Some 71 million Americans voted for the Republican Party, despite four years of Trumpism. In a recent article (Le Devoir, Nov. 7-8, 2020), Christian Nadeau provides an analysis of this staggering result. He rightly dismisses the reproach of irrationalism and reminds us that focusing on Donald Trump as a person, however odious he may be, is counterproductive. According to him, this vote is fundamentally explained by the white supremacists’ desire to maintain their privileges and thus prevent communities of color from taking their rightful place in American society.
In fact, the reasons are varied as to why the Republican system was able to amass so many votes. First of all, as numerous opinion polls show, including the one published in the same issue of Le Devoir, his supporters’ top concern was related to the economy. This is what allowed Trump to crack the former blue wall of the Rust Belt in 2016, where deindustrialization and subsequent job relocations led to a socioeconomic downgrading that wreaked havoc on the traditional Democratic vote.
Now let us transport ourselves to the Deep South, that of the Bible Belt, where the reasons change completely. In states where evangelists are big business and fundamentalism is all the rage, appointing conservative Supreme Court justices guarantees that religious values, such as the denial of abortion, will be at the top of the agenda for decades to come. As Trump knew all too well, there is no more effective way to build loyalty in these many communities, which include both Black and white people.
Moving to the Southwest, to Texas, for example, where the oil industry and libertarianism reign supreme, the major concerns revolve around the maintenance of heavy industry, no matter how polluted it is, and the right to bear arms, guaranteed by the Second Amendment to the Constitution. For these voters, fighting against a “deep state” and against any regulation limiting individual liberties is like music to their ears. Trump has been hammering at this since he entered politics.
In Florida, the state that gave the presidency to George W. Bush in 2000, denouncing Democratic socialism struck a chord, even more so as Bernie Sanders openly claims to be of the same orientation. If Trump was able to increase the Republican margin in this key state, it is because he understood that, for the Hispanic community and its many Cuban or even Venezuelan exiles, the fear of communism outweighs all other considerations.
It is also important to mention the divide between the cities and the countryside, the former more cosmopolitan and predominantly democratic, the latter more homogeneous and largely Republican. Or, the conspiracy constellation, which has grown thanks to Trumpian incentives and the deleterious effect of social media, and many other minor motivations. As early as 2016, Steve Bannon, Trump’s election campaign manager at the time, announced his intention to unite these different branches of the hard right.
In short, the issue of race, despite its importance, is only one facet of the current appeal of the Republican Party. Trump is a demagogue, there is no doubt about that. But as the countless studies on the massive resurgence of populism show over and over again, its causes are multiple. Reducing it to a single dimension does not do justice to its complexity and risks obscuring what is really important.
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