Was Trumpism fueled by racism? Yes! Clearly. In part.
But there was always more to it, and I understand the frustration with many Trump supporters being lumped together with the “racist” label. There were…
Also those who aim for some brand of theocracy
Also the “taxation is theft” anti-“socialists”
Also those disillusioned by broken bureaucracies
Also the gun nuts
Also the anti-abortionists
Also the misogynists hoping for a resurgence of patriarchal society
Also the homophobes
Also outright white supremacists, white nationalists, and neo-nazis
Also other stuff
And plenty of people who were only a little bit of the some of the above but went along with him because he was the nominee for the party they identified with for so long.
Trumpism got as far as it did because it could lasso all these disparate groups together. (Interesting that the word fascism is literally from Latin fasces, meaning “bundle”.) The political frustration of all these fringe ideologies could rally together under a common banner and express their previously repressed emotions and irrational fears, but it bears repeating, they were also all at least kind of okay with the racism.
Were personal biases amplified by social media or whatever? Sure! Exploited at least. But, I think blaming social media is to superficial. Political frustration is a key common thread here. It is the best way I’ve been able to make sense of such a diverse group who justified their vote for an aspiring fascist. Social media fanned the flames of that underlying frustration, but the fire would be burning well enough without it.
Is it irrational & dangerous to hitch your wagon to a blowhard narcissist? Obviously! And yet by tapping into that common frustration, and with a bit of leverage from all the free media coverage, as well as highly targeted social media campaigns to help motivate the politically frustrated, he was able to galvanize people to vote for him in spite of all the other stuff.
An important note, also, is that to some, cruelty is a good way to voice frustration
My big takeaway is this: an often overlooked breeding ground for political frustration in the USA is our first past the post winner take all electoral system.
It leaves way more than half the country (counting nonvoters) feeling like those in place to represent them do not fill that role. They are not wrong!
For example, conservative voters in the 12th District of California (San Francisco) only had one meaningful option for their representative this year. They could vote FOR Nancy Pelosi (who they also hate) to avoid an actual progressive taking her place, or they could (statistically speaking) throw their vote away. This illustrates how this system actually suppresses the voice of progressives in that district too. This is lose lose, not healthy compromise!
The president I voted against lost, yay, I guess, but Biden doesn’t represent me.
Worse yet, at every other level where the policies I actually care about are in play I have representatives actively opposed to my own views, and no real hope of that changing anytime soon. It’s fucking frustrating! It is quite literally oppressive. It makes me feel resentful and even tempts me towards hate and violence, towards resentment and cruelty. I do actively resist those feelings, and that sets me apart from at least some Trump voters, but nonetheless here is a piece of common ground.
The relief many on the left feel as Biden appears to have won is maybe similar in this important regard to the relief many on the right felt in 2016. And with resentment on the right painfully evident after the 2020 election results, the stage is already set for 2024 to easily swing back the other way again. To avoid such chaotic pendulum swings we need to address what breeds this political frustration in people, and the lack of awareness about the root causes is alarming in this regard.
Repeated and genuine calls for unity paired with a polite do nothing centrism might just keep the frustration festering under the surface. But if a type of “moderate” policy is the goal we need some bold, dare I say radical, changes to get there and avoid the next wave of far right extremism
Am I saying we need to be sensitive to BS from hateful idiots, or not hold a whole major party descending into fascism accountable? NO! But we do need to try to diagnose some of what motivates 70m people to vote in the direction of fascism.
I believe understanding how our democratic system is dysfunctional at such a fundamental level is key to understanding the particular dysfunction we have been living through. Failure to do so will only lead to dysfunction of a different brand.
There are lot of sources for electoral reform, but one of my recommended places to start is FairVote
Is reform really possible? For your consideration here are some thoughts on New Zealand from two people who have each written a book on the topic of electoral reform :
built from my Twitter thread on November 9, 2020.