Beyond Black and White, the Role Xenophobia Played in the Election

Yesterday Martin raised some important questions about the findings outlined by Thomas Wood in an article titled, “Racism motivated Trump voters more than authoritarianism.” On the same day, Philip Klinkner wrote, “Immigration was central to the election, and hostility toward immigrants animated Trump voters.”

It is important to note that this kind of analysis has been triggered by the release of data from the American National Election Study (ANES). That was also the basis for an article by Mehdi Hasan that I referenced previously titled, “Top Democrats Are Wrong: Trump Supporters Were More Motivated by Racism Than Economic Issues.”

Some of the questions that arise from the reviews of this data might have to do with the need to revisit what we mean by words like “racism.” We have traditionally used that to describe some of the attitudes White Americans have about Black Americans. The questions Wood relies on to identify racism are all based on that formulation. But does “racism” also apply to attitudes about Mexican Americans? How about immigrants more generally? The survey questions from ANES on which Klinkner relies are a completely different set of inquiries.

The fact of the matter is that many Mexican Americans are not immigrants. They lived here long before European Americans came to these shores. And yet they have been subjected to much of the same kinds of racism directed towards African Americans. Is that because white people assume they are immigrants or because they are not white? Perhaps a combination of both.

Of course, we can’t talk about the role that anti-immigration played in the election without discussing Islamophobia. Based on what I have seen and read, that was a huge factor in many rural communities, especially where evangelical churches and community groups hosted presentations by the fear-mongers. That brand of discrimination is primarily based on religious beliefs. But there are also a lot of stereotypes about Muslims being “brown” and Islamophobia is often linked to fears about immigration in general.

If, rather than slicing and dicing these issues separately into different categories, we were able to subsume them under one heading titled “xenophobia” or “white nationalism,” we could actually measure the impact that fear and hatred of “the other” had on this election.

Of course, we could add to that Martin’s suggestion of the role played by sexism, and homophobia as well. That might give us a more complete picture of the politics of resentment that was exploited by Donald Trump.

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly.