Whenever we’d see a Trump bumper sticker, billboard or T-shirt, we’d point it out to each other. “There’s another one,” we’d say. Then we’d lapse into silence.
All along Hw 90, we were reminded that we weren’t in Canada anymore. It was weird.
And unlike when we are in Canada – where it’s safe to call Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump a racist, bigot and white nationalist out loud – we kept our comments to ourselves. At the Niagara Falls border crossing, in fact, our son implored us to say nothing about Trump. “They have microphones at the border,” he said nervously and we did what he asked.
So as we got deeper into America, we continued to keep quiet about Trump. As our son suggested, it’s hard to know which white person supports him and which one doesn’t.
Gallup, however, has given us a useful field guide. As everyone expected, it tends to be older, whiter men. But the assumption everybody – me included – previously made about the core Trump vote is wrong.
Before Massachusetts, I simply assumed, like everyone else, that Trump’s vote was rooted in economic insecurity and resentments. I had bought into all of the Rust Belt theory: he was attracting the support of older white men in the presidential primaries who believed they lost their manufacturing jobs to trade deals, technology and globalization.
Massachusetts has one of the highest rates of post-secondary education in the union, you see. And in the primaries, Trump won Massachusetts in a landslide.
Gallup has now released a massive study that makes clear that the No. 1 preoccupation of the Trump vote isn’t the economy. It’s race.
“His supporters are less educated and more likely to work in blue collar occupations, but they earn relative high household incomes, and living in areas more exposed to trade or immigration does not increase Trump support. There is stronger evidence that racial isolation and less strictly economic measures of social status, namely health and intergenerational mobility, are robustly predictive of more favourable views toward Trump, and these factors predict support for him but not other Republican presidential candidates.”
Race, not economy. That’s why Trump called Mexicans rapists and murderers, why he called for a ban on Muslims, and why he said blacks are the cause of crime. Race. He knew exactly what he was doing in the primaries and it worked.
Being a Canadian, I of course thought that the election and re-election of a black man as president meant that the United States – where I lived for years and which I love – had put an end to racism. I watched Jesse Jackson cry on election night in 2008 and I concluded that America had been reborn.
Well, it hasn’t been – and Trump is irrefutable proof.
So, too, are his voters. They aren’t a media construct. They are real people. And they feel they have been left behind by trade, technology and the times. And if we are being honest with ourselves, they actually have been, haven’t they?
Now, don’t get me wrong. Trump is a deranged, autocratic, racist piece of garbage. He is the worst of the worst. That’s the truth.
But as we headed south along the turnpike, this also is true: he has awoken a beast. And after Trump loses in November, everyone will still have to contend with that beast roaming America, upending conventions and common wisdom.
The beast is coming to Canada, too. Just watch. Rob Ford was just the beginning.
Warren Kinsella is a Canadian journalist, political adviser and commentator.