Political Correctness Won Trump the Presidency

In this Jan. 20, 2017, file photo, U.S. President Donald Trump speaks after being sworn in as President on at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C.

By George Yancey Published on June 4, 2017

It’s been seven months. Still many of us are trying to understand how Trump won the election last fall. I sure didn’t see it coming. All the surveys predicted a Clinton victory. Trump did plenty to make him unattractive to large groups of voters. Racism was a special concern, due to his comments about Hispanic “rapists,” his flirting with white nationalism and his talk of Muslim bans.

Political Correctness: The Underlying Cause?

I have been, and I still am, concerned with the way Trump handles racial issues. So I was not surprised to see The Nation reporting research by Sean McElwee and Jason McDaniel suggesting racism as a major reason explaining support for Trump. But a further look at this claim is not convincing, since I knew there were large numbers of previous Obama supporters who voted for Trump in 2016.

I remember talking to Trump supporters who wanted to “burn it down.” This confused me at the time, but now I believe they just hated Political Correctness.

So I thought a better answer could probably be found elsewhere. Looking around, I found this Clearer Thinking analysis of 138 factors that might have influenced voters to choose one candidate over the other. I have questions about the methods, but we’ll bypass those.

The key is that other than belonging to the Republican Party, the best predictor of whether a person voted for Trump was whether he or she hated political correctness (PC). More than half (54 percent) of Trump’s vote came from those who totally agreed that there is too much PC in America. This is in contrast to racial issues, such as immigration, for example. Only 21 percent of Trump’s vote came from those who totally agreed that immigrants threaten American customs and values.

This makes sense to me. The way Trump offended certain groups supported the idea that he would fight PC. I remember talking to Trump supporters who wanted to “burn it down.” I was confused by this at the time, but now I think what they wanted was to burn down PC rules. These were not racists, they were people who hated PC.

Can This Explain the Perceived “Racial Resentment”?

Of course there were still some Trump voters who were attracted to the white nationalist message they believed he was presenting. So I want to be clear: I am not saying racism played no effect in any of Trump’s support. But I fear that some researchers and reports overstate its importance in his election.

For people who truly think that we have defeated racism, efforts to keep on addressing it can seem like “PC”.

Concerns over PC also help to explain research supporting McElwee and McDaniel’s racial resentment argument. They created what they call a “racial resentment” measure, which they describe (rather abrasively) as, “Racial resentment measures dog-whistle or color-blind forms of racism, such as the belief that black people need to simply ‘try harder’ to be successful in America.”

I have my own criticism of colorblindness. I do not think we will advance our race relations by ignoring the effects of racism in our history, or the ways it still impacts people of color today. But when I debate the merits of colorblindness with others, I don’t usually see them as having racial resentment.

Questions about colorblindness may tap into hostility against PC rules, though, since many people think society is fair as it is, and that PC makes it unfair. For people who truly think that we have defeated racism, efforts to keep on addressing it can seem like “PC”. People who voted for Obama five years ago, and Trump last year, did not suddenly turn and start resenting blacks. But they may have grown tired of PC rules over that period of time.

Did Racism Put Trump in the White House?

Research shows that anti-PC attitudes explain whites’ support for Trump better than racism or anti-black resentment.

Now, in the past I have attacked Trump for race-baiting. I’ve argued that Christians were wrong to support him in view of his connection with the alt-right. One may wonder, then, why I criticize the argument about racism. Am I backing down from my own arguments? Not really. I still think Christians are going to pay a price for supporting Trump. It will become more difficult to reach socially conservative people of color. We’ve also badly damaged our witness by tying ourselves to the white nationalism that buttresses Trump. So I have not changed: I have been a critic of Trump in the past and will be one in the future.

But the truth and honesty remain vitally important. The research shows that anti-PC attitudes explain whites’ support for Trump better than racism or anti-black resentment.

I know that many liberals want to tie Trump’s election to racism. I would have no problem doing so if I thought the evidence warranted it. But it does not.

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  • Gary

    I could not care less who my voting for Trump offends. Those who are offended by my voting for Trump didn’t care what I thought when they voted for Obama. And I don’t recall anyone telling them that they should. It is only white people who are asked to care about such things.

  • Louise C

    People didn’t like the direction the country was going in and Donald Trump’s goal was to turn things back around in the right direction, period. It’s also refreshing that a candidate would speak the truth and call it like it is.

  • Charles Burge

    As someone who identified with the “never Trump” movement, I remember bristling when people said “he tells it like it is” when giving a reason for supporting him. I thought that was demonstrably untrue, but I see it now as a rather inarticulate way of saying that he likes to poke political correctness in the eye. And that is one thing I do like about him. Trump tends to paint with a very broad brush, but I do agree that political correctness is really becoming a danger to our society, and it needs to be challenged.

    • Nels

      NeverTrump? Yet it doesn’t seem to have turned into Trump Derangement Syndrome. There’s still hope for you.

  • Kevint65

    Not sure how Trump had a white nationalist message,as the author of this essay mentioned several times. If an American nationalist message sounds racist to a globalist, then that is his problem,not the problem of Trump and his followers.

  • Bryan

    Thank you for you intellectual honest Mr. Yancey!

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