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Trump Won’t Win by Doubling-Down on his Racist Appeals but the Right’s Open Bigotry Comes at a Cost

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tags: conservatism, racism, Donald Trump, dog-whistle politics, Lee Atwater



In 1981, Lee Atwater, the notorious Republican operative, famously explained why his party developed coded dog-whistles to appeal to white America’s racial grievances and cultural anxieties:

You start out in 1954 by saying, ‘N***er, n***er, n***er.’ By 1968 you can’t say ‘n***er’-that hurts you, backfires. So you say stuff like, uh, forced busing, states’ rights, and all that stuff, and you’re getting so abstract. Now, you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is, blacks get hurt worse than whites.… ‘We want to cut this,’ is much more abstract than even the busing thing, uh, and a hell of a lot more abstract than ‘N***er, n***er.'”

For 30 years, Atwater’s view was consistent with the political science. Researchers found that white voters might respond positively to subtle racial cues but tended to punish politicians who they viewed as explicitly hostile toward minority groups. Go overboard, and you’d lose.

But that dynamic appears to have shifted with the election of a Black president with a funny name. Studies conducted during Obama’s presidency by Nick Valentino and his colleagues at the University of Michigan, and others, found that those penalties were no longer showing up in the data. ‘This is how we got Trump’ has become an oft-abused political cliché, but this is basically how we got Trump–he rode a backlash against not only Obama’s ethnicity but the educated cosmopolitanism that our 44th president embodied.

It would be easy to conclude that Trump’s narrow 2016 victory, after running the most explicitly bigoted campaign since George Wallace’s, is proof that the electoral costs politicians used to pay for saying the quiet parts out loud had disappeared, but that’s superficial. Trump lost the popular vote by 2.9 million ballots against an unpopular opponent with plenty of assistance from James Comey, Wikileaks, etc. More importantly, his party faced steep losses in both the 2018 midterms and off-year elections in 2017 and 2019, and were trailing Democrats before Covid-19 hit by significant margins. College-educated white voters have bolted from the GOP en masse since Trump descended on that golden escalator blathering on about Mexican rapists.

Which brings us to the present. Trump, with his back against the wall, is coming perilously close to just saying “N***er, n***er, n***er.”

 

Read entire article at AlterNet

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