A persistent question is why working class and ow income whites continue to vote Republican when the GOP agenda is decidedly against their own best economic interests. The answer, sadly, can be summarized in one word: racism. This same racism is what propelled Donald Trump to the White House even though he lost the popular vote by nearly 3 million votes. The phenomenon is akin to what my ahead of her time New Orleans belle grandmother said about poor whites: they needed blacks to be inferior to them to assure that they were not the lowest in the social pecking order. The Civil Rights movement ended much of the ability of these whites to openly discriminate, so now they shortsightedly vote for Republicans who want to slash the social safety net because in their warped minds, it will keep blacks and other non-whites subordinate to them. Meanwhile, they are the ones benefiting the most from the targeted programs. It's idiocy, but that is what defines the Trump base in general, racists and seemingly low intellect. A lengthy column in the New York Times looks at the phenomenon. Here are highlights:
One question that has troubled Democrats for decades is freshly relevant in the Trump-McConnell era: Why do so many voters support elected officials who are determined to cut programs that those same voters rely upon? Take Kentucky, which has a median household income that ranks 45th out of the 50 states.Over the past half century, residents of Kentucky have become steadily more reliant on the federal government. In the 1970s, federal programs provided slightly under 10 percent of personal income for Kentucky residents; by 2015, money from programs ranging from welfare and Medicaid to Social Security and Medicare more than doubled to 23 percent as a share of Kentuckians’ personal income.
Twenty years ago, there was only one county (out of 120) in which residents counted on the federal government for at least 40 percent of their personal income. By 2014, 28 counties were at 40 percent or higher. But as their claims on federal dollars rose, the state’s voters became increasingly conservative. In the 1990s, they began to elect hard right, anti-government politicians determined to cut the programs their constituents were coming to lean on.
Suzanne Mettler, a professor of government at Cornell, describes these developments — which can be found in states across the South, the Mountain West and the Midwest — in her new book, “The Government-Citizen Disconnect.”
Mettler gives the example of the Republican congressman Andy Barr, who “represents the Sixth District, which includes McCreary and Wolfe Counties. In both counties, 52 percent of income — approximately $12,000 per resident — flows from federal social policies.”
In the adjoining Fourth District, Representative Thomas Massie, also a Republican, “resides in Lewis County, in which 43 percent of income comes from federal government transfers.” Massie, Mettler notes, “stridently opposes social welfare spending, having been among the group of Republicans who forced the end of the long tradition of bipartisan cooperation on the farm bill in 2013 because they opposed its inclusion of the food stamp program.”
There is, however, one thread that runs through all the explanations of the shift to the right in Kentucky and elsewhere.
Race, the economists Alberto F. Alesina and Paola Giuliano write “is an extremely important determinant of preferences for redistribution. When the poor are disproportionately concentrated in a racial minority, the majority, ceteris paribus, prefer less redistribution.”
Alesina and Giuliano reach this conclusion based on the “unpleasant but nevertheless widely observed fact that individuals are more generous toward others who are similar to them racially, ethnically, linguistically.”
In their 2004 book, “Fighting Poverty in the U.S. and Europe: A World of Difference,” Alesina and Edward L. Glaeser, an economist at Harvard, found a pronounced pattern in this country: states “with more African-Americans are less generous to the poor.”
This pattern continues today. The states with the lowest ceiling on maximum grants in the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families program (which replaced traditional welfare in 1996) are in the region with the highest percentages of African-Americans, the South, and are overwhelmingly represented at the state and federal level by conservative Republicans.
Let’s start with a concept known as “last place aversion.” In a paper by that name, Ilyana Kuziemko, an economist at Princeton, Taly Reich, a professor of marketing at Yale, and Ryan W. Buell and Michael I. Norton, both at Harvard Business School, describe the phenomenon in which relatively low income individuals “oppose redistribution because they fear it might differentially help a ‘last-place’ group to whom they can currently feel superior.” Those thus positioned “exhibit a particular aversion to being in last place, such that a potential drop in rank creates the greatest disutility for those already near the bottom of the distribution.”
Among the findings of this group of researchers: people “making just above the minimum wage are the most likely to oppose its increase.”
Applying last-place aversion theory to means-tested federal programs for the poor reveals that the group most likely to voice opposition is made up of relatively poor whites right above the cutoff level to qualify for such programs.
Even more important than “last place aversion,” though, is the issue of what we might call deservingness: white Americans, more than citizens of other nations, distinguish between those they view as the deserving and the undeserving poor and they are much more willing to support aid for those they see as deserving: themselves.
“Americans believe that the poor are lazy; Europeans believe the poor are unfortunate,” report Alesina and Glaeser. . . . This distinction often translates into a differentiation between poor whites and poor minorities.
Among white respondents, the differences in the responses were striking: More than half, 58 percent, said average Americans got less than they deserved; 28 percent, however, said that African Americans do not get what they deserve. The difference, Tesler wrote, grows out of a “double standard in deservingness.”
Mick Mulvaney, Trump’s director of the Office of Management and Budget, addressed his view of the division between the deserving and undeserving poor in a column published by the Post and Courier in Charleston, S.C.: For years, we’ve focused on how we can help Americans receive taxpayer-funded assistance. Under President Trump’s leadership, we’re now looking at how we can respect both those who require assistance and the taxpayers who fund that support. For the first time in a long time, we’re putting taxpayers first. Taking money from someone without an intention to pay it back is not debt. It is theft. This budget makes it clear that we will reverse this larceny.
[A] key factor distinguishing counties that moved in a decisively Republican direction in 2016 was not the absolute number of African-Americans or immigrants, but the rate at which minority populations were growing.
The broader reality is that the Civil Rights revolution of the 1960s unleashed both progress and a backlash that continues to resonate in American politics five decades later. This backlash is in many ways more insidious than the blatant discrimination of the past and potentially more dangerous. It is an object of constant political anxiety for the left and continuous, concerted, calculated manipulation by the right, made more overt by [Trump]
the president of the United States, who has dispensed with the dog whistle and picked up a bullhorn.