White identity politics has always been a thing, and with the election of President Trump, the issue doesn't appear to be leaving the national political conversation any time soon.
A common attack from some on the right during and since the 2016 election was that the left's embrace of identity politics further divided America.
“The longer they talk about identity politics, I got ’em,” former White House chief strategist Stephen K. Bannon said about Democrats shortly before leaving his position at the White House. “I want them to talk about racism every day. If the left is focused on race and identity, and we go with economic nationalism, we can crush the Democrats.”
But the most influential and powerful identity politics is actually white identity politics, the Atlantic’s Ta-Nehisi Coates argues in his forthcoming book, “We Were Eight Years In Power.” An excerpt from the book was published in the Atlantic last week with the headline “The First White President.”
Those familiar with how different racial groups vote weren't surprised that Trump won the white vote. The Republican nominee has won the majority of white voters in every presidential election over the past 50 years. Trump didn't even win the largest percentage of white voters in the past 40 years, not since Ronald Reagan won 66 percent of white voters for his reelection in 1984.
But how Trump won the white vote — and the amount he won it by — suggests a change in how modern presidential candidates talk about race in their campaigns.
Coates writes that Trump appealed to the anxieties of white voters who were uncomfortable with America's increasing diversity and that he did so in an overt, often offensive way previously unseen among successful candidates. The white electorate, Coates says, responded broadly.
“According to Edison Research, Trump won whites making less than $50,000 by 20 points, whites making $50,000 to $99,999 by 28 points, and whites making $100,000 or more by 14 points,” Coates writes.
Trump’s dominance among whites across class lines is of a piece with his larger dominance across nearly every white demographic. Trump won white women (+9) and white men (+31). He won white people with college degrees (+3) and white people without them (+37). He won whites ages 18-29 (+4), 30-44 (+17), 45-64 (+28), and 65 and older (+19). Trump won whites in Midwestern Illinois (+11), whites in Mid-Atlantic New Jersey (+12), and whites in the Sun Belt’s New Mexico (+5).
Discomfort with “the other” fuels “fear of cultural displacement” among white working-class voters, according to a 2015 study by the Atlantic and the Public Religion Research Institute. “White working-class voters who say they often feel like a stranger in their own land and who believe the U.S. needs protecting against foreign influence were 3.5 times more likely to favor Trump than those who did not share these concerns,” according to the study.
Among Trump supporters, many of whom reject the notion of hyphenated identifiers, hearing Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton repeatedly discuss how the experiences of black Americans, immigrants and other racial minorities differed from white Americans was off-putting — especially among the more than half of white working-class Americans who believe discrimination against whites has become as much of a problem as discrimination against racial minorities.
The question is how will these voters respond to white identity politics in the future. The majority of Americans — 56 percent — viewed Trump's response to last month's deadly protests in Charlottesville negatively, according to a Washington Post-ABC News poll. Nearly six in 10 voters — 59 percent — say Trump has encouraged white supremacists, according to a Quinnipiac poll.
So some may ask, will voters choose a candidate to lead an increasingly diverse country who appeals less to white voters? No, Coates argues.
“The American tragedy now being wrought is larger than most imagine and will not end with Trump,” he writes. “Trump’s legacy will be exposing the patina of decency for what it is and revealing just how much a demagogue can get away with.”
If approval ratings from Republican voters are any indication, Trump is still doing pretty well, even on racial issues. While the majority of Americans looked at Trump's response to the Charlottesville protests disapprovingly, most Republicans — 62 percent — gave him favorable marks. So it is possible that “The First White President” could have an extended stay at the White House.