42), increased opposition to diversity (41), greater explicit and implicit racial bias, and a stronger preference for interacting with one’s own race (43). In one study, reminding participants about the upcoming racial shift also produced increased support for Trump among both Democrats and Republicans in a white convenience sample (44).

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11 Comments

  1. Ben Field

     /  April 25, 2018

    Duane,

    I believe the Times and the NAS are both correct in their assessments, although I have witnessed the Times perspective to a greater degree in my interactions. People were wanting “theirs” after the banks and auto makers got theirs, they saw their 401k plans lose 40% value, they suspected Hillary was coming for their guns. The man they voted for begged a hostile nation, the Russians, for assistance in finding lost emails.

    Angst nor racism cannot explain this treasonous act that ignorant, lost Americans exacted on our country with their vote to elect the p***y grabber, with a golden shower quirk. There is no need to analyze these morons, you cannot predict this kind of crazy. I have accepted that almost half of our nation would support a communist sympathizer over a liberal, and I can live with that while supporting the resistance, and realizing we are the ones that are “right with God” as it were.

    Liked by 3 people

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    • Ben,

      I keep reminding myself, and others, that less than 30% of those actually eligible to vote went to the polls and actively cast a vote for him. That gives me some hope in the idea that our side can possibly mobilize those who didn’t vote, most of whom hold what would be called liberal or progressive views, and re-mobilize those who sat out last time for one reason or another. 

      Personally, I have “accepted” the fact (as far as I analyse it, anyway) that about 35%-40% of active voters, overwhelmingly Republicans, are lost electoral causes. There are no circumstances under which these folks would entertain voting for a Democrat, much less a liberal one. I suppose we all have to live with that on our side, but I will tell you that the fact that there “are no circumstances”—meaning even accepting as normal and even purposely desiring a thoroughly disturbed man like Tr-mp—that these folks would change their mind is, well, quite depressing. I can understand voting for a Romney-like Republican for this or that policy reason. I will never, never, never understand casting a vote for a sick, corrupt, demagogue, a guy who doesn’t even much try to hide it anymore (as his rant on Fox & Friends this morning demonstrated.)

      Duane

      Liked by 1 person

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      • Ben Field

         /  April 26, 2018

        Duane,

        You are probably right that 35-40% of active, overwhelmingly Republican voters would never vote Democratic, be they centrist or liberal. As in the Missouri governor’s race, they didn’t vote for a conservative, they voted for one of their own, a deplorable. By deplorable, I actually mean their mob mentality in electing self-serving men of low character, without utilizing their common sense to discern the unfitness of such an ignorant choice.

        At the risk of electing such losers, as the GOP has exhibited, I think that Democratic voters would have eliminated a Trump/Greitens loser in the primaries. That being said, Democrats certainly don’t need to only push centrist candidates in the primaries. The link I’m posting is in regard to the “corporate Democrats” in state party leadership shunning progressive for centrists.

        This is not good policy, regardless of intent, it is not democratic and alienates progressives young and old. Pelosi calls for a “clear eyed conversation” on the 18 term whip’s decision to back state party officials, instead of having his own opinion, to the detriment of others in the race is long overdue. Let’s have that conversation before we lose another election. The mid-terms aren’t far away, and could be our last hope at sanity returning to our country.

        https://theintercept.com/2018/04/26/steny-hoyer-audio-levi-tillemann/?link_id=1&can_id=7412b204de4f7ab08ba03241ba437487&source=email-secret-audio-of-steny-hoyer&email_referrer=email_343049&email_subject=secret-audio-of-steny-hoyer

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        • Ben,

          I don’t mind Democratic leaders thinking through who might be the best candidate in specific races. That is, certain Republicans in some districts or states may be vulnerable to a certain kind of Democrat. Politics works that way and it is mostly behind the scenes. In Al Franken’s last book, he discussed how hard it was to get Chuck Schumer (who was the head of the DSCC at the time) to come on board and support his campaign. Schumer didn’t think someone like Franken could win. It turned out Schumer was wrong. But Schumer’s job is to figure out, as best he can, who to give scare resources to. Sometimes that’s an easy thing to figure out, sometimes it isn’t. The question is at what point in the process should leaders butt in? 

          I don’t think supporting a candidate should come down to a narrow ideology or to this or that policy detail. Obviously, the candidate has to be able to articulate in an authentic way the general ideals of the Democratic Party, but I think it should come down to the quality of the candidate, to intelligence, to articulation, to integrity, etc., and some consideration should be given to the composition of the electorate. 

          Do you remember the two cycles here in southwest Missouri when the Democratic candidates were essentially Republicans in disguise? I do. I personally asked one of them why he was running as a Democrat. Except for his stand on healthcare, in every other way he sounded like a typical right-winger. And, obviously, being so far right didn’t help either one of them at all. But the truth is that it wouldn’t matter around here whether they were conservative Democrats or wild-eyed leftists. We are not one of those places that is going to elect anyone but a Republican, so long as Republicans stick to the God, Guns, and Gays issues. And it would be foolish for the national party to sink money into any election against Billy Long at this point. But obviously there are some places that Democrats can win and some thought has to go into who to put money behind. It is a messy process, especially what goes on behind closed doors, but those responsible with handing out the national funds have to make some tough calls. And, of course they, like Schumer, get it wrong from time to time. Again, the question is timing.

          Now, having said all that, in Tillemann’s case, which is the best-case scenario for the point you are making, Democrats should not have butted into the primary race. Clearly both of those candidates are capable candidates, Tillemann being the one I would certainly prefer. Leadership should have simply waited for the primary election before weighing in, secretly or not. It was dumb of Democrats to intervene so early in the process. But we both know why they are tempted to do so. They fear happening to us what happened to Republicans several times. But like you I don’t think Democratic primary voters would support a candidate with Moore-like baggage. The fear, though, is ideological. Some in leadership, like Hoyer, fear radicalism. And I have some sympathy for that fear. There are some Democratic candidates who can win primaries but who wouldn’t have much of a chance to win a general election. However, these days the radicalism meter has been broken. The window has moved on the right and the left and unless the Democratic candidate is a Jill Stein-like figure (it would be a dereliction of duty if leaders didn’t intervene to stop someone like her), leadership should just wait and let the people decide. 

          For the record, The Intercept has a history of stirring up shit on our side, much to our detriment. There are some good and trustworthy journalists there. Lee Fang may be one of them, but Glenn Greenwald isn’t.

          Duane

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          • Ben Field

             /  April 30, 2018

            Duane,

            Glad we agree on this, Tillerman was the best choice. As you said, let the voters decide. It is not the first time such occurred this cycle. The DCCC did it in Texas…

            https://www.vox.com/2018/3/7/17084808/dccc-laura-moser-texas-democratic-primary-2018

            We’ve got a “centrist” candidate, Conor Lamb, pushed by the DCCC that is anti-abortion and like Eric Greitens appeared in campaign ads shooting his machine gun. The DCCC in Illinois is supporting a progressive over 7 term Lipinski, by refusing to endorse him. It would appear the DCCC and its contradictory actions should keep its nose out of the primaries and STFU before it leads to another intra-party civil war.

            The Clinton-Sanders race almost led to that, and it was not unlike the Tea Party coalition splitting the Republican Party. We don’t need that, but we sure as hell don’t need DCCC fingers on the scale before people get a chance to vote in the primaries. Someone needs to tell the enchanted Chairman Rep. Lujan to support all Democrats. Hoyer needs to think for himself, instead of parroting state delegation positions by requesting a candidate drop out, and let the voters decide.

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            • As always, I am for the most progressive (not radical) candidate who has a reasonable chance to win. I don’t know what that means everywhere, since I don’t live anywhere but here. I’m assuming there was polling in the Lipinski-Newman race that showed anti-choice sentiment was stronger there than in other places that are typical Democratic strongholds. I just don’t know that much about it. But there is no doubt that knocking off an entrenched establishment incumbent isn’t easy, especially when “machine” supporters are willing to go to the lengths they did to unfairly and inappropriately attack her. Again, Newman would have been my choice in that race, as far as I know anything about it. But she didn’t win, for whatever reason(s). People have to pay more attention, is what it comes down to. It is way too easy to pull the lever for a familiar name, even on our side. 

              And as for the Clinton-Sanders race, there are still lingering hard feelings out there. Sanders has not done enough, in my opinion, to heal some of those hard feelings. In some cases, he has exacerbated them. I just wish we could find a national Democrat who could completely (as far as possible, that is) unite the party. Beats me who that might be right now. All I know is that everyone needs to be ready to swallow hard, if need be, and accept the winner of our presidential primary process, whoever it is. There is too much at stake. 

              Duane

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  2. While I’m skeptical of labeling this kind of analysis as “science”, there’s no doubt in my mind that fear of national debt was only a fig leaf in the Tea Party movement. Tribalism, which is the father of bigotry, was the driver. So much for the “fiscal cliff”, eh?

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    • The soft science involved here is, I’m afraid, the best we have to work with on these kinds of issues. My position is, as always, to be skeptical of any study, whether it be tied to social science or natural science. I tend to gravitate toward meta-analysis, which seems to paint a better picture of the state of things, but still never a definitive one, as you know. We sort of have to live with the tentative and probabilistic nature of all attempts to use the scientific method of inquiry to understand our world and our interactions in it. But I agree with you that the social sciences deserve more scrutiny and skepticism, if nothing else because they are much younger than other scientific disciplines we are all used to. I will say, though, that neuroscience is making lots of progress in connecting the physical structure and operation of brains with behavior, and social scientists seem to be taking advantage of that. I just wish I could be around another 50 years to see where all of it leads.

      Duane

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  3. Duane, as usual you’re spot on with your analysis. But white angst is only one of many that have evolved over the last 60 years or so.

    At some point in our back and forth, I think I probably alluded to a book by Harvard sociologist Robert Putnam called “Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community.” It reported the results of a massive study based on detailed interviews of nearly 30,000 people in 41 communities across America in the late 90’s. (The book was published in 2000.) Putman found that the greater the diversity in a community, the fewer people vote and the less they volunteer, the less they give to charity and work on community projects. In the most diverse communities, neighbors trust one another about half as much as they do in the most homogenous settings. That is, they bowl alone.

    In part, Putman was trying to address a concern of de Tocqueville about personal, informal associations. Tocqueville writes, “It is clear that if each citizen, as he becomes individually weaker and consequently more incapable in isolation of preserving his freedom, does not learn the art of uniting with those like him to defend it, tyranny will necessarily grow with equality. Here it is a question only of the associations that are formed in civil life and which have an object that is in no way political. The political associations that exist in the United States form only a detail in the midst of the immense picture that the sum of associations presents there.” (Tocqueville’s prescience continues to amaze.)

    So, what we’re talking about here are the Elk’s Clubs, the Boy Scouts, the PTA, and, more recently, ANTIFA, Black Lives Matter, the Tea Party, any many, many more. Studies since Bowling Alone came out have tended to confirm Putman’s conclusions. There are declines in our non-governmental associations – there are fewer family meals, a decline in the number of social club memberships, and a drop in participation in public meetings. (He also discovered that participation in bowling leagues had dropped 40 percent in just over a decade.)

    It’s all a kind of withdrawal, a retreat into our own particular tribe and the shunning of outsiders. And that condition produces isolationism and, thereby, a decline in social values. Instead of cooperation and compromise, we get ideology and animus. Our worsening social health is also apparent when we are compared to other industrial nations. There are a wrath of NGO’s, including the UN and the World Bank, that compile statistics on social health. The US rarely makes it into the top ten. (I know you tend to be very cautious about scientific studies, but the fact that there are many such studies that tend to support each other, there is good reason for confidence.)

    If this analysis is right, or close to being right, then, as de Tocqueville says, we are rife for tyranny. Government will fill the void created by the drop of personal associations. And the result will be a government out of control — as we can plainly see today.

    Sorry for all the verbiage, but I thought this might underscore your main point. We whites are not the only ones suffering from existential angst.

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply
    • Herb,

      I appreciate what you wrote. 

      Yes, I believe our “social health” is in decline, even if it doesn’t directly lead to tyranny. I have believed that since November 9, 2016. And despite some good news here and there, I won’t believe we are getting better until Republicans are a minority in the House next year and a minority in the Senate in 2021. And, it goes without saying that we cannot regain our health if Tr-mp stays in the Whites’ House. That tumor has to be excised, if not by Mueller (I don’t think that’s possible), then by political surgeons called voters. And if voters don’t do it, then I do not like our chances of regaining and then maintaining a stable democracy.

      Duane

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  4. Duane, as usual you’re spot on with your analysis. But white angst is only one of many that have evolved over the last 60 years or so.

    At some point in our back and forth, I think I probably alluded to a book by Harvard sociologist Robert Putnam called “Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community.” It reported the results of a massive study based on detailed interviews of nearly 30,000 people in 41 communities across America in the 1990’s. (The book was published in 2000.) Putman found that the greater the diversity in a community, the fewer people vote and the less they volunteer, the less they give to charity and work on community projects. In the most diverse communities, neighbors trust one another about half as much as they do in the most homogenous settings. That is, they bowl alone.

    In part, Putman was trying to address a concern of de Tocqueville about personal, informal associations. Tocqueville writes, “It is clear that if each citizen, as he becomes individually weaker and consequently more incapable in isolation of preserving his freedom, does not learn the art of uniting with those like him to defend it, tyranny will necessarily grow with equality. Here it is a question only of the associations that are formed in civil life and which have an object that is in no way political. The political associations that exist in the United States form only a detail in the midst of the immense picture that the sum of associations presents there.” (Tocqueville’s prescience continues to amaze.)

    So, what we’re talking about here are the Elk’s Clubs, the Boy Scouts, the PTA, and, more recently, ANTIFA, Black Lives Matter, the Tea Party, any many, many more. Studies since Bowling Alone came out have tended to confirm Putman’s conclusions. There are declines in our non-governmental associations – there are fewer family meals, a decline in the number of social club memberships, and a drop in participation in public meetings. (He also discovered that participation in bowling leagues had dropped 40 percent in just over a decade.)

    It’s all a kind of withdrawal, a retreat into our own particular tribe and the shunning of outsiders. And that condition produces isolationism and, thereby, a decline in social values. Instead of cooperation and compromise, we get ideology and animus. Our worsening social health is also apparent when we are compared to other developed nations. There are a wrath of NGO’s, including the UN and the World Bank, that compile statistics on social health. The US rarely makes it into the top ten. (I know you tend to be very cautious about scientific studies, but the fact that there are many such studies that tend to support each other, there is good reason for confidence, much like the studies of global warming.)

    If this analysis is right, or close to being right, then, as de Tocqueville says, we are rife for tyranny. Government will fill the void created by the drop of personal associations and the result will be a government out of control — as we can plainly see today.

    Sorry for all the verbiage, but I thought this might underscore your main point. We whites are not the only ones suffering from existential angst.

    Like

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