November 1, 2023 | Reading Time: 5 minutes
The real reason Donald Trump has a chance again? Most white people want him back
“There's no getting around that fact,” says Issac J. Bailey.
Editor’s note: I started the Editorial Board in 2018 to give normal people a place to read about politics in plain English. I can be blunt. But I’m relentlessly honest. I don’t think much matters without the truth. So please show your support for democracy and the common good (and my grumpy attitude) by subscribing today! $6 a month or $60 a year. So cheap! THANKS!!! –JS
On the one hand, I can’t believe that a majority of Americans would again elect a man who’s been at the center of four unprecedented presidential crimes: colluding with a foreign power to smear his enemy (Russia), extorting a foreign power to smear his enemy (Ukraine), leading a paramilitary takeover of the government and stealing state secrets. On optimistic days, I can’t believe that could happen again.
Then there’s the other hand, which is the traumatic memory of the weeks and months before the 2016 election when it seemed like there was no way a majority of Americans would elect for the first time a reality-show carnival barker who had made an art form out of lying – and how right this felt all the way up to the moment it all went wrong.
This “other hand” includes, moreover, the fact that this man is the leading candidate for the Republican Party, there’s no one around who can overtake him, and the fact that virtually his entire party is convinced that he’s the real legitimate president despite all facts to the contrary, and the fact that his party has done everything possible to make sure that white people have all the guns, and you know what?
I need some perspective.
“That’s why Trump himself isn’t the real threat to democracy. He is powerless without the cooperation of so many people. And that’s the real threat to this democracy.”
I got in touch with Issac J. Bailey. He’s a professor of journalism at Davidson College and an occasional contributor to the Editorial Board. As expected, he poured a bucket of ice water on me. “The only real reason he has a chance is because despite all that’s happened, all that’s been documented, a solid majority of white people want him back,” he said. We talked about this, plus the public view of the economy, the Maine massacre and the American reaction to the Israel-Hamas war.
JS: I have this feeling that liberals and Democrats are today where they were in 2016, when it felt like a President Trump was impossible until it wasn’t. You’re level-headed about these things. What’s your feeling?
IB: Democrats, liberals, conservatives and most everyone in 2015 and 2016 were kind of clueless about what was happening. If I’m to be frank, most white liberals and the like were. It was extremely clear to me and every Black journalist I knew that Trump had a real chance of winning because we love this country enough to not lie about it.
It was silly that so many journalists and others talked about a post-racial America when Obama won given that US history had repeatedly shown us that such a big leap for racial progress has always been met by a racist backlash. That’s why Trump was always viable.
Remember, he rose to conservative prominence because he was the birther-in-chief, not despite that. So, of course, he can win again.
We are in a dark place in this democracy, with tens of millions of Americans committed to the idea that if their preferred candidate loses – Trump – it can only mean that the election was stolen. That, in addition to the “independents” and “free thinkers” who think themselves above it all and committed to bothsides-ing everything – no matter the facts – is the reason Trump has a real chance.
But let me be frank again. The only real reason he has a chance is because despite all that’s happened, all that’s been documented, a solid majority of white people want him back in the White House.
There’s no getting around that fact.
That’s why Trump himself isn’t the real threat to democracy. He is powerless without the cooperation of so many people.
And that’s the real threat to this democracy.
JS: I remember when pollsters asked Republican voters how they felt about the economy in the run up to 2016. They said it was terrible. By January, after Trump won, these same Republicans were saying the economy was great. Are we seeing a similar dynamic going on?
IB: What’s maddening is this: Biden has the best modern-era job creation record for a first-term president. The economy is still growing strong – 4.9 percent this past quarter despite the Fed jacking up interest rates. Inflation has fallen dramatically. The poor and middle class are seeing real raises. Economists and a bevy of mainstream journalists who forecasted a recession were wrong, dead wrong.
Despite that, the public has been convinced the economy is terrible. A part of that is, of course, partisanship. The conservatives who bragged about the economy under Trump that wasn’t this strong even at its peak are now talking things down. That’s to be expected.
The real issue is that “liberal” media have also been beating those same drums despite all the incredibly good economic news. It doesn’t mean things are perfect; they never are. But the disconnect between the economic reality and economic impression – I’m not sure it has been so wide. What’s really baffling is that the economy is growing so strong primarily because of consumer spending – spending by the very consumers who are telling surveyors they don’t have enough money.
JS: Another shooting massacre, this one in Maine. You said: “Sandy Hook showed me one thing I was wrong about on the gun issue, and race. I thought America didn’t care because most of the kids being killed were black. America didn’t even care when white kids started getting slaughtered.” What’s the backstory? Can you expound on that?
IB: Young Black kids, especially Black boys and teens, had long been harmed and killed in big numbers by guns long before Sandy Hook. I seriously thought this country did not care about that type of carnage, except to say “Look at Chicago!” to ensure police brutality never has to be dealt with, because most of those killed were Black and brown.
But when Sandy Hook happened and you had horrific images of the most innocent little white kids and it still barely moved the needle on the national gun rights debate, I was stunned. They didn’t even care about white kids being mowed down. That genuinely surprised me, and made me feel more helpless, like never before. It was one thing for them not to care about our kids, but to not care about their own either, I don’t have the words to describe how that made me feel.
JS: The discourse over the Israel-Hamas war seems needlessly fraught. Sympathy for Palestinians isn’t standing against Israelis. Sympathy for Israelis isn’t standing against Palestinians. How much of the discord is driven by a kind of “bothsides” reporting that we’re accustomed to?
IB: I think it’s a kind of backlash to bothsides reporting that has taken hold, unfortunately. In this case, there is real suffering on both sides.
Palestinians screaming to be heard because they’ve experienced atrocities, that’s real, because they have. Israelis screaming to be heard because they’ve experienced atrocities, that’s real, because they have.
But I’ve come across a lot of folks who declare you antisemitic if you acknowledge Palestinian suffering and others who say you are pro-genocide if you call what Hamas did on Oct. 7 precisely what it was, a vicious terror attack. What’s worse is that so many people seem committed to forcing you to believe whatever unverified report that comes across the wire if it fits their preconceived beliefs. It’s bad.
And I don’t have an answer for that, either, other than continuing to speak truth and recognizing the humanity of those on both sides.
John Stoehr is the editor of the Editorial Board. He writes the daily edition. Find him @johnastoehr.