The people who backed Donald Trump for president in 2016 have largely continued to support him. In the previous election, many of them pointed to cultural anxiety as one of their main reasons for backing Trump’s pledge to “make America great again.” But as more Americans label the president a racist due to his worldview, the voters who continue to back him are becoming bolder in justifying their support, citing retaliation for being viewed as backing a racist.
Trump was unapologetic in stoking the fears of many white Americans when he launched his presidential campaign in 2016. In his opening campaign speech, he articulated his hard-line immigration ideas in response to fears about the impact of Mexican immigrants on America’s cultural fabric.
As a result, the neophyte politician rose to the top of the polls ahead of former governors, senators and other veteran politicos rather quickly. All of this led to claims of racism, largely from people of color on the left who saw a familiarity in Trump’s words — claims that were not boldly embraced by those on the left but that have since become more mainstream.
But fear of being accused of backing a white supremacist worldview caused many Trump fans to remain silent about their support for the real estate developer or to publicly express support for someone else while privately backing Trump.
Today, on the second anniversary of the Charlottesville violence that led the president to call neo-Nazis “very good people,” and as the president’s overall approval ratings remain relatively low, many of those who brought him to the dance appear to be dancing more closely than ever. And they are blaming their critics for their faithfulness to a man whom writer Ta-Nehisi Coates called “America’s first white president.”
After Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-Tex.) tweeted the names of maximum Trump donors in his district — which are all public record, by the way — accusing them of “fueling a campaign of hate that labels Hispanic immigrants as invaders,” the backlash from Trump-supporting Republicans was severe.
Erick Erickson, a conservative Christian radio host, wrote:
“Come at me, jackass. I just donated more to Donald Trump and did so in your honor.”
After news broke that billionaire Stephen Ross was hosting a fundraiser for the president, members of Equinox and Soul Cycle, fitness centers that Ross partly owns, began canceling their memberships, accusing the Miami Dolphins owner of supporting a racist agenda. According to the Republican National Committee chairwoman, their protests motivated donors.
“Thanks to the unhinged mob on the left, President Trump raised $12M today, $2M more than originally expected,” she tweeted.
And when MSNBC’s Vaughn Hillyard asked Iowa resident Bob Fisher whom he was supporting, the Republican voter intimated that his support for Trump was due to criticism from those on the left:
“Guess: I'm white, old, they call me all kinds of names,” he replied. “Who do you think I would vote for?”
“Everybody knows,” Fisher added. “We're the bad people."
Many Trump supporters express indignation at being labeled racist, but the worldview they admittedly embrace demonstrates a hostility to diversity.
In a recent survey by the Public Religion Research Institute, a D.C.-based nonpartisan research organization, more than 60 percent of Republicans said the shift of the United States to being a majority nonwhite country would be a mostly negative development.
Six in 10 Republicans also said that they felt like strangers in their own country, and nearly 6 in 10 white evangelical Protestants — one of the most pro-Trump demographic groups in the country — said immigrants are a threat to American society.
While criticism of Trump is increasing, the president’s most loyal voters are not reconsidering their support for him but are doubling down and showing signs of continuing to do so as we move closer to the 2020 elections. But in 2020, cultural anxiety may no longer be cited as the reason for supporting Trump. Instead, an aversion to being labeled a racist appears to be a main motivator for those whose idea of a great America is more reminiscent of the past than the future.