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How 2016 was the Counter Reaction to Identity Politics

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Did 2016 prove that identity politics is failing?

On September 9th, 2016, then Democratic presidential candidate, Hillary Clinton, said that Donald Trump’s supporters were “racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamaphobic,” In response, Trump claimed her remarks showed “her true contempt for everyday Americans.” Clinton’s remarks were very general and demeaning to the American public. These comments are indicative of Clinton’s utilization of “Identity Politics” as a tool. Identity politics, or intersectionality, divides everyday individuals into groups based on sex, religion, race, or culture by creating artificial coalitions between causes that are unrelated. The current Democrat Party has mastered this strategy as evidenced by Hillary Clinton’s remarks generalizing her opponent’s supporters as bigots. It would be intellectually dishonest to deny that elements of the Republican Party have grown as a counter reaction to the Democratic Party’s divide and conquer strategy. However, much of President Trump’s support comes from individuals turned off by “identity politics” and the elite culture that demonizes dissenters.

On Election Night 2016, CNN contributor, Van Jones, was appalled by Trump’s victory and framed it as a “whitelash.” Melody Keilig claims, “Jones blamed the apparent scores of racist Americans all of whom are white in his mind, and inadvertently showed why the most unpopular GOP candidate of American political history had won the office of the most powerful nation on earth.” At no point in time does Van Jones recognize that Hillary Clinton’s total unfavorable rating is 52 percent, only a few points lower than Trump’s given the margin of error of five. It is important to recognize that both candidates’ low favorability ratings led to a decreased voter turnout in the general election. An intellectually honest individual would understand the commonalities between the swing states President Trump was able to win. Jones completely ignores the fact that “Wisconsin is such a solidly blue state that Hillary Clinton didn’t feel the need to campaign there in her general election battle…That turned out to be a mistake.” Trump had made comical remarks regarding his increasing poll numbers, and “Trump isn’t just appealing to angry voters fed up with economic decline and political dysfunction. He’s also converting that anger directly into votes.”

Angry states have in common, weak manufacturing employment, weak overall employment, and weak income growth. Trump’s lowest support came from states with decent employment and income trends. It appears Trump’s supporters are angry, but not because of a “changing country” as Van Jones remarked. It is quite evident that Democratic strategists are focused on the divisions rather than on unifying arguments. A prime political strategy would be to boost the economy in all states by lowering and simplifying the corporate income tax and by incentivizing states to attract business through regulation reduction. A wholesome analysis of the 2016 election would paint a very different picture for Democrats, like Van Jones, and it would debunk the liberal talking point that Trump’s victory was a “whitelash.”

President Trump’s campaign was poised to succeed given that Hillary Clinton represents the establishment. Trump was the business mogul with zero political experience and the lead role in a reality television show. On the other hand, Hillary Clinton is an experienced politician with the most qualifications for president than any prior president. They present vastly different depictions of the American voter’s ideal leader. Republicans, or those who participated in the GOP primaries, chose the political outsider to be the trailblazer of their party. Democrats, or those who participated in Democratic primaries, chose Clinton to lead their party. It is worth noting was Clinton’s difficulty in defeating Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT), a self-avowed Socialist. Sanders often proposed more economic nationalist policies and described Clinton as beholden to corporate influence, which Clinton partially blames for her general election loss to Trump.

This is particularly important because of the similarities between Trump’s base and Sander’s base. Both bases consisted of predominantly angry voters, those opposed to corporate money in politics, those seeking infrastructure investment, economic nationalists and those who support social welfare programs like Social Security. According to Newsweek, enough Sanders supporters voted for Donald Trump in the general election to propel Trump to the Presidency. Roughly 51,000 in Wisconsin, roughly 47,000 in Michigan, and roughly 116,000 in Pennsylvania did so. President Trump’s win margin in Wisconsin was merely 22,000 votes, 10,000 in Michigan, and 44,000 in Pennsylvania. These voters recognized the similarities between Sanders and Trump and believed these specific issues were more important than the others. These issues were tremendously important to the “forgotten men and women,” as manufacturing jobs and other industrial jobs have been sent to countries with cheaper labor costs. Democratic strategists ought to understand that Clinton’s loss in these three states were due to Trump’s similarities with Sanders and not due to a “whitelash.”

A closer look at the demographics of Trump voters will allow us to understand that identity politics is failing. 53 percent of men supported Trump and 41 percent supported Clinton with 6 percent supporting other candidates. 52 percent of voters in 2016 were female with 42 percent supporting Trump and 54 percent supporting Clinton and 4 percent voting for other candidates. Clinton received 1 percent less support from women than Barack Obama did in 2012, and 2 percent less than Barack Obama did in 2008. In an election where numerous states were won by small margins this is not insignificant. Left-wing attacks on dissidents as “misogynists or sexists” provoked a counter reaction. Clinton did not break through the glass ceiling because of misogyny, but rather due to alienating potential supporters through false labeling.

A look at voter turnout by race further disproves the effectiveness of identity politics. In 2016, 58 percent of white voters, 8 percent of black voters and 29 percent of Hispanics supported Trump. In 2008, only 55 percent of white voters and 4 percent of black voters supported Republican nominee, Senator John McCain. In 2012, 59 percent of white voters, 6 percent of black voters, and 27 percent of Hispanic voters supported Republican nominee, Mitt Romney. The general trend among these demographics is an increase in support for Trump from Hispanic and black voters. Trump actually lost support from white voters from Romney’s total of 59 percent to 58 percent of the total general election vote. Given the media’s description of Trump’s election as a “whitelash” and claiming “his ideology is white supremacy, in all its truculent and sanctimonious power,” the vast majority of tolerant Americans, whether they be of different races, cultures, religions, or genders, clearly voted against identity politics in 2016.

President Trump’s campaign tapped into a forgotten voting bloc, those who reside in so-called flyover country. This group of individuals has been demonized and accused of being every type of bigot, however, they proved to be the deciding factor in this election cycle. Democratic politicians thrive in large urban centers and coastal cities, whereas Republicans thrive in suburbs and rural areas. Throughout the campaign, media pundits discussed “the forgotten man.” Troy Senik of City Journal describes this feat, “Trump’s victory may well have completed the transformation of partisan politics into cultural proxy war—a transformation that, it bears noting, began well before he arrived on the political scene. As the pundits observed ad nauseam on election night, the America that voted for Trump lives, in large measure, at both a physical and social remove from the one that voted for Hillary Clinton.

They failed, however, to note an important asymmetry that explains why progressive America was as thunderstruck as Tuesday night passed into Wednesday morning: the Trump parts of the country understand the Clinton parts much better than vice versa. Over the past eight years, the residents of those parts of the nation—the ones not overflowing with shared work spaces, corporate diversity officer and mixologists—came to a dismaying conclusion: elite America didn’t just disagree with them; it resented their existence. The most notable example of this cultural difference was then candidate Barack Obama’s language referring to working-class voters in old industrial towns, saying “They get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.”

President Trump’s campaign intended to appeal to Republicans and to those estranged from the Progressive culture of name calling. Trump’s increased support after consistent attacks on the media and the establishment, or status quo politics, were early indications of his intentions to appeal to an audience often forgotten. Social media allows those to voice their opinions to a larger audience than previously possible, but Trump’s voters often remained silent in opposition to the Progressive cultural patronization. The 2016 election was a referendum on identity politics and corporate, elite culture.

2016 will no doubt be remembered as the year of “the forgotten man.” This forgotten voting bloc is often silent, but it will continue to grow as long as identity politics and elite culture continue to attack this group. President Trump’s election is only the beginning of the push-back from Americans feeling attacked by a culture that consistently views itself as superior.  “Identity politics itself is a misguided concept since it embraces division rather than unity.”  It is ineffective and it will continue to be voted down so long as many American voters feel they are being scolded and reprimanded. President Trump’s victory is the beginning of the end of identity politics as opponents of Progressive patronization build their counter movement, utilizing President Trump as their temporary leader.

Mitchell Nemeth is pursuing his Masters of Law at the University of Georgia.

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