Hoisted from the Archives: Debt to GDP Ratios and Future Economic Growth

Weekend Reading: Jamelle Bouie on the Rise of Donald Trump

Janelle Bouie: How Donald Trump happened: Racism against Barack Obama: "we’ve been missing the most important catalyst in Trump’s rise... Barack Obama...

...Obama is a conventional politician—well within the center-left of the Democratic Party. Or at least, he’s governed in that mode, with an agenda that sits safely in the mainstream. Laws like the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act and the Affordable Care Act weren... built out of proposals from the right and left, passed by a majority of Congress that was elected to pursue solutions on health care and the economy. Barack Obama is many things, but conservative rhetoric aside, he’s no radical.

We can’t say the same for Obama as a political symbol, however. In a nation shaped and defined by a rigid racial hierarchy, his election was very much a radical event, in which a man from one of the nation’s lowest castes ascended to the summit of its political landscape... with heavy support from minorities: Asian Americans and Latinos were an important part of Obama’s coalition, and black Americans turned out at their highest numbers ever in 2008.... For millions of white Americans who weren’t attuned to growing diversity and cosmopolitanism, however, Obama was a shock, a figure who appeared out of nowhere to dominate the country’s political life.... When coupled with the broad decline in incomes and living standards caused by the Great Recession, it seemed to signal the end of a hierarchy that had always placed white Americans at the top, delivering status even when it couldn’t give material benefits....

The Obama era didn’t herald a post-racial America as much as it did a racialized one, where millions of whites were hyperaware of and newly anxious about their racial status.... This isn’t the first time in our history that whites have worried about losing their pre-eminent status. In the early 20th century, massive Southern and Eastern European immigration, as well as Chinese immigration in the American West, fueled nativism and white racism, and helped lead to the resurrection of the Ku Klux Klan... against immigrants, blacks, and religious minorities like Catholics. This, along with a broader nativist movement, had an enormous impact.... ‘The election of the country’s first black president had the ironic upshot of opening the door for old-fashioned racism to influence partisan preferences after it was long thought to be a spent force in American politics’ wrote Brown University political scientist Michael Tesler....

Canvas a Trump event and you’ll meet people who have seen these changes up close. They are teachers, police officers, small-business owners, and city employees who hold the closest thing to middle-class jobs in the rural towns and older suburbs where Trump draws his most ardent support.... These somewhat better-off Americans have seen their friends and family fall into dependency, whether to drugs or alcohol or welfare. They are both sympathetic to this plight—which is why Trump’s call for more help for veterans and seniors resonates with them—but also frustrated and angry. The country, and its leaders, made a promise: If you worked hard, you would get ahead. But that didn’t happen.... Ira Katznelson details... [how] being white was traditionally a pathway to middle-class security... offered protection from the worst of our economy’s ravages....

Trump reflects specific choices by Republican and conservative elites. From indulging anti-Obama conspiracy theories to attacking him as an enemy of the United States, conservatives chose to nurture resentment and anxiety and distill it into something potent. You can draw a direct line to the rise of Trump from the racial hysteria of talk radio--where figures like Rush Limbaugh, a Trump booster, warned that Obama would turn the world upside down. ‘The days of [minorities] not having any power are over and they are angry,’ said Limbaugh to his audience. ‘They want to use their power as a means of retribution.’... Throughout our history, a substantial minority of whites has responded to America’s always-shifting racial and economic terrain with a primal fear of being dominated, of finding themselves at the bottom....

For Americans opposed to Trump, it’s tempting to believe that his base is a shrinking part of America; that these are the death throes of racial reaction. Eventually, goes the thinking, they’ll fade from view too. That is wishful thinking.... Trumpism will enter the firmament of modern politics, a powerful current that will shape the future of the Republican Party, and the Democratic one too. Trump came on the stage as a clown. But whenever he leaves, he’ll do it as a new icon of a familiar movement in American life.

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