Dear liberal friends who are blaming Donald Trump’s election on racism and sexism:
Go ahead, believe any explanation you want for why Hillary Clinton lost the election and Donald Trump won. I understand the temptation to look at exit poll data about how Trump did better among men and white voters, and about how Clinton did better among women and voters of color, and to attribute Trump’s victory to racism and sexism among the voters who supported him.
But allow me, respectfully, to point out some empirical problems with what you might call this “basket of deplorables” narrative about the election outcome.
First, the exit poll data on which those assumptions are based is suspect. Most polls, including exit polls, got the outcome wrong, perhaps because Trump voters didn’t want to answer the surveys. The data on the gender and racial breakdown of Trump voters isn’t any more reliable than the data on the percentage or number of Trump voters. That is, it’s not reliable.
Second, if you look at county by county data on actual votes, part of the reason the election went the way it did is that Trump got places that went to Obama in 2008 and 2012 to go for Trump in 2016. Even where Clinton won, she got less turnout than Obama did in 2008 or 2012. What’s the “racism” here? White voters who supported Obama in 2008 and 2012 and Trump in 2016, and we’re supposed to believe that racism is the major factor in their voting behavior even though they elected a black president? Or are the “racists” black voters who enthusiastically supported Obama in 2012 but then stayed home or backed Trump in 2016? Some of these “racist” and “sexist” Trump voters are the same ones who supported Hillary Clinton in the 2008 Democratic primary against Barack Obama. Maybe their racism and sexism is only problematic, or worth mentioning, when it results in a Republican victory.
Meanwhile, these same supposedly racist and sexist Republicans, in the same 2016 election in which racism and sexism supposedly motivated them to make Donald Trump president, elected Republican woman Lisa Murkowski their senator from Alaska, Republican Hispanic Marco Rubio their senator from Florida, and Republican black Tim Scott their senator from South Carolina. The racist sexist Republicans are fans of Sarah Palin and Dr. Benjamin Carson. As an explanatory framework, it doesn’t have a lot of predictive power.
But, OK, acknowledge that some portion of the American electorate does, alas, have some racist or sexist inclinations, either conscious or subconscious, that may not totally dictate how they vote, but might have some subtle influence. A political candidate can choose either to deplore the fact, or to use it to help win votes. In 1992, for example, a candidate ran by promising to “end welfare as we know it” and put 100,000 more cops on the beat. This candidate made a point of returning to Arkansas to oversee the execution of a mentally incapacitated black death row inmate, Ricky Ray Rector. The candidate went to the Rainbow Coalition and picked a public fight with Jesse Jackson by denouncing violent comments by a rap musician, Sister Souljah. This presidential candidate picked another white male from the South as his vice president.
That 1992 candidate was the Democrat, Bill Clinton. After he got elected, he expanded the earned-income tax credit and children’s health coverage and warmed relations with African Americans to the point where he became known as the first black president. But again, that was after he got elected.
Bill Clinton showed up in some of the post-election press coverage complaining that his wife’s campaign hadn’t taken his advice. Maybe if it had, my dear liberal friends, you would be shopping for clothing to wear to inauguration parties, instead of Facebooking about how racist and sexist American voters are.
Ira Stoll is editor of FutureOfCapitalism.com and author of “JFK: Conservative.” His column appears Sunday.