There is one theory that fully explains the massive support that Trump continues to get among the Republican voting base: That they’re racist.
To be clear, this is a theory, not a conclusion.
But it’s certainly a likely enough theory that the mainstream media should be testing it to see if it’s true rather than avoiding the topic like the plague.
News consumers deserve an explanation for the MAGA phenomenon and right now they’re not getting it. And this theory certainly would explain a lot.
Our top newsrooms are too timid to go there, however. Racism, especially when it comes to calling specific people or practices racist, has long been the third rail of journalism. Newsroom leaders don’t want to be accused of stoking racial resentment, don’t want to alienate racist readers, and don’t want to have to defend their own insufficient attempts to diversify their newsrooms and sources. They just don’t want to go there.
Sadly, the fact that racism may be the key to understanding the current political climate hasn’t changed that aversion.
When mainstream journalists do address racism, they do so with euphemisms and denials. These days that means they understate the racist rhetoric from Trump and other leading Republicans, and they actively cover up the racism of his supporters and make excuses for them.
They don’t ignore racism entirely. What they do is worse: they normalize it.
The Washington Post, for instance, had a long, overdue front-page article on Sunday about how Trump and his fellow GOP candidates are taking overtly racist positions – except get this: They substituted the word “polarizing” for racist.
The headline on the article by Maeve Reston, Hannah Knowles and Meryl Kornfield was “Led by Trump, GOP candidates take polarizing stances on race and history.”
The article noted that Trump “uses dehumanizing rhetoric to describe undocumented immigrants before largely White audiences” and that Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis once credited slavery with teaching enslaved people marketable skills.
But it didn’t describe that rhetoric as racist. Amazingly enough, it didn’t even let others describe it as racist! The article’s harshest assessment was that Trump, DeSantis and Nikki Haley are “speaking about history and race in polarizing and provocative ways that sometimes diverge from or distort the facts, some political strategists, experts and civil rights leaders said.”
The article mentioned the potential political downside:
Their comments have stoked outrage among many Americans and risk alienating wide swaths of voters, including the independent and moderate voters whom Haley has been courting, according to strategists in both parties.
But it glanced over the central role – the political “upside” — that racism plays in Republican politics today.
Cast in point: The reporters interviewed some voters in Iowa and New Hampshire who apparently found the “polarizing” rhetoric “appealing.” But rather than identifying them as what they are – racist — the reporters simply called them “conservative” and described the origin of their views in the weakest, most euphemistic terms imaginable:
Many in the GOP are resentful of liberal leaders who they see as constantly pointing out or forcing the country to apologize for past atrocities, and some are angry about demographic and cultural shifts in America driven in part by immigration.
The avoidance of the term “racist” eventually became laughable — as when the article’s authors noted that “some Democrats have argued that the way the candidates have talked about racial issues has been problematic.”
Problematic? How about racist?
How Many Are Racist?
Let’s say that somewhere between 10 and 90 percent of Trump supporters are racist. Well, is it closer to 10 or closer to 90?
I’ll start the bidding at 43 percent. That’s the percentage of likely Iowa Republican caucus-goers who recently told Des Moines Register and NBC News pollsters that Trump calling for the “radical left thugs that live like vermin” to be “rooted out” actually made them more likely to support him. Or maybe I should start at 75 percent, adding in those who said the comment didn’t put them off.
Reporters should be fanning out to assess racism’s role in the choices the electorate is making. And that doesn’t mean asking: Are you racist? When they say no, that’s meaningless.
It means asking them what they believe. Do they subscribe to the great replacement theory? They’re racist. Do they believe that white Europeans are more desirable as immigrants than Africans or Asians? Racist. Do they believe that immigrants are “poisoning the blood” of the country? Racist. Do they feel like minorities are unfairly getting ahead of them in line for the American Dream? Racist.
I wrote in August about how the mainstream media too often destigmatizes racism by casting overtly racist sentiments as simply part of the culture wars.
For instance, a major Washington Post story that month described something obviously racist – the efforts to erase the horrors of slavery from school curricula in order not to offend white students – as part of “a roiling debate over reexamining, redefining and reimagining [the country’s] past.”
I cited some other examples of the media actively covering up for racists and racism in July, including a New York Times article that whitewashed the overt racism involved in a decision to rescind an offer to a Black professor, suggesting only that it revealed “wide divisions about diversity.”
Just this past week, the mainstream media recoiled from the notion that racism might have been a major factor in the persecution and ouster of Harvard president Claudine Gay, who right-wingers gleefully slimed as a diversity hire.
A.O Scott wrote in the New York Times that she was doomed by her technocratic answer in a congressional hearing. The Washington Post editorial board blamed it on university presidents’ habit of “pandering to left-wing activists” by weighing in on issues like Black Lives Matter.
Similarly, most major news sites were slow to pick up on the significance of former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley’s shocking omission of any mention of slavery when she was asked what caused the Civil War last week.
It was either overtly racist on her part or an example of her pandering to racists. (Thursday night, in a CNN town hall, Haley said she didn’t mention slavery because it was so obvious, and she insisted that she “had Black friends going up.”)
But in a follow up article in the Washington Post, Meryl Kornfield treated the issue of Republican racism as simply a messaging problem. She described her dinner with seven Republican men in a Charleston, S.C., Asian restaurant who “were frustrated with their party, feeling that it has struggled to offer an appealing message on race and effectively counter Democrats on the issue.”
To the mainstream media, Republican extremism about race (and abortion) is always a “messaging problem” rather than an authentic political problem – or, god forbid, a moral failing.
Calling it a political problem or moral failing would be too much like taking sides – in this case, against racism.