We've all heard that Donald Trump has strong support from working class white males. Apparently he's broadly popular among all Americans with a high school education or less. Writing in the New York Times, Eduardo Porter reports that a recent Quinnipiac University poll showed Trump beating Hillary Clinton (barely) in an election in which only those without post-secondary education can vote. By contrast, she trounces Trump if only college-educated Americans vote.
What explains this support? Is it frustration over the ways in which establishment-endorsed globalization has crimped wages and drained away working class jobs? Surely that's part of the reason for Trump's populist support. But Porter sees something darker at work. Working class whites are, as he puts it, “xenophobic” and “nostalgic” for the days when they were at the top of the racial heap. He thinks these voters are motivated by racism. He quotes Edward Glasser approvingly: “Racial animosity in the U.S. makes redistribution to the poor, who are disproportionately black, unappealing to many voters,” and goes on to cite studies that suggest conservative ideas about limited government really disguise expressions of racism.
The first thing to note is the pseudo-analysis. A quick look at rates of racial intermarriage show that median household incomes for black-white married couples is lower than for white-white couples. The higher rate of racial intermarriage among lower income whites suggests that the supposedly racist and xenophobic working class whites of Porter's imagination are actually more open to the “other” than those higher on the social ladder—and this in spite of the self-congratulating rhetoric of those who have had educations that socialize them into the rhetoric of “diversity” and “inclusion.”
In my estimation, the sort of people who support Trump are motivated, at least in part, by the fact that they're tired of being denounced as racists and xenophobes by people like Porter. I too tire of it. What is it about our educated elites that makes them assume that concerns about illegal immigration are motivated by xenophobia? Why is someone like Porter so attracted to the notion that a guy with a high school education in Kansas who harbors a visceral dislike for big government is really expressing his racism?
From where I sit, support for Tump isn't that hard to explain. The upper twenty percent in America have insulated themselves from the economic and cultural consequences of the last fifty years. Meanwhile, those in the bottom half must live in disintegrating communities and endure the consequences of declining social capital. They sense, intuitively, that our leadership class has a narrow, materialistic view of life and a ruthless, managerial approach to “diversity” that undermines social solidarity, which is why they resonate with patriotic rhetoric that actually envisions all of us together, committed to a common good. Meanwhile, they see that their “betters” have rigged the game, so much so that even the slightest dissent from political correctness brings fierce, disciplining denunciations.
As I've written elsewhere (and often) we are living in a remarkable era. Our ruling class has re-invented itself as a technocracy that justifies its power by claiming moral superiority—and which dismisses challengers from below as morally deficient. We haven't seen this kind of moral attack on working people since the salad years of the Temperance movement, another era when the well-off thought little of entering the public square, as does Eduardo Porter, to denounce the moral depravity of the working man.
R. R. Reno is the editor of First Things.