The White Middle Class and How Trump (Probably) Won Despite His Bigotry and Racism

The White Middle Class and How Trump (Probably) Won Despite His Bigotry and Racism
Photo credit: CNN

Maybe it was the unusually dark overcast hanging over the city that day, but I couldn’t shake the angst building in my stomach. My sister told me not to put it into the universe, and maybe I wouldn’t have under less severe circumstances. For months, I tried to believe it. I tried to imagine it. I tried to hope it into reality. I even prayed about it on my knees twice before leaving the house that morning.

She wasn’t the perfect candidate but I wanted her to win. Besides, Madam President just rolled off the tongue a bit smoother than President Nacho Cheese, President Xeno-homophobe or Presidente No Me Gusto Bad Hombres.

Yet, in ways that I have been apprehensive to discuss or write about until now, no matter how badly I wanted her to shatter that glass ceiling, I never trusted that the numbers or chosen strategy of the Democratic platform were in Hillary Clinton’s favor.

I always believed that the majority of Trump supporters lived behind the veil of society. I always believed that the “Not Trump” argument wouldn’t be enough to secure victory. But more than anything, I suspected that the people who were the biggest challenge to a Clinton presidency were not the people who were going to vote for Trump because he is a racist but the people who were going to vote for him despite the fact that he is a racist.

Post-Trumpocolypse, as we begin to sweep up the proverbial shards of glass that never were (and prepare for news of mysterious virgin birth), the distinction between these two groups is worth our consideration.

I know it feels like it is too soon.
I know that it is easier to consider the 59,535,522 people who voted for Trump idiots.
I know it is quicker to simply say, ‘Because: Super Whiteness’.

And this can all be true.

However, before we fully accept that the American promise is compromised beyond repair we owe it to ourselves, our children, our ancestors and forefathers (at least the non-slave owning ones) to do so with a better understanding as to why and how we arrived at a place where a man as undignified, unscrupulous, and unethical as Donald Trump could become President of the United States.

There is no denying that White people put Donald Trump in office. But despite the headlines, there is nothing earth-shattering or new about White people electing a Republican president. Almost nothing changed about the demographics of Republican voters between 2012 and 2016, despite what numerous news stories might have us to believe. 63% of white males voted for Trump, 62% voted for Romney. 53% of white women voted for Trump, 56% voted for Romney.

So perhaps the right question isn’t, ‘Why did Whites vote for the demagogue?’ but rather, ‘Why – even when faced with a demagogue – were a majority of Whites (specifically moderate, middle-class, Whites) unable to deviate from their established voting behavior?’

The difference in the two questions is that one implies explicit behavior while the other denotes a willful, default response. Though we may not want to, it is important to ask ourselves these questions now, more than ever, in order to see the “other” in our society, and not became the angry, prejudiced, close-minded people we detest.

We all know that people vote their personal interests. However, in an era that finds it easier to classify groups of voters in two words or less, those interests aren’t always conspicuous to those who are on the outside. We don’t ask about each other’s motivations, we simply assume them, label them, and hashtag them. The more different we are from each other, the more ill-intentioned we assume those motivations to be.

Instead of creating fully inclusive platforms, both sides fed this trend and capitalized upon the anxieties of their bases. To a certain degree, each bankrolled their campaigns not only on our collective ignorances of each other, but our growing inability to have civil discourse with each other.

I have the benefit of experiencing America from more perspectives than most. I am both Black and female. I am educated. I live in an urban city. I am sometimes considered a Millennial though my love of 1980s movies assures me that I am a Gen-Xer. I am old enough to have seen a KKK rally in the south and young enough to have always believed that a Black President was possible. I have worked with millionaires and those in deep poverty. I live in a police family. I believe in the indisputable civil rights of all people who reside on American soil. I am married to a small business owner. I live in a household that is within the top 2% of income earners in this country. I have also experienced unemployment.

This intersection of deeply personal experiences served as a gift and a curse during the last election cycle. Often finding my personal beliefs resting in the middle of the ideological scale, I frequently saw both sides as being too extreme in their platitudes and too willing to ignore the persistence of false narratives within their base. Despite slogans, at times I questioned whether either candidate, even my candidate, was truly interested in building bridges or simply solidifying more votes.

I get it. Keep the party line. Stay on message.
But for Clinton, I wondered if this proved to be her fatal blow.

I love President Obama. I love him as if he was the second begotten son of God. He has endured racism and disrespect with grace and dignity that it beyond my comprehension – so much so that I am now convinced that he just might be Jesus. However, I wonder if Clinton’s decision to defend Obamacare through the narrative that it is challenged only as an inditement on President Obama was ultimately just as polarizing as Trump saying that Black Lives Matter is a group of thugs who hate the police.

Both played to their bases, the math just didn’t benefit Clinton.

The 18,000 large corporate firms in America pale in comparison to the 27.9 million small businesses which employ 49.2% of the private workforce. Whether you are one of the 5.6 million people who employ people in a small business (think: middle class) or one of the 120 million people who are employed by small businesses (and pay out of pocket for your health insurance), there is a great chance that your health insurance costs have doubled, if not tripled, since 2011. There is also a great chance that your coverage decreases by a significant portion each year. It is also possible that your network of doctors and hospitals has decreased to a small set of indigenous providers who reside along the outskirts of your city.

More than any other democratic-sponsored piece of legislation I have seen in my lifetime, Obamacare had a lot of legitimate middle-class, enemies.

And though it was packaged otherwise, the white silent middle class revolt against Obamacare (probably) wasn’t ideological and it (probably) wasn’t racial. I was very likely financial.

Even as a someone who believes in the redistribution of wealth and patronage of the underserved, I cringe every time a legitimate critique of Obamacare is dismissed and rebuffed only with a reminder of the people it has helped. It is a defacto way of qualifying one set of people over another, which is hard pill for anyone to have to swallow.

And though she was the smartest person in the arena, Clinton (of all people) should have known that it always comes down to personal economics. And people, some people, are willing to tearfully send their neighbors back across the border and let you grab them in strange parts just to keep an extra buck.

Filed under: Politics, Uncategorized

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    Kay S

    Kay Smith is a Chicago-based freelance writer and blogger who focuses on race, politics and urban culture. Having worked on public policy at the state, regional, city and community level, her opinions have been featured in the Chicago SunTimes and a host of news websites (under very mysterious sounding pseudonyms). Follow her on Twitter @kaywillsmith or contact her at

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