Invitation to a Discussion: Anthropologists on the Trump Election

Invitation to a Discussion:  What Do American Anthropologists Say about Trump’s Election, and What Does Trump’s Election Say about American Anthropology?   

    In an OAC Forum begun last month, The polls got it wrong, again... The end of 'social science'? Time to stop predicting and start listening... Huon Wardle suggests that the colossal failures of pollsters aka quantitative analysts to predict Trump’s win and the Brexit result and of economists to foresee the financial crisis of 2008 spell the end of social science – at least of its unquestioned authority.  Huon argues that social thinkers should instead follow Malinowski’s classic precept of attending closely to what people do rather than what they say, particularly the guarded and offhand responses they may give to pollsters who bother them on the phone or waylay them at polling places. 

     Huon here champions anthropology’s singular contribution to social thought: the method and theory of ethnography.  Equipped with that tool, ethnographers are expected to function as trained observers and analysts, often among people very different from themselves and for relatively brief periods of one or two years, observers and analysts who then produce substantive, reliable accounts of the world’s societies.  What, then, should we expect of those ethnographers when the subject is a major phenomenon in a society most of them have known, if not from birth, at least for years and years?  Specifically, what should we have expected American anthropologists’ reaction to have been to the events of late Tuesday night and early Wednesday morning, November 8 and 9?  Like everyone else, they had been inundated by polls and pundits who gave Hillary an 80% chance of winning right into election night.  And like everyone else, they had witnessed the incredible spectacles of Trump’s mass rallies, where hundreds of thousands of supporters across the country, proudly wearing their red Trump baseball caps, stood in line for hours to take part.  But unlike everyone else, one would hope, they had weighed those disparate sources of information with their own personal experience of living and working in the U. S., weighted them all together in applying their unique ethnographic insight into their own society.  But that’s not what happened. 

    Here let me speak personally, as an anthropologist who has done all those things.  On balance going into election night, I felt the immense enthusiasm and numbers of Trump supporters outweighed what the pollsters were saying, particularly in view of the dismal record of earlier polls done during the presidential primary elections.  At the same time, the electoral hurdles Trump would have to overcome in turning all those “blue states” red – Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Iowa, Michigan, Wisconsin – looked almost insurmountable.  Before the first vote was cast, Hillary could count on all the West Coast states and most of the East Coast states voting for her.  She only needed a handful of  additional electoral votes to clinch the victory.  At even money, I would not have bet on either candidate; given odds I would have wagered a modest amount on Hillary.  As election night turned into election morning the results were dramatic, with swing state after swing state going to Trump.  Not since the hanging chads of the Florida election in 2000 (Bush Jr. vs. Gore) had a presidential contest been so gripping.  From my perspective, Trump’s win was rather unexpected, but not an overwhelming surprise.  After all, there were those seas of red baseball caps surging across the entire country. 

    That was not, however, the reaction of American anthropology as a whole.   Prominent figures of our major institutions and publications – Cultural Anthropology, the American Anthropological Association, Savage Minds – spoke with one voice:  the election result was stunning, incomprehensible, a paralyzing blow to our sensibility and way of life.  A complete and total surprise.  A contributor to Savage Minds, Uzma Z. Rizvi narrates her sense of emotional paralysis as the election result became clear: 

 

The day after Leonard Cohen died.

November 12, 2016 Uzma Z. Rizvi

Suddenly the night has grown colder.

The god of love preparing to depart.*

 

The chill of the 2016 US elections is still in my bones. Glued to any and all forms of media, I watched what Van Jones and Judith Butler have called, “whitelash” unfold in graphs, charts, and all forms of measurable outcomes. I watched as the states of my country turned red one by one. This was not the first time I had seen this, but there was something unique about this time. This time, it was not just me and people who looked like me, who felt precarious, but rather I watched as the whitelash was aimed at and betrayed the white Left/Center Left. I watched and felt the hush over the newscasters in the newsroom as they realized the precarity of the first amendment, particularly of free speech and thus, their very existence.

Without intending to, I consumed/embodied that hush. I could not respond or say anything about the election. My inbox was flooded with messages of coping, my social media was a manifest of betrayal, blame, violence, fear, and ultimately action. I was still silent. 

 

    Rizvi was struck dumb.  Here we must confront a serious problem in the doing of American anthropology.  Any American, anthropologist or not, is fully entitled to feelings of outrage, disgust, fear at the result of November 8.  They may believe – and as time passes they may be proven right – that  Trump’s success is a harbinger of doom: markets will collapse (well, apparently not), civil liberties will erode to nothing, racism and religious intolerance will flourish, the long dark night of fascism will descend on American shores.  Those are legitimate concerns.  But anyone who professes a special insight into the workings of society, that is, any social thinker, is not entitled to the feelings Uzma Z. Rizvi pours out in her post, feelings of surprise, shock, betrayal to the point of being rendered helpless and mute.  Why not?  Because we should have seen it coming!  Or, at the least, the strong possibility of it coming.  American anthropologists, supposedly familiar with the workings of their own society, should not have been so grievously mistaken that they lapsed into emotional paralysis when things turned out differently from what they expected.  The election was a near thing; an objective assessment, as I’ve argued, would have seen the vote breaking either way.  It now appears that the charge Huon levelled at pollsters in his Forum applies to the very ethnographers he extolled.  As a body we were taken so unaware that we reacted as though an unforeseeable disaster had dealt a mortal blow to the way, the truth, and the light. 

    But why?  Why did American anthropology as a whole get it wrong?  I suggest this is an absolutely vital question that opens onto the contrapuntal questions I pose in the Forum title.  First, we need to know in some detail what American anthropologists have to say about Trump’s election.  There has to be more there, I hope, than the emotional outpourings of writers such as Rizvi.  A phenomenon involving more than 120 million Americans was played out over a year and a half.  We are, I think, duty bound to try to understand what they were thinking, at least the 60+ million who voted for Trump, what was going on in their lives, what vision of American society, past, present, and future they embraced.  Cultural anthropologists are supposed to do cultural analysis, that is, to go as deep as possible into the interconnected concepts, beliefs, and actions that together comprise a social group.  Anything less, I submit, is a form of professional irresponsibility and, yes, cowardice.  However ugly and dangerous we find a person, an event, a movement, we must be capable of looking it full in the face.  Second, the phenomenon of Trump cannot be approached as an already constituted object, sui generis, that simply awaits our analytic attention.  Rather, this major event in our history should be treated as an instrument or lens with which to interrogate its host society and the anthropological program which, like it or not, is part and parcel of its host society,, its style or culture of inquiry.  What does the event of the election teach us about the always precarious activity of doing anthropology?  As the second question asks:  What does Trump’s election say about American anthropology? 

    I submit that it is urgent to pursue both questions at this juncture in our political life and in the (d)evolution of the discipline of anthropology.  Fortunately, that effort is already underway.  Paul Stoller, perhaps American cultural anthropology’s pre-eminent public intellectual, has produced a set of perceptive articles in Huffington Post.  See in particular his “Revisiting the Anthropology of Trump: Ethnography and the Power of Culture.”

  http://www.huffingtonpost.com/paul-stoller/revisiting-the-anthropol... 

   

Also, it is remarkable that while American anthropologists were oblivious to the possibility that Trump might win, the Canadian anthropologist Maximilian Forte flat-out predicted it, and as early as January 2016, in his delightfully provocative website, Zero Anthropology. 

https://zeroanthropology.net/

In May 2016 Forte followed through with his prediction in a brilliant article in Zero Anthropology, “Why Donald J. Trump Will be the Next President of the United States.” 

https://zeroanthropology.net/2016/05/04/why-donald-j-trump-will-be-... 

Did the crews at Savage Minds and Cultural Anthropology not happen to see these before they reacted with utter surprise and horror at the election news? 

    My hope here is that these and forthcoming studies will encourage a thorough examination of what we might call, following Forte, Anthropology and Trump.  I invite all OACers and those soon to join to participate in this discussion.  However imperfectly I have rendered the issue before us, I am convinced it is of crucial importance for advancing the intellectual endeavor of anthropology as a foundational constituent of contemporary social thought.  Please note, also, that while the topic is American anthropology, thinkers from anywhere in the world are invited to contribute.  Thanks for considering my invitation.  

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When I saw this article and its comments inmediatly I thought in this discution that it seems never ending, even when Trump will not be a president. 

http://savageminds.org/2013/09/04/anthropology-co-citation-graph/

John, yes, Clinton failed to rally many votes--white, back, latino and more. Sanders did manage to mobilize many young people, but he was effectively sandbagged by the DNC. There is evidence that at least some of the Sanders bloc ended up going for Trump.

As for your point about racism being constant, and therefore it was *actually* the black and latino vote that turned the tide, I have a couple comments. First, I think it's important to look at this whole thing as a massive, complex event with many moving parts. It's easy to look at percentages here and there and say "BOOM, this is *really* what did it." We can single out the few thousand people in Michigan, for example, and say that this all came down to disaffected voters in the Rust Belt. Or we can look at the 7% drop in black voters for the Democrats, and say THAT was really it. We can do this endlessly. But then we have to keep in mind that we have 40 something million people who didn't show up, and certainly whatever kept those people from voting (apathy, gerrymandering, voter suppression etc etc) was part of the picture here.

I do think you're onto something when you mention the notion that white racism has been constant here. One of the reasons why many Americans were shocked about the election is that many of them held the notion (many white liberals among them) that the US was somehow post-racial after the election of Obama. This is clearly not the case. Your point about white voters and Romney underscores this reality--which is not a new reality. There was a great SNL skit that parodied election night, in which a group of friend were watching the results. At one point, one of the white actors suddenly says something along the lines of "Oh my God, I think Americans are racists," and the characters played by Dave Chappelle and Chris Rock break out in laughter. And when one of their white friends says "this is the worst thing that has ever happened to us" they Chappelle and Rock erupt in laughter again. The point here is that the idea that racism has suddenly sprung up in the form of Donald Trump is a joke. The US has a long history of racial discrimination, inequality, and tension. Many Americans are in denial about this--and this includes many liberals IMO. But what Trump has done--with all of his rhetoric and proposed policies (walls, Muslim bans, tacit support of people like Bannon) is bring race/racism out in the open. He used those long histories and tensions as one tool in a larger arsenal. He helped bring it out into the light of day, normalize it, and created spaces where people like Duke and Spencer were not only elated, but emboldened.

Here's something to think about for this discussion:

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/01/14/us/women-voters-trump.html?_r=0

I'd like to see more work along those lines--conversations with people who voted, how they voted, and why. What's also interesting to me here is that people express ambivalent, shifting political ideas.

"I think it's important to look at this whole thing as a massive, complex event with many moving parts."

Absolutely. And we also need to consider how we think about moving parts. "Moving parts" suggests that a mechanical explanation is possible, once we have broken down the event, understand each of its parts, and explain the result by summing their effects.

Allow me to recommend a look at Jean G. Boulton, Peter M. Allen, and Cliff Bowman,Embracing Complexity: Strategic Perspectives for an Age of Turbulence. I particularly recommend the first half of the book in which they spell out the differences between

1. linear dynamic explanations, like the one that "moving parts" suggests
2. non-linear dynamic explanations, e.g. of the weather, where the physics are known and the equations deterministic but outcomes are highly sensitive to original conditions, and
3. evolutionary dynamic explanations in which not only are relations between parts chaotic, the parts are agents who learn and adapt to changing circumstances—thus, for example, the ambivalent, shifting political ideas you mention

Even a modest familiarity with human beings suggests that social science confined to linear dynamic explanations will necessarily fail to account for human behavior—which renders our familiar habit of political debate that takes the form of asserting mechanical explanations questionable.It also suggests that chaos and complexity theory confined to non-linear dynamics will also be inadequate. The problem is that evolutionary dynamics are, indeed, very complex, and we don't yet have good ways to talk about them. Thus we are left flailing about, casting blame here and there, and always missing the mark.

 

Ryan,

    We disagree about a lot.  What disturbs me most about your comments though, is that you come pretty close to calling John and me racists.  Allied with that veiled accusation is your implication that only certain people may legitimately level the charge of racism. 

    Following an intense exchange, John puts a direct question to you:

 “Ryan, do you seriously believe that anyone involved in this conversation denies that racism is real or does not take for granted that racism is one and, not only one but important, factor in Trump's victory?” 

    Your response is less than direct, and troubling to me:

    “Well, I see an awful lot of dismissal and avoidance of the issue. And a curious amount of the tactic in which one person calls another a racist for calling out racism. It’s sort of mind-numbing, but I see this kind of thing elsewhere.” 

    In my fairly detailed discussion of what you’ve called the “racial demographics” of the election, I don’t believe I dismissed or avoided the issue of race.  Rather my inspection of the numbers indicated that a non-existent avalanche of white votes – Van Jones’ “whitelash” – was not responsible for Hillary’s loss; rather it was a crucial loss of support from black and Hispanic voters compared with Obama’s results in 2008 and 2012.  I was even so ungenerous as to suggest as an aside that black voters did not turn out in the numbers of the two previous elections in part because they did not have a black candidate to vote for.  Might that qualify as an example of black racism? 

    I suggest that Van Jones’ angry charge of “whitelash” as the election results came in was an example of racism, pure and simple.  On the basis of inadequate or contrary information he was quite prepared to level that charge on national television against a substantial portion of the sixty-plus million Americans who voted for Trump.  You evidently took that suggestion as yet another example “of the tactic in which one person calls another a racist for calling out racism,” a ploy you find “sort of mind-numbing, but I see this kind of thing elsewhere.”  Where?  Fox News?  Breitbart?  Infowars?  The implication is that only in those dark places where real live racists lurk does one observe the cynical practice of calling genuine, authentic individuals  “racist.”  And who are those individuals?  Is there an approved list?  What are the criteria for making that list? 

    These considerations follow from my deep misgivings about identity politics.  Although you express concern that I leave “identity politics” as an ill-defined notion, there is nothing mysterious about its foundational premise.   

    Identity politics is a curious and disturbing phenomenon which operates in the U. S. today as a  double-edged sword.  The watchword of that political discourse is diversity.  Individuals with particular racial, ethnic, or gender self-ascriptions join with others they perceive as like themselves to form movements and advance their political agendas.  Celebrating diversity thus seems to bolster the image of American society as committed to “multiculturalism” as that is embraced by an important segment of the population.  Critics, however (who form a large and vocal group), argue that “diversity” is just another name for divisiveness, and that emphasizing difference and exclusiveness can only hurt the body politic.  Their general argument is hard to refute on logical grounds: How is social integration promoted by the self-segregation of groups dedicated to emphasizing their own distinctive identities?  It’s a thorny and important issue, since it has figured prominently in the campaign and election.  Neither side has demonstrated much understanding or sophistication, witness the grade school rhetoric of Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump:  “He’s a racist and a bigot!”; “Am not. She is!”, and on and on.  Never in recent memory has identity politics figured so prominently on the national stage. 

    And there we are, with opponents at the highest level exchanging charges of racism.  In your calculus is there a special dispensation for one candidate, who makes that approved list.  Does Hillary, for example, get to hurl the charge while Trump is not permitted to do so?  

Ryan, Lee, I feel very old. I read a debate like so many online debates these days, shot through with words like "charges," "allows," "must," "must not"; the list could go on but the point is clear. To me, it seems that of Aristotle's three rhetorical appeals, to logic, to trope, to character, the third drowns out the other two. Logic and trope serve only to bolster judgmental opinions in support of ad hominem claims.

I am currently rereading Quicksilver, the first volume in Neal Stephenson's Baroque Trilogy where I am reminded that the founders of the Royal Society, whose members included Newton, Hooker, and Boyle, were staunchly apolitical, foreshadowing Weber's classic fact/value distinction. They had good reason to be, since the bloody battles of the Puritan Revolution and the Stuart Restoration were still living memories and Continental Europe was just beginning to recover from the Thirty Years War, in which Protestants and Catholics took turns slaughtering and burning each other at the stake. To focus on logic and empirical observation was, among other things, a way to allow people whose religious views might put them at each others' throats to explore the world together and agree on what they found.Yes, we are now well aware that the choice of topics and research methods and conclusions advanced as knowledge result from political choices. And, yes, we are learning, painfully, what has been ignored and lost sight of by an academy whose professors are still mainly silverback males. We should, perhaps, also keep in mind why carefully restricting the scope of value judgments was deemed necessary in the first place.

I want to pick up on Ryan's initial reference to Trouillot's Global Transformations. As a bit of context by way of inadequate summation, Trouillot is trying to keep hold of the Boasian kernel that was so effective in opposing the scientific racism of the nineteenth century. Trouillot finds the loss of the term culture unfortunate, yet inevitable, given both the institutional demands placed on anthropologists and the quick uptake of the term culture outside of anthropology. Culture is gone, but the kernel remains to be made anew. But how? More keenly, via what anthropological posture can anthropological concepts regain their power in the world.

In the section Ryan referenced a few posts back, Adieu, Culture, Trouillot describes the two dominate positions that North Atlantic anthropologists (Trouillot's nice coinage) have assumed towards politics since Boas. One is the traditional retreat into the university to purify concepts. Responses to the election along the lines of modeling arguments for the rustbelt or reading Foucault to each other on inauguration day fall into this bucket. The other position Trouillot critiques is assuming a politics based on identity. I quote him at length:

"Anthropology's primary response cannot be a political statement, no matter how tempting or necessary that solution is in critical circumstances. While the primary context of our practice as professionals remains the academic world, the ultimate context of its relevance is the world outside, usually starting with the country within which we publish rather than with those that we write about. While I am not suggesting that anthropologists abandon theory for political discourse, I am arguing for a theory aware of its conditions of possibility, including the politics of its surroundings

The nineteenth century generated a particular model of the relationship between academe and politics premised on an alleged difference of nature between scientific and social practices. Challenged as it was at times, this model continues to dominate North Atlantic academic life. The most visible alternative emerged perhaps in the 1960's and remains alive under various guises, including some trends of identity politics. The alternative model negates the autonomy and specificity of academic life and research. It solves the problem of academe and politics by collapsing the two: Science is politics and theory is insurgency. One does one's politics in the classroom or the academic journals. There is no need to problematize a relationship between academe and its context because the two entities are the same, except that the first is a disguised version of the second.

Neither model is convincing. The first assumes a liberal space of enlightenment where concepts can be cleansed by academics, the second belittles academe's specific rules of engagement and the relative power differential of institutional locations. It perniciously allows academics to claim the social capitol of political relevance while comforting them in their privileged space. (Trouillot 2003:114)""

We should take Trouillot's point that culture is gone. We can use it as a shorthand for a certain type of analysis and we argue over whether that kind of analysis is of any use, and so forth. But it is no longer a category that can do the work it was capable of at the turn of the last century. So be it. One of the purposes of this thread (as I understood Lee's intentions) is to talk about how to talk about the Boasian kernel today. The election is a handy occasion because it throws a harsh light on the stakes.

Ryan wrote, "All in all, I think this particular critique of about American Anthro and identity politics that you [Lee] have going is off the mark, strangely so. I understand your interest in cultural analysis, but I don’t understand this aversion to accounting for questions of race and racism in that analysis. Here I think it’s important to revisit the work of old Papa Boas, and especially his use of the concept of culture, which wasexplicitly deployed to work against the scientific racism of the early 20th century. Trouillot reminds us of this in his 2003 book. Funny how so many American cultural anthropologists drifted away fromthat particular deployment of culture as the 20th century progressed."

I grant that Trouillot's point is difficult to accept. But, his point is not that anthropologists drifted away from the culture concept. His point is the twinned dynamics of institutional demands, producing an ethnographic monograph, and changes in the world outside the university, the uptake of culture beyond anthropology, have estranged "culture" from the Boasian context. A few pages on, Trouillot discusses how damaging the concept can be in its contemporary usage. And note Trouillot's analysis of the anthropological response to the drifting off of the culture concept - to retreat or to turn towards identity politics. For good reasons, he finds both lacking in engagement with the difficult part, "theory aware of the conditions of its possibility, including the politics of its surroundings."

Lee: “We disagree about a lot.  What disturbs me most about your comments though, is that you come pretty close to calling John and me racists.  Allied with that veiled accusation is your implication that only certain people may legitimately level the charge of racism.”

John asked me if I seriously think anyone here denies that racism was a key factor in Trump’s victory. I replied that I see a lot of dismissal and avoidance of that point. That’s what I’m seeing—you yourself have said that it’s a 2nd or 3rd level factor, not primary. I said you haven’t proved that, but you keep repeating your points. You have made your point, more than once, that you don’t think that white voters were the real issue, and that it was actually the downturn in black and latino voters that really decided this election (because the white vote was constant). This seems like avoidance or dismissal to me, and I think there are some problems with your argument.

Lee: “In my fairly detailed discussion of what you’ve called the “racial demographics” of the election, I don’t believe I dismissed or avoided the issue of race.  Rather my inspection of the numbers indicated that a non-existent avalanche of white votes – Van Jones’ “whitelash” – was not responsible for Hillary’s loss; rather it was a crucial loss of support from black and Hispanic voters compared with Obama’s results in 2008 and 2012.”

Well, your whole argument is that white voters were not responsible for Hillary’s loss. Your argument is that her loss was, instead, due to black and latino voters not showing up and voting. This is based upon your reading of the numbers, which I’d argue is problematic. I’ve already mentioned some of the problems with your stat analysis (ie comparing one event to another and making assumptions about what percentage drops mean), but you skipped right over that. Beyond this, your treatment of the numbers is also problematic because you don’t consider the relative weight of the percentages. You’re simply looking at the basic demographics and concluding that since the white vote remained constant, and the black + latino vote dropped, you have the answer to what happened. I’ve already said that this is certainly PART of the picture, but I don’t think it’s the smoking gun as you do. Why? Well, about 125 million people voted. Of those, about 70% were White (87.5 million), 12% were Black (15 million), 11% were Hispanic/Latino (13.75 million), 4% were Asian (5 million), and 3% were “other” (3.75 million). So, if we look at the split of white voters, this means that about 32.3 million voted for Clinton, and 50.75 million voted for Trump. This means that about 18 million more whites voted for Trump than Clinton. For Black voters, 13.2 million went for Clinton, and 1.2 million went for Trump. For Latinos, it was 8.9 million for Clinton, and 3.98 million for Trump. For “other” is was 2.1 million for Clinton, and 1.39 million for Trump. Overall, of the total voters who went for Trump, 88.5% were white.

Based upon the other chart you posted, your argument is that the really important factor here is actually the 7 point drop in Black, and 8 point drop in Latino voters who went for the Dems if we compare 2012 to 2016. There’s a bit of a discrepancy with some of the numbers here (one chart says puts the Latino vote at 29%, the other at 36%), but essentially what you’re saying is that the REAL story here is the 1.05 million Black voters and the 1.1 million Latinos (approx.) who did not vote for the Democrats (for whatever reason) in 2016. These numbers are not perfect, since I’d have to look at the total voter turnout for 2012 to be more exact (here I’m sticking with 125 million total voters). In the end, your argument is that about 2-3 million Black and Latino voters were the big game changer. Again, I think that’s part of the story, but I don’t think it makes sense to dismiss the 50.75 million white voters who went for Trump.

Your primary assertion here is that the white vote is somehow irrelevant because the percentages between 2012 and 2016 remained constant. You’re seeing no change, and concluding that this bloc is therefore not a factor. I disagree. First, I think the consistency of white voters should not be a surprise, since racism isn’t just some new issue that appeared in 2016. Not that this is the only issue that binds this bloc, but the point here is that racism didn't just well up out of nowhere. This is the argument that people like Sarah Kendzior have been making. Second, though, is that you can’t simply assume that voters in each election (2012 and 2016) somehow represent a perfectly comparable, static bloc. As if "white voters" in 2012 were exactly the same as "white voters" in 2016. It's all messier than that. We have to pay attention to the character of Trump’s campaign itself, which to me marks a difference with the campaign that Romney won. If Romney had said ¼ of the things Trump said, he would have been finished. But Trump’s campaign—it’s rhetoric, symbolism, etc—was of another order, and it definitely appealed to a hardcore base that has been growing in the last decade (from the Tea Party onward). Again, there may be some overlap with the 2012 voter base, but this is also a new thing going on (as is each election, really). Considering all of the Trump team’s rhetoric about Muslims, building walls, anti-immigration, Mexicans-as-murderers-and-rapists, not to mention the vocal support of David Duke, Richard Spencer, and others, it’s hard not to think racism is at play here. And it was in play far, far more than it was in 2012. I don’t think we can simply sweep this aside, and I think it’s important to note that some 50 million people felt this was either desirable or, at the very least, acceptable.

This is where the whole “whitelash” argument is coming from. This is a term, by the way, that Judith Butler also used (http://conversations.e-flux.com/t/a-statement-from-judith-butler/5215). The evidence is pretty plain as day—Trump, Bannon, and company weren’t exactly shy with their tactics. Sure, this racism/xenophobia only one part of the arsenal, but it was a key part of the show. Now, that doesn’t mean that we should automatically assume that all 50 million Trump voters were racist, bigoted, white nationalists or whatever. I see a lot of that kind of argumentation going on, and that’s not very useful either…especially since people’s views, decisions, identities, and ideals are always in flux. We’re not dealing with static entities here, and this is important to keep in mind when we start making comparisons between what voters “were thinking” in 2008, 2012, 2016, etc. But I think it’s pretty clear that Trump and Company played to their racist base, and it certainly didn’t turn white voters away by any means.

Lee: “I was even so ungenerous as to suggest as an aside that black voters did not turn out in the numbers of the two previous elections in part because they did not have a black candidate to vote for.  Might that qualify as an example of black racism?”

No. I’d say that’s another dubious claim, at best. You have no idea why less Black voters turned out, so you’re just making up motives here. Clinton wasn’t exactly the most appealing or popular candidate of all time, so it doesn’t surprise me that far less people turned out to vote. But this is more of an empirical question that we’d need to actually investigate than something that we already know.

Lee: “I suggest that Van Jones’ angry charge of “whitelash” as the election results came in was an example of racism, pure and simple.  On the basis of inadequate or contrary information he was quite prepared to level that charge on national television against a substantial portion of the sixty-plus million Americans who voted for Trump.”

This is one of the points you’re really attached to for some reason. I don’t think your claim is very well-considered, but I do see that you’re very adamant here. You really want to call out Van Jones as a racist for his reaction to 50 plus million people who just expressed support for a candidate who clearly used racist and xenophobic rhetoric in his campaign. So Trump and many of his cadre spend the election cycle using all of this rhetoric, but for you the real racist here is Van Jones? He was the one that you found really offensive? Wasn’t there a good amount of evidence that Trump—and his rallies—were at the very least courting the racist elements of the white vote? Did you not see that part of the election cycle? Do you dismiss all of that? I get your argument that the white vote remained relatively constant between 2012 and 2016, but didn’t you see a bit of a qualitative difference between the Romney and the Trump campaigns? This is where we have to look a little beyond the numbers, since they don’t tell us everything we need to know. As anthropologists, this should be a given. But for you since the white vote remained constant, and the black and latino vote dropped slightly, that’s all you need to support the argument you want to be correct. I think your argument is weak.

Lee: “You evidently took that suggestion as yet another example ‘of the tactic in which one person calls another a racist for calling out racism,’ a ploy you find “sort of mind-numbing, but I see this kind of thing elsewhere.’  Where?  Fox News?  Breitbart?  Infowars?”

Yes, that’s a pretty common refrain coming from Breitbart, Infowars, and plenty of other sites.

Lee: “Identity politics is a curious and disturbing phenomenon which operates in the U. S. today as a double-edged sword.  The watchword of that political discourse is diversity.”

Why is it so disturbing?

Lee: “Individuals with particular racial, ethnic, or gender self-ascriptions join with others they perceive as like themselves to form movements and advance their political agendas.”

So you’re saying that this is always happening through self-ascription? This seems both ahistorical and one-sided. Isn’t the process of identity at least a two-sided process, in which people identify themselves but are also identified by others? So your basic argument, then, is that Black people in America have simply separated themselves from American society? What about slavery and Jim Crow laws? What about incarceration rates in the US? I mean, there’s so much that you’re dismissing here. Would you argue that Civil Rights was just about a bunch of people with self-ascribed identities who formed a movement to advance their political agenda?

Lee: “Celebrating diversity thus seems to bolster the image of American society as committed to “multiculturalism” as that is embraced by an important segment of the population.  Critics, however (who form a large and vocal group), argue that “diversity” is just another name for divisiveness, and that emphasizing difference and exclusiveness can only hurt the body politic.”

And this is where the argument starts to fall in upon itself. So…there’s a history of racism, inequality, and systemic racism

 in the US. Certain members of society are literally denied rights and defined out of the body politic (formally and informally). So they band together to fight for their rights. But here come these “critiques,” who now charge that these very same people—once marginalized—are now being divisive by embracing their identities, histories, etc? This is a very ass-backward, historically ignorant argument if you ask me.

Lee: “Their general argument is hard to refute on logical grounds: How is social integration promoted by the self-segregation of groups dedicated to emphasizing their own distinctive identities?”

I think the main weak point of your argument is this notion that this is all a problem of self-ascription. These people can’t win either way. One the one hand, they’re marginalized from dominant society for being Black, Brown, whatever. One the other, if they decide to embrace who they are and seek support among others, they’re “being divisive.” This really makes sense to you?

Lee: “And there we are, with opponents at the highest level exchanging charges of racism.  In your calculus is there a special dispensation for one candidate, who makes that approved list.  Does Hillary, for example, get to hurl the charge while Trump is not permitted to do so?”

I don’t know who gets to hurl what charge. Both have been accused of being racist—Hillary mostly for her use of the term “superpredator” and her association with the Crime Bill of the 1990s. Trump has a long history of these accusations, and doesn’t do anything to help himself when he starts calling Mexicans rapists and calling for total bans on Muslims. Hillary and her white liberal base have their own issues when it comes to racism and denial, but Trump went ahead and put things right out in the open. All sides are divisive in their own ways. I guess it’s a matter of who is trying to build coalitions with whom. Trump certainly threw his lot in, unapologetically, with the xenophobes, racists, and white nationalists.

Ryan,

I did not say that racism was a 2nd or 3rd level factor. I said that it is a major one. That said, it was given your own data, a constant, at least as far as the Romney and Trump races go. To explain why Trump, we need to focus attention on variables, of which black, Hispanic, and college-educated young white turnouts are examples.

Let me say it, once more clearly, RACISM IS IMPORTANT. That said, "racism" by itself is a flawed explanation of Trump's victory. BY ITSELF is critical here. When we note that Hillary won the nationwide popular vote by nearly three million votes and won handily in the coastal states that account for two-thirds of the US economy, it is clear that we have to look for other factors, as well as racism, to explain the national result. The Electoral College is a key factor. Another is that Trump turnout in West Virginia, Ohio, Michigan and Wisconsin, the states that tipped the race, are where the effects of globalization and new technologies have been most severe and felt most strongly. If we take off our "America only" blinders and look at what is going on in the rest of the world, we see that Trump's success, like Brexit, is only one example of right wing populist national chauvinism that is flourishing worldwide, driven by the same resentments created by the chasm between globalization's winners and losers. There are local variations in who gets blamed. American reactionaries blame blacks and immigrants. In India, Hindu reactionaries blame Muslims. Who gets blamed varies with the geography. But the overall trend is clear. See, for example, recent coverage of Davos in the International NY Times (https://www.nytimes.com/2017/01/16/business/dealbook/world-economic...) or, from this morning's paper Ivan Krastev's "The rise and fall of European meritocracy" (https://www.nytimes.com/2017/01/17/opinion/the-rise-and-fall-of-eur...).

Then, having opened your eyes a bit, you might return to the problem for ethnographic analysis I posed. What is race such a hot-button issue in Ferguson, MO, and much less so in Fairfax, VA? Why did Ferguson go for Trump while Hillary won Fairfax? If racism is the key to Trump's victory, why did he win in one place and lose in the other? Thundering on about "racism" deployed as an essentializing national character stereotype rooted in the history of slavery does nothing to answer these questions.

Here's the link to the chart I was referring to in my post: http://www.businessinsider.com/exit-polls-who-voted-for-trump-clint...

John, I know you didn't claim that racism is a 2nd or 3rd level factor. That was Lee's argument, and my response was written to him. Sorry about the confusion.

"Let me say it, once more clearly, RACISM IS IMPORTANT. That said, "racism" by itself is a flawed explanation of Trump's victory. BY ITSELF is critical here."

Yes, I agree with you.

I'm not arguing that racism is the sole issue here. It's one key element, but not the only one, as I said multiple times in this thread. We definitely have to look at more factors, and earlier I agreed with you that the Electoral College is another key element that we can't just ignore. The EC is a complicating factor because, despite the actual mass of votes (and reasons for voting), the structure of the process swings things in a particular way because of how everything is laid out.

Did Ferguson MO vote for Trump? I had not seen that, and after a quick check have only been able to get county level results, which indicate that St Louis County went blue (surrounded by red): http://www.cnn.com/election/results/states/missouri

"If racism is the key to Trump's victory, why did he win in one place and lose in the other?"

Again, I'm not saying it's THE only element, and if you read what I wrote above you'll see that. That has not been my argument, at all, in this thread. Read through what I've written here. Don't mistake me trying to make one specific point about one factor with what I'm trying to say about the bigger picture.

Ryan, I am glad the we are approaching agreement. Thanks for checking the Ferguson, MO, claim. I pulled that example out of my imagination, and it would be good to have actual data. A point that needs further examination is Ferguson, MO's demographic profile. I have a dim memory of news reports during the protests there asserting that Ferguson is a majority black community with a largely white police force.

If I find myself in sympathy with Lee's reaction to what he reads on Savage Minds, it is not because race is mentioned and race is unimportant; I have just agreed that it is. What troubles me is that race has, it appears to me, become the one and only factor deemed worthy of discussion and that mentions of other possibilities are greeted with ad hominem attacks claiming that those who suggest them must be implicitly if not overtly racist.

Serendipiitously, I was with my wife two days ago. We were having dinner with two other women, both younger but close to us in age. One was an ardent Democrat, the other was, she said, a registered Republican. All three women supported Clinton and blame her defeat on misogyny.

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