I have long argued that there are just two plausible explanations for low- to middle-income whites supporting the kinds of conservative economic policies they’ve been supporting for the last few decades. The first is that they’ve bought into the myth of the welfare queen and are so opposed to letting imagined hordes of lazy brown people hold a penny of their tax dollars that they’re actually willing to turn down programs that would help their own families prosper.
The second is that they fervently want and firmly expect to be wealthy themselves one day and therefore want to ensure that when that day comes the government won’t coming creeping around with it’s grubby little hands, redistributing their hard-earned dollars downward [to hordes of imagined brown people who lacked the skill or stamina to make it up the ladder].
The second explanation (sans the parenthetical) would be rational if not for the fact that the conservative economic policies they’ve been supporting are the steel-toed boot that has long been on the neck of all working people. They are the very thing that has prevented these economic angst-laden Trump voters from getting ahead, staying ahead, or even staying afloat—let alone getting rich. (Hey, but at least they also kept brown people poor too, right?)
In other words, non-wealthy white people enabled the mega-wealthy to keep an historic amount of their money without understanding, apparently, that doing so necessarily makes it harder for non-wealthy people of all colors to get more money; their desire to eventually, hopefully, someday, maybe hoard cash has made it impossible for them to get cash to hoard.
So even if we pretend for a moment that Trump’s popularity was not driven in very large part by active and latent racism alike, we are still left with a group of voters whose real or perceived economic disenfranchisement is something they vociferously consented to until they didn’t anymore, at which point they got extremely pissed at all the wrong people and turned to a deranged demagogue and admitted serial sexual assaulter who promised to double down on the same policies.
Oh, but he also promised to kick out some brown people, make life harder for some other brown people, prevent some brown people from coming in altogether, and just generally acted as a bright orange manifestation of their collective outrage over the fact that they’re not filthy rich yet and thus can’t take advantage of the policies they were duped into supporting for all these years.
You want it to be easier to keep up or get ahead in America? Stop breaking up unions, start demanding minimum wage increases, rebuild and fortify the social safety net that protects your family when the factory closes, support stronger regulations on banks, fight to make college affordable for your kids, stop letting big Pharma and the insurance industry profit from your suffering. In other words, stop voting for Republicans. Oh, but here’s the thing: you can’t just make it easier for white people to get ahead. That’s called apartheid.
There’s just very little room for empathy here. It’s either about race or it’s about maniacally aspirational greed. Or it’s about both. None of these explanations even remotely excuses voting a manifestly insane and ignorant clown into the White House.