According to the latest polls, US President Donald Trump continues to command the support of the majority of white and male voters in America.
This, despite his mismanagement of the coronavirus pandemic and the death of more than 160,000 Americans.
Despite the recession, the double-digit unemployment and the looming economic depression.
Despite widespread social unrest and overwhelming national discontent.
Despite his dismal foreign policy record, notably on China, North Korea, and Iran.
Despite all of that and much more, a majority among white and male voters tell pollsters they will vote for Trump again.
Based on the more conservative interpretations of the countless polls, Trump is leading presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden by 7 to 9 percentage points among white male voters. This is almost as many points as he is trailing Biden among all Americans nationally.
But the mainstream media has been coy in highlighting or discussing the issue. Media outlets have focused on how there is change among, say, white women, white college graduates or white senior citizens, but have hardly tackled the issue of the persistent and consistent support for Trump among whites.
All of which begs two questions: Why do so many white people, and white men in particular, continue to support Trump today, as they did in 2016? And, why is Biden likely to choose a Black woman to be his future vice president?
Let’s start with the second question first.
Diversity trumps uniformity among Democrats
Unable to break Trump’s hold on the majority of white and male voters, Biden is betting on his high support among female and minority voters to win.
By choosing a woman of colour as his running mate, he hopes the diverse Democratic base will be inspired and motivated to come out and vote in droves in November.
It helps that the two leading candidates, Senator Kamala Harris and former Obama administration national security adviser, Susan Rice, are known to be articulate, tough and driven.
Both are more than capable of debating vice president Mike Pence and taking on Donald Trump, as they have done over the past four years, without antagonising the affluent Democratic Party establishment as, say, Senator Elizabeth Warren might.
But there is also considerable risk in choosing either of them.
Neither candidate represents a swing state – which would be necessary to win the elections – and both may end up alienating white voters more than inspiring minority voters in key swing states, like Pennsylvania or Michigan.
Rice has never been elected to any public office, and has never campaigned, fundraised or truly been exposed to public scrutiny, all of which could prove problematic in the next three months. Her experience in domestic affairs is also limited.
Harris could prove a greater asset for Biden.
She became US senator only in 2016, and therefore lacks sufficient national and foreign policy experience but, like Barrack Obama who also served only three years in the Senate before running for the presidency, what she lacks in experience she makes up for in drive and ambition.
Having read her book, The Truth We Hold, I think Harris, the tough former district attorney, may be instrumental in neutralising Trump’s claims of being the “law and order” president. Her emphasis on pedigree and pragmatism over vision and conviction may prove helpful for both campaigning and serving as vice president.
Trump is already painting Biden as “mentally unfit” and is certain to make the case that, if the 77-year-old Biden leaves the post before the end of his term, America will end up with a Black Lives Matter cheerleader in the White House.
Which brings me to the more complex issue of “White America”.
A majority embracing a minority mindset
Today white people in the US complain of bias, and even claim to be “under attack”.
This, despite the fact that they make up almost three-quarters of the US population, and the majority of both parties.
Despite the fact that all US presidents were white men, except one.
Despite the fact that white men have always been and remain by far the richer, more affluent and more powerful group in the US.
Despite the fact that the majority of all lawmakers, governors, generals, CEOs, and millionaire and billionaires have always been white men.
And despite white men historically acting as perpetrators of violence, discrimination, and harassment against women and minorities.
An astounding 55 percent of white Americans believe white people experience racial discrimination. Some 84 percent of white Republicans reckon the country has already gone too far or far enough in giving Black people equal rights, even though structural racism remains rampant in the US.
And while it seems these and other sentiments have been simmering under the surface, no one has exploited and deepened such sentiments of self-righteous white victimhood as insidiously as Trump.
Those who naively hoped the Obama presidency would pave the way for a post-racial America were caught unprepared to confront the new “whitelash” in the spirit and style of the Trump administration.
Trump’s politics of division
The president has inherited an overwhelmingly white, conservative and somewhat evangelical Republican Party.
And while these may seem like separate categories, in his book, One Nation Under God: How Corporate America Invented Christian America, Princeton University historian Kevin Kruse has shown that class, race and religion are closely intertwined in modern America.
Kruse attributes the initial rise of modern white evangelism to the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM), a group founded in 1895 to advocate for “free enterprise” and supported by a few thousand very rich white men. In the late 1930s, provoked by Democratic President Franklin D Roosevelt’s New Deal and its welfare programmes, which he framed in and justified with scripture, NAM launched a massive public relations effort to promote the “benefits of capitalism”.
For years, the powerful group financed and nurtured a new white evangelical movement that championed the “freedom Gospel” over Roosevelt’s “social Gospel”, demonising “big government” as the antithesis of the “government of God”.
The movement gained momentum during the Cold War, demonising the atheist, communist Soviet Union and highlighting America’s “God-ordained” free capitalist system.
Indeed, modern evangelism and the gospel of free enterprise have since been instrumental in keeping the white working class in line with their bosses’ priorities, rejecting social and health programmes, labour unions, and of course, higher taxes on the rich, as un-godly.
Coupled with cultural conservatism and old-fashioned racism, this has led many white Republicans, especially working-class men, to blame minorities, immigrants, Muslims, foreigners and even women and homosexuals for their misfortunes, rather than, say, automation, globalisation or structural exploitation and systematic inequality.
This helps explain why the billionaire president remains popular, not only among affluent white Americans enjoying greater tax cuts and fewer regulations on their business, but also among struggling white working-class families.
This is especially the case among those with no higher education, who are easier to manipulate with populist slogans and empty promises. This was best expressed in one of Trump’s off the cuff remarks: “I love the poorly educated.”
In fact, ever since he infamously went down that golden Trump Tower escalator five years ago to deliver his first nasty, racist and, frankly, absurd speech as a presidential candidate, Trump has been exploiting white working-class vulnerabilities and inflaming racial, religious, and cultural divisions under the pretext of restoring greatness to, well, “White America”.
Since 2016, these Republicans have embraced him not for the Republican values of President Abraham Lincoln – with whom Trump likes to be compared – but rather for his macho, populist, xenophobic, and authoritarian approaches ala hyper-nationalist European tradition, best represented today by, yes, Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Evidently, Trump’s populist and authoritarian tendencies resonate with the Republican base, which likes to see traditional white power “restored” by hook or crook.
In other words, they have been willing to ignore his many blatant lies and undemocratic excesses – his attacks on the press, the courts, the governors, and even on the credibility of the elections.
They have bought into his smearing of the Black Lives Matter movement as a “symbol of hate”, and labelling as “terrorists” those who protested following the killing of George Floyd, which has deepened their feeling of insecurity towards legitimate democratic opposition.
They have ostensibly supported his use of federal law enforcement agents against mostly peaceful protests; his Muslim ban, and his declaration of “national emergency” under the pretext of a fake “migrant invasion” to finance his border wall.
They merely looked on as the “brother leader” hijacked the party, as he tore into its traditional and liberal Republican leadership, including the last Republican president, George Bush, the two former Republican candidates for the presidency, John McCain and Mitt Romney, former House Speaker, Paul Ryan, and former Secretaries Jim Mattis, Rex Tillerson and Jeff Sessions.
The fight for the soul of the party and the country
Trump has shrunken the Republican Party’s leadership and demonised all his critics and detractors within it and outside it, instead of expanding and diversifying its base by appealing to women, minorities and others.
By eliminating or weakening all that stands between him and his nationalist, evangelist white base, Trump has sacrificed the Republican Party at the altar of his greed and power.
He has emptied the party of its republicanism and turned it into a “cult of hate” under his eccentric and erratic leadership.
His consolidation of control within the party has rendered its future hostage to his own future.
A loss in the elections could mean the implosion of the Republican Party for years to come; the bigger the loss, the greater the implosion, with dramatic implications for the Republic and beyond.