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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   In another brilliant piece on the Trump phenomenon, “How to Read Donald Trump like Donald Duck,” Max Forte in Zero Anthropology combines two threads we’ve been pursuing here: the Jobs Trump and the Celebrity Culture Trump. 

https://zeroanthropology.net/2017/01/28/how-to-read-donald-trump-li...

 

"Trump’s major complaint seems to be that Mexico is guilty of the original sin:the sin of production, which is to be denied to all natives whose existence should be frozen in sloth and innocence. Mexicans should just sit on top of rich natural resources, that have no value to them, and be willing to give them up for a few foreign trinkets. By even taking a minimal role in assembly, Mexico threatens to join the Club of Producers. And natives, sorry, are not allowed to enter."

Regarding the “Club of Producers” Forte draws on Dorfman and Mattelart, How to Read Donald Duck

    As I’ve indicated, lately I’ve been puzzling over the connection between the Jobs/Work dialectic in American society-culture and in Trump’s campaign and the whole “celebrity culture” interpretation of Trump as a folkloric figure, as developed by Paul Stoller and Michael Scroggins.  The basis of that connection is that jobs/work is not simply an economic matter; it is impossible to divorce it from Trump the folkloric figure.  In short, the tension between jobs/work is an element of a cultural construct (or, again, since we’ve understandably grown apprehensive over the “culture” concept) a semiotic order.  That semiotic order may be close to the reality of American society-culture (Orange hair and ontology!). 

    On an entirely different note, in our lively discussion of “identity politics” as one of three aspects of the Trump phenomenon we’ve focused on racism.  Other aspects of the role of identity politics prominently include Trump’s attitude toward women, as attributed to him on the basis of a number of flagrant remarks he’s made.  As John noted, people he’s talked with about the election were more concerned with Trump’s “misogyny” than his “racism.”  That should be examined in our discussion. 

    Regarding that charge of racism, I’m still waiting for Trump quotes from the campaign trail that are blatantly prejudiced against American blacks.  And for an explanation of why Hispanics, whom he slandered, voted for Trump at a rate almost four times that of blacks.  

Re Hispanics: One possible explanation is that Trump wasn't perceived as slandering "Hispanics." His rhetoric and the policy proposal to build a wall are both directed primarily at Mexicans.

I am thinking out loud here as I try to wrap my head around the events of the last 10 days.


American Carnage: Works and Shoots.

We have spent some on which anthropologists and journalists saw Trump coming, which were caught by surprise, and why that matters. But there was another group of social commentators who saw Trump coming we haven't yet discussed - aficionados of World Wrestling Entertainment (the WWE). There were dozens of blog posts and articles during the campaign (in everything from Rolling Stone and The Atlantic to The Bleacher Report) explaining Trump's style in terms of wrestling concepts and arguing that Trump's notoriety (Trump is a WWE HOF'er) could propel him to victory.

There are a number of reasons for thinking through the Trump phenomena by way of professional wrestling. Recall Barthes' observation that wrestling is a morality play whose guiding figure is justice and whose mode is spectacle. Barthes notes the wrestling ring has the power to transmute even the most offensive bastard into an instrument of justice. As for wrestling rings, so for American elections. I would go so far as to say Trump gave himself a ring name, American Carnage, in his inaugural address and positioned himself as an instrument of justice for "the forgotten" who voted for him.

I will outline a few more reasons to think elections through rings below.

Conceptually, wrestling contains a rich stock of characters and storylines that help explain some of the elements of the presidential campaign that were out of the norm. During the campaign, Trump played a heel who feuded with both the media and the party establishment. While any other candidate, any face, would be derailed by the revelations that hit Trump, the revelations are all in keeping with the persona of heel. And pro wrestling is awash in racist gimmicks and worn-out tropes, many of which (Evil Foreigners, etc..) Trump regularly pulls on in his speeches, tweets, and executive orders.

Empirically, the demographics of the WWE align with the demographics of Trump voters. In both instances, the striking trait is educational achievement. The older white male HS graduate (the "forgotten people" of Trump's inaugural address) forms the demographic core of both the wrestling audience and the Trump campaign. Those unexpected Trump voters who turned up at his rallies, and at the polls in the midwest, were likely very familiar with the ins and outs of pro wrestling.

But the more compelling reason to take wrestling seriously is the sophisticated understanding professional wrestling has developed over the years of the relationship between fact and narrative. Pro wrestling has a complex and subtle vocabulary for describing the interplay between staged events (works), real events (shoots), and staged events presented as real events (a worked shoot). Wrestling also has a complex and subtle vocabulary for discussing the audience relationship to the fact and narrative. There are viewers who mistake the staged for the real (marks), those who discern the difference between staged and real (smarts), and those who enjoy searching for the boundary between the staged and the real (smarks).

To back up a bit, this is not the first election cycle the disjunction between the fact and narrative has been problematic for academically minded observers to conceptualize. Back in 2004 the NYT Magazine published a lengthy article by Ron Suskind on George Bush's often oblique relationship with fact.

"The aide said that guys like me were "in what we call the reality-based community," which he defined as people who "believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality." I nodded and murmured something about enlightenment principles and empiricism. He cut me off. "That's not the way the world really works anymore," he continued. "We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you're studying that reality -- judiciously, as you will -- we'll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that's how things will sort out. We're history's actors . . . and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do."

The "we" above refers to both the Bush administration narrowly and to Bush's supporters more broadly, who find in Bush's deep religious faith a maker, not an explainer, of history. An actor on the stage, not a critic in the audience. Trump is a historical actor of a different sort than George Bush, but he has a similar relationship with his base of supporters. And he has a similar relationship with acting and creating "new realities". Note what Peter Thiel had to say about Trump after the election:

"I think one thing that should be distinguished here is that the media is always taking Trump literally. It never takes him seriously, but it always takes him literally. ... I think a lot of voters who vote for Trump take Trump seriously but not literally"

It is worth considering Trump supporters as smarks (not cultural dopes) who are in on the joke and the media (and many academics) as marks who mistake Trump's worked bits for shoots. In this sense, Trump's many ongoing feuds can be viewed as an angle in service his gimmick as outsider and heel.

Is Trump's White House anything other than a worked shoot. I would count the rash of executive orders in the last 10 days as series of worked shoots. Many of them will be overturned, limited, or otherwise rendered toothless in time. But their overturning will form a new angle in service to Trump's gimmick as an outsider and heel.

 

Will the Mighty Sheikh Hurl His Magic Fireball?

 

 

 (title of a long-ago essay by Jim Freedman)

 

    Great stuff, way more fun than slicing and dicing election stats.  Smarks and marks.  (Marks:  civilization as a con game; could Trump have been reading William Burroughs on the sly? …. Nah, it’s in the air he breathes.)  From that melon head of orange hair it’s only a baby step of the imagination to picture Trump in a huuge gold belt strapped across his impeccably tailored suit.

    I do wonder, though, if the theme of the wrestling ring with its studied theatrics holds up in the recent political climate, where the ultimate fighting cage match may be nearer the D. C. reelity/reality.  Is Trump WWE or UFC?  

Isn't this how Trump fired the acting attorney general the other day? Politics is like wrestling; the action is worked but the injuries are real.

I also want to keep open the possibility that Trump can't tell the real from the reel. Only Altman's Tanner '88 approaches the logic necessary to grasp the Trump phenomena. 

 

Still mulling over Trump and WWE.  The return of Gorgeous George?  Wrestling + reality TV make a mighty duo in a cultural analysis of the Trump phenomenon. 

Reelity vis-à-vis Reality;  Art vis-à-vis Life;  Celebrity culture vis-à-vis Jobs, Jobs, Jobs. 

In the meantime,  coming soon to a country near you….?  

 

 

 

Michael:  But the more compelling reason to take wrestling seriously is the sophisticated understanding professional wrestling has developed over the years of the relationship between fact and narrative. Pro wrestling has a complex and subtle vocabulary for describing the interplay between staged events (works), real events (shoots), and staged events presented as real events (a worked shoot). Wrestling also has a complex and subtle vocabulary for discussing the audience relationship to the fact and narrative. There are viewers who mistake the staged for the real (marks), those who discern the difference between staged and real (smarts), and those who enjoy searching for the boundary between the staged and the real (smarks).

 

    Intriguing.  And that boundary between staged and the real is full of so many twists and turns that one sometimes (usually?) doesn’t know which side one inhabits.  This is indeed the situation in which we find ourselves with the Trump phenomenon.  Much as folks (including anthropologists – who should know better) want to believe things are perfectly clear-cut (racism! misogyny!  fascism!) and hit the protest lines, they’re not.

    Here’s an example to go with Michael’s account of the complex relationship between fact and narrative in professional wrestling, drawn from my dedicated scholarly endeavors (!) -- one of my favorite cop shows, Justified, starring Timothy Olyphant as Raylen Givens the “Kentucky cowboy,” a U. S. Marshall who finds himself reassigned to his old stomping grounds.  Raylen has been reassigned because he blew away a gangster in an Old West style gunfight that drew too much attention to the Marshall’s service.  [Like Shane before him: 

Joey[after the gun battle] Shane! I knew you could, Shane. I knew it. I knew it just as well as anything. Was that him? Was that Wilson?

Shane: [with his thousand-mile stare]  That was him. That was Wilson alright. He was fast - fast on the draw.] 

 

Justice for Raylen is “He pulled (drew) first.”  Only then does Raylen pull. 

 

-----------------------------

 So, the scene: 

Raylen and his marshall partner are on a long, tedious stake-out, waiting for a dangerous woman, Shirley, active in the rackets to appear.  They chat. 

 

Raylen:  What’s the trick to somethin’ like that? 

Tim Gutterson, fellow agent:  Wha’?  Keepin you focused? 

Raylen:  Mmhmm

Gutterson:  Well, they told us to come up with stories about ourselves and the target. 

Raylen:  Wha’ you mean, “stories”? 

Gutterson:  Well, nothing elaborate.  Imagine taking Shirley to the movies, watching “Price is Right,” eating take-out Chinese.  They eventually stopped that, the business with the stories. . .

Raylen:  Why’s that? 

Gutterson:  Well, they find some folks get so involved in the tales they’re telling themselves, they grow to like the part . . .  and when they got the green light, they couldn’t pull [their gun]. 

Raylen:  That ever happened to you? 

Gutterson:  Well, …

[Car rolls up to curb, their “target” gets out of driver’s side]

Gutterson:  That her?

Raylen:  Looks like it.  [They exit their car]

--------------------------------

 

 Fact vis-à-vis narrative.  That ever happened to you?  

1) In the beginning of his chapter on Nationalist Socialist Germany, Eric Wolf argues that the movement is best understood as "akin to cargo cults and ghost dances studied by anthropologists than as a rational deployment of means to ends. Its ideology projected the overthrow of the existing order and its forcible replacement by a new regime of 'bread and hope'" (Wolf 1999:198). Looking at Trump as a kind of cargo cult may work as well...a revitalization movement to "Make American Great Again" that promises to bring back jobs and some sort of mid 20th century industrial order. Trump's version of the cargo cult figure takes a strange form...the billionaire anti-elitist celebrity who claims to speak for the working class.

2) I need to catch up on the jobs/work discussion. But many of Trump's promises seem to pretty much be along the usual "bread and circuses" proclamations that many politicians make. I agree it's about more than just economics. As a side note, I've been looking into profiles about Steve Bannon, and his philosophy is composed of an interesting mix of anti-elitist, class-based economics (coming close at some points to arguments made by the "Occupy" folks on the left) and a belief in historical patterns of crisis (he's apparently very enthralled with a book called The Fourth Turning that predicts wars/crisis every 80 years or so). Bannon is currently being characterized as the evil mastermind, which I guess he may be, but he seems to be sort of an enigmatic figure. He calls himself an "economic nationalist." Some have called him the right-wing version of Michael Moore.

3) Regarding the Trump campaign's use of racism and misogyny, I think it's important to remember that they used various tactics to rally their base and appeal to specific aspects of it. Also, part of the point of all that was to spark a reaction from the "enemy," which also excited and strengthened his support. Trump's comment about shooting someone in the face and not losing any votes (see this: https://qz.com/751320/donald-trump-and-his-followers-could-destroy-...) is part of that wider tactic.

4) Lee writes: "Regarding that charge of racism, I’m still waiting for Trump quotes from the campaign trail that are blatantly prejudiced against American blacks." Well, if that's what you're looking for you're not going to find it. Trump made some pretty blatant comments about Mexicans and Muslims, but was more coded when it came to black people--statements about inner cities, crime, etc. But it wasn't just about what Trump and company said, but also how they went about the election, who they focused their messages on, and who they allowed into their camp. They didn't exactly push the overt racists and white supremacists away--this was perhaps a small faction under the Trump tent, but it was vocal and influential. Then there was the issue of voter suppression, conflicts about gerrymandering, etc. So there's more to it than just seeking out statements DT made on the campaign trail. The other aspect of this is looking into how and why certain racists (or race realists as some of them call themselves) are so excited about Trump (Richard Spencer, Jared Taylor, David Duke, people who write for VDARE, etc) and what role they played in rallying followers and support.

5) As for "Hispanic" (or Latino) voters, the issue of abortion was one key element that split many of them when it came to Trump. Many are Catholic, and the abortion issue is one of those single issues that drives people to the polls. But then it's important to remember that "Hispanics" encompasses a range of groups, from Mexicans (who were explicitly targeted by Trump) to Cubans (many of whom actually supported Trump). Here's one article about the Cuban vote for Trump: http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2016/11/15/unlike-other-latino...

6) Considering all of our discussions about getting it wrong, polls, etc, this series from fivethirtyeight is a good read (link: http://fivethirtyeight.com/features/the-real-story-of-2016/). Here are some of the key points:

  • Most of the models underestimated the extent to which polling errors were correlated f.... If Clinton were going to underperform her polls in Pennsylvania, for instance, she was also likely to do so in demographically similar states such as Wisconsin and Michigan.
  • Several of the models were too slow to recognize meaningful shifts in the polls, such as the one that occurred after the Comey letter on Oct. 28.
  • Most of the models didn’t account for the additional uncertainty added by the large number of undecided and third-party voters, a factor that allowed Trump to catch up to and surpass Clinton in states such as Michigan.
  • Some of the models were based only on the past few elections, ignoring earlier years, such as 1980, when the polling had been way off.

7) I like Michael's discussion about WWE. There's a lot to work with there. But I think WWE is just one part of the picture, and that a broader consideration of the role and context of media is vital here. Nate Silver at 538 made a very interesting point in one of the articles in the above series: he basically said that the election was heavily dependent on the ebbs and flows of media coverage. Clinton and Trump's numbers were very sensitive to news coverage, and at the moment of the election the James Comey thing had just come down the pike. If media has this kind of effect, much of the traditional rhetoric and campaign promises seem to be beside the point. If it's all infowars and all about voters' impressions of reality, we're heading into some different territory. But maybe we've already been there for a while.

Lee Drummond said:

 

   In another brilliant piece on the Trump phenomenon, “How to Read Donald Trump like Donald Duck,” Max Forte in Zero Anthropology combines two threads we’ve been pursuing here: the Jobs Trump and the Celebrity Culture Trump. 

https://zeroanthropology.net/2017/01/28/how-to-read-donald-trump-li...

 

"Trump’s major complaint seems to be that Mexico is guilty of the original sin:the sin of production, which is to be denied to all natives whose existence should be frozen in sloth and innocence. Mexicans should just sit on top of rich natural resources, that have no value to them, and be willing to give them up for a few foreign trinkets. By even taking a minimal role in assembly, Mexico threatens to join the Club of Producers. And natives, sorry, are not allowed to enter."

Regarding the “Club of Producers” Forte draws on Dorfman and Mattelart, How to Read Donald Duck

    As I’ve indicated, lately I’ve been puzzling over the connection between the Jobs/Work dialectic in American society-culture and in Trump’s campaign and the whole “celebrity culture” interpretation of Trump as a folkloric figure, as developed by Paul Stoller and Michael Scroggins.  The basis of that connection is that jobs/work is not simply an economic matter; it is impossible to divorce it from Trump the folkloric figure.  In short, the tension between jobs/work is an element of a cultural construct (or, again, since we’ve understandably grown apprehensive over the “culture” concept) a semiotic order.  That semiotic order may be close to the reality of American society-culture (Orange hair and ontology!). 

    On an entirely different note, in our lively discussion of “identity politics” as one of three aspects of the Trump phenomenon we’ve focused on racism.  Other aspects of the role of identity politics prominently include Trump’s attitude toward women, as attributed to him on the basis of a number of flagrant remarks he’s made.  As John noted, people he’s talked with about the election were more concerned with Trump’s “misogyny” than his “racism.”  That should be examined in our discussion. 

    Regarding that charge of racism, I’m still waiting for Trump quotes from the campaign trail that are blatantly prejudiced against American blacks.  And for an explanation of why Hispanics, whom he slandered, voted for Trump at a rate almost four times that of blacks.  

There's also this post from Alex on Savage Minds: https://savageminds.org/2017/01/30/the-anthropology-of-trumps-execu...

One part of the post: "There is a lot more to say about Trump’s executive order — that it was poorly executed, cynically designed for political gain, and cultivates a public atmosphere of ignorance and fear in order to make our democracy more pliable and subject to tyranny. American anthropologists can and should push back against the order, which is opposed to both our interests and our values. But most of all, we need to use the findings and methods of anthropology to understand the difference between what must be done and what will make us feel good. Only then will we have the ability to make hard decisions well, and be able to engage with our fellow citizens to convince them that we have far less to fear than Donald Trump wants us to think."

Ryan, I consider what you have written here an excellent summary of the current state of the debate. What follows is intended as a development, an addition to and not a critique, of what you have said.

Having worked in advertising, I know that infowars and voter impressions can be important. I also know, however, that the impact of voter impressions depends substantially on material conditions and existing prejudices, together with the media through which political messages are delivered. Where we anthropologists tend to argue either-or, advertising pros focus more on who, how, and how much. From this perspective, attention is paid to the skill with which the Trump message was targeted to reach specific groups of alienated voters who ordinarily might not have voted at all and why his messaging resonated with them.

Hey John, ya I agree that voter impressions are going to depend on existing conditions and prejudices. But it's also a dynamic thing, meaning that people's ideas/leanings shift a lot, even if they're anchored in certain foundations (whether we're talking about ongoing economic conditions/class or ideology). And yes, I agree with you that any analysis would have to pay close attention to how the Trump campaign message targeted various groups of alienated voters. That's key. I think media plays an important role in this, but that's not the only thing going on. If we go back and look at the rise of the Tea Party movement we can see the roots of the grievances and alliances that eventually coalesced in Trump's campaign. There are a couple short pieces by Frontline that provide some background for the Trump movement:

Climate of Doubt: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/frontline/film/climate-of-doubt/

Trump's road to the White House: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/frontline/film/trumps-road-to-the-white-house/

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