With Donald Trump becoming in spectacular short order our most racist modern president, it must be asked: What are white people getting out of him? I know he does not speak for all white people: One in three voted for Hillary Clinton and millions of white Americans opposed his presidency and policies in 2017, as people marched to support women, science, climate, and immigrants, to name a few Trump targets. After giving 52 percent of their votes to Trump, it is a hopeful sign that white women have taken a decisively dim view of him, with a 37 percent approval rating in the latest Quinnipiac poll.
But the majority of white men remain undisturbed by comments that get more applause from Klansmen and American Nazis than anyone else. After Trump’s recent “shithole” assault on Africa, Haiti, and El Salvador, 51 percent of white men told the Quinnipiac poll that the statement was not racist, compared with just 43 percent who said it was racist. A recent Washington Post/ABC News poll also taken after the latest vulgarities found that while 45 percent of white people think Trump is biased against black people, 49 percent said that he is not.
Why do Trump's racist messages have so much appeal? Trump delivers—loudly—what the Republicans have long promised in code. He offers up bonus time for white privilege in a changing America by tilting the Supreme Court in a conservative direction, in order to keep chipping away at equal protections in education, voting, and jobs. He has unleashed bloodhound Jeff Sessions on the Justice Department to hunt down reverse discrimination against white folks and stand down on police brutality against black people.
But Trump’s and the Republican Party’s traditional promises of lower taxes and less taxing government oversight can no longer hide the cost to white people themselves. As Trump continues to scapegoat black and brown developing nations, America has become the doo-doo hole of the developed world.
The US has the third-highest GDP on Earth, but the third-highest levels of poverty and income inequality among the 30 most advanced nations, according to the World Economic Forum (WEF). We are 49th in gender equity and the only rich nation with no form of universal health care or paid parental leave. The Republicans’ rollback of air and water protections and the attack on climate science erodes the quality of life for white Americans—and everyone else.
As the white elite run off with the loot of their policies, millions of white families are now saddled with record levels of college debt and are a broken leg away from bankruptcy. After decades of white suburban flight, big-city commuters lose hours of productivity and family time sitting in traffic as public transportation infrastructure creaks and crumbles from Republican-inspired neglect that robs transit of tax dollars. The WEF says a key factor is the United States “not levying taxes on those best able to contribute.”
How do Trump and his congressional cronies respond? They keep enriching the people with the financial means to contribute to a more equitable and safe society. The new tax cut, according to the Tax Policy Center, will put 83 percent of benefits in the hands of the top 1 percent by 2027. At least 13 million people may lose health-care coverage with the end of individual insurance mandates. House Speaker Paul Ryan promises attacks on Medicare, Medicaid, and the remaining shards of assistance to the poor.
The tax cut passed, in part, because it was easy for the Republicans to ignore headlines saying a “majority” of Americans opposed it. The fine print told the real story. African Americans and Latinos overwhelmingly opposed the cut in several major polls, knowing that tax cuts usually lead to severe cuts in public services.
But opposition among whites never crossed 50 percent, even though white Americans comprise the vast majority of people on Medicaid, Medicare, and nutrition assistance.
Whatever advantages white folks consciously or unconsciously thought they had in the workplace are rapidly disappearing as long-term, good-paying jobs with health benefits and pensions give way to the uncertainties of the gig economy. White life expectancy has dropped.
Princeton University researchers Anne Case and Angus Deaton say these shifts come amid “cumulative disadvantage from one birth cohort to the next—in the labor market, in marriage and child outcomes, and in health,” triggered by “progressively worsening labor market opportunities at the time of entry for whites with low levels of education.”
Meanwhile, the opioid crisis, the latest American drug scourge, overwhelmingly affects whites. In 1999, 12,000 white people died from overdoses in the United States. By 2015, the figure was nearly 42,000, according to federal data, surpassing the number of all Americans killed in either car crashes or with firearms.
In 1999, the drug death overdose rates by race were relatively similar. In 2015, the white overdose death rate doubled that for African Americans and tripled that for Latinos. In one of the biggest betrayals of his white voters, Trump calls the opioid crisis an emergency, but has thus far delivered no federal resources to fight it.
As Trump tries to wall off the black and brown world in the name of security, about 500,000 Americans have perished since September 11, 2001, from gun-related suicides and homicides. Of the 23 wealthiest nations, 82 percent of gun deaths are in the United States, according to a 2016 study in The American Journal of Medicine.
Yet Republicans are unmoved by the mostly white victims of the Sandy Hook, Columbine, Aurora, Virginia Tech, and Sutherland, Texas, mass shootings. Not even the slaughter at the Las Vegas country music festival that killed 58 people, mostly white, and wounded more than 500 has yet to result in federal change in gun laws. A majority of white men in a Quinnipiac poll taken after Las Vegas continue to insist the country would be safer with more guns. They were the only demographic group in the poll opposing ammunition limits.
While black homicide in urban America remains a source of despair, white Americans still account for 22,000 of America’s 34,000 annual gun deaths, mostly through suicide. They have sacrificed their lives to race-driven, anti–gun control politics adopted by Republicans. Who can forget the explosion of gun-buying during the Obama years? School shootings now average about one a week, according to The New York Times. The latest fatal school shooting, this time in Benton, Kentucky, is unlikely to move the needle on gun control, even though Benton is a predominately white community (as is Newtown, Connecticut, where the Sandy Hook massacre occurred).
With hundreds of thousands of white people dead from guns and drug overdoses alone since September 11, there are some signs that many white Americans see a cost to white supremacist politics (particularly after Trump’s comments about neo-Nazis after a white woman died during the Charlottesville riot). Recent Democratic victories around the country suggest that Trump’s actions may yet unleash a tidal wave of support for anyone with “D” beside his or her name in November.
But it will have to be a monster wave to dislodge Trump, since he will surely keep reminding white people that they sit at the apex of the American society. The seduction of white privilege has sent Caucasians of all classes rushing to the castle to help the white elites pull up the drawbridge of opportunity against the mongrel hordes.
Martin Luther King Jr. famously said poor Southern white people were placated against their own poverty by Jim Crow, which gave them the illusion of still being “better than the black man.” White America is now absorbing the cost of that illusion and experiencing the socioeconomic fragility that is second nature to African Americans, Latinos, and other people of color.