By now you’ve probably seen Van Jones’ assessment of the 2016 election, but in case you haven’t, here it is directly from a source on the left that agrees with him:
My first reaction when I was watching this live a couple weeks ago was the ultimate eye roll; another liberal who thinks this particular loss is so abnormally devastating that they get to do everything they chastised conservatives for 4-8 years ago. Because, you know, this is different.
But then I saw this Tweet from Nate Cohn:
How to think about this election: white working class voters just decided to vote like a minority group. They're >40% of the electorate.
— Nate Cohn (@Nate_Cohn) November 9, 2016
And that made me think. Plus, Van Jones may have a radical past, but he is usually a fairly reasonable commentator on CNN. I think there may be a little bit of merit to his comments, although not in the way that he meant them.
Let me be clear here; I don’t think that the election of Trump was a racist repudiation of Obama, nor do I think everyday working class Americans rose up in response to racist “dog whistles.” But the white working class might very well have risen up to vote as a group the same way we typically see African-Americans, Latinos, and other ethnic minorities. White men without college degrees voted for Trump in numbers similar to Latinos voting for Hillary.
If this is true, the Democrats have only themselves to blame (as is the case for just about every aspect of Trump’s rise and their own demise). It was Democrats, not Republicans, that spent the last decade pushing identity politics – the idea that we are defined by our set of external characteristics that we can’t control. Instead of making the case for their policies and asking all voters to rationally assess those policies, It was Democrats, not Republicans, that divided voters into groups and built a “coalition of the oppressed” to carry them to victory.
Unfortunately for them, they made the assumption that enough white voters would continue to join this coalition to keep the Democratic party winning perpetual victories during presidential cycles. But it turns out, if you segment the population into groups, and tell each group that they should vote for you merely because they’re a member of that group, the out-group that you demonize is going to start basing its politics on personal identity as well.
That’s exactly how Democrats have been telling Hispanics, Blacks, and other minority groups to vote for years now. Why is it suddenly racist that another group has decided to do the same thing? And don’t give me the “white people already control the levers of power” argument. I don’t want to hear it. Instead- why don’t you go to tell it to a working class voter in Michigan. Someone who now works jobs he is overqualified for half the salary he used to make. He never went to college, but he didn’t need to. He never had influence over culture or politics and he never wanted it. He just wanted to provide for his family and live a good life, but he feels America left him behind along with his old manufacturing career. And instead of trying to do right by him, he sees the party he has voted for his whole life more concerned about passing “bathroom equality” laws that he doesn’t even feel comfortable with. Finally, some candidate comes along who says ridiculous things, and even though the man doesn’t like everything (or anything) that the candidate is actually proposing, he likes that the candidate seems to actually “get it,” and understands his everyday anxieties. Go tell that voter that he already controls the levers of power.
That being said, I still don’t think any of these Trump voters were thinking at all about race. These working class white voters now feel like every other group the Democrats have segmented – marginalized and like a stranger in their own country. And just like the Democrats have been encouraging, those marginalized voters voted as a block for the only party that they felt even knew or cared that they existed.