In 1970, after the Kent State shooting, construction unions staged demonstrations attacking the peace movement, praising Nixon, and espousing "love it or leave it" nationalism. That nationalism is what drives Trumpism today, don't let anyone tell you it's all about economic despair.
I've written about this before, but I keep hearing the same damn false narrative and I have to respond to it. Today my friend and fellow (much more noteworthy) blogger Chauncey DeVega sent me a Thomas Frank article from a couple of months ago where Frank makes the same false argument that Trump's support lies in the economic slide of the white working class, not in racism. On its face, this just isn't true. If Trump is about soothing economic pain, why are the black and Latino working classes, who have suffered WORSE than the white working classes not voting for Trump en masse? Why aren't they energized by his language about "trade deals"? I mean, the answer is so obvious that I don't even have to say it. A man who does little to disavow the support of the Klan and who wants to deport millions of Latino immigrants and incites hatred against them is not going to get those votes. There are also a lot of working class whites who do not support Trump, despite living in the Rust Belt. Trump's working class white support also tends to run high in the South, where whites are already disproportionately Republican compared to the rest of the country, with race a big element in that.
It pains me to go after Frank, because he has consistently been one of my favorite political observers. I think this is a case of someone trying too hard to say "see I told you so!" Frank has been saying for years that the Democrats' shift to the middle of economic issues has enabled Republicans to pick off Democratic voters with culture war issues. There's a lot to that, but Frank is misinterpreting the implications when it comes to his thesis. He wants to hit the Democrats for their failures, but Trump's support has a lot less to do with those failures and a lot more to do with the culture war that Frank did not talk about: nationalism.
Frank has discussed so called "values voters" in the past, but the current election has shown us that the real culture war, the one that has sustained itself since Nixon, is not over gay rights and abortion, but American identity. In the early 1970s hard hatted construction workers attacked anti-war protestors and praised Nixon, waving the flag and proclaiming their loyalty to the nation. After all, the one great privilege traditionally conferred by whiteness on lower-order whites is full citizenship, to be "free white and 21." Those hard hats thought of America as "their" country. Forty years later, the Tea Party movement stripped away a lot of the "values" issues to reveal naked nationalism inflamed by the "Kenyan Usurper" being in the White House.
I am sure there are plenty of white workers who think that Trump will somehow bring the jobs back, but they like him because they see him bringing jobs back for people LIKE THEM. Frank says that white working class voters aren't attracted to Trump because they want to support a flaming racist. That may well be true, but that does not change the fact that race is still a huge part of their support. They are well aware of his hate against Latinos and associations with white nationalists. Here's the deal: whites who are anti-racist look at that and refuse to back Trump, no matter his policies. Even those Trump voters who do not consciously respond to his racism are willing, consciously or not, to support him knowing full well that he is a white supremacist. That are okay with that, at the very, very least.
Most of his supporters, however, are willingly or even enthusiastically accepting the white supremacy as part of the total package. Look people, Trump voters are not new. They are the same people who voted for George Wallace, Jesse Helms, and David Duke. (While Duke lost the Louisiana governor's race, a majority of whites voted for him.) Going back at least to Andrew Jackson there has been a place for the politics of white racial resentment pitched to the white working class, and working class whites more than happy to turn out in support. Trump is part of that tradition, but has incited more support than the likes of Pat Buchanan due to his novelty, political savvy, and media manipulation.
There are plenty of working class whites who do not respond to Trump's poison. Those are the voters that Democrats need to cultivate, the ones willing to be part of a multi-racial coalition. As far as those whites that don't, they just aren't needed anymore, and it would be insulting to the people of color who vote Democrat for the party to court that vote. The Democrats rode the New Deal coalition of white workers, southern whites, African Americans, and educated liberals to victory for over three decades. That coalition was broken (after years of weakening) by Nixon's Southern Strategy and culture war appeals. Now the Democrats can forge a new, equally powerful coalition. African Americans, Latinos, Asians, the youth of all races, educated liberals, a big chunk of white workers, and a large portion of white women (still not a majority) vote for the Democrats. Instead of wooing whites who cling to skin privilege, the Democrats should build this other coalition, which has the potential to leave Trump battered come November.