Home > Uncategorized > Researchers Find America’s Sad Secret: Racial Fear Works as a Political Strategy

Researchers Find America’s Sad Secret: Racial Fear Works as a Political Strategy

October 25, 2018

As often noted in this blog, the differences between Democrats and Republicans are slight when it comes to the privatization agenda of major donors. Both parties favor some form of “choice” as the “solution” to our “failing” public schools. The GOP wants to choice to be completely open, to include parochial schools, and to be driven solely by the marketplace. They wholeheartedly endorse Milton Friendman’s idea of vouchers. The Democratic Party casts the idea of “choice” in the context of their notion that market forces can make government better by promoting competition which, in turn, introduces innovation. Their “voucher lite” approach began by encouraging public school districts to sponsor their own charter schools but quickly devolved into avoiding any blocking of for profit K-12 schools and a willingness to deregulate to encourage competition.

But there is one area where the Democratic Party is morally superior to the GOP, and that is in the debates about race. For decades the GOP sent coded messages that associated government spending with race and of late the party’s nominal leader, President Trump, and his strategists have dropped all pretenses on race, using a caravan of Honduran refugees as a ploy to drum up support for his party in the upcoming midterms. During the time when the GOP used Welfare Queens, Willie Horton, and anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim rhetoric the Democratic Party promoted an African American to the head of their ticket and continue to promote Affirmative Action programs and a safety net that, while tattered, is still defended.

Last month, Eric Levitz of the New York Magazine wrote an article that was titled– or, I believe MIS-titled “Study: You Can Get Whites to Oppose Welfare With This One Weird Trick”. The “weird trick” according to a study by sociologists at Stanford and UC Berkeley is this:

(If you) Get white Americans focused on their racial fears and resentments,a lot of them will vote against the blacks instead of the plutocrats — and some will even come to believe that welfare programs don’t redistribute resources from the wealthy to working people, but rather, from diligent whites to indolent minorities. 

Mr. Levitz then describes how the researchers went about gathering evidence to “prove” the validity of America’s dirty little secret: Racial Fear wins out over reason and facts and economic disparity. He then goes on to note how one political party, the GOP, used this dirty little secret to win elections at all levels of government since 1972.

He concludes his essay with this:

Many pundits attribute the sorry state of American politics in 2018 to the “polarization” of the electorate; to a partisan tribalism that has led voters to prioritize the triumph of their team over progress on broadly popular policy goals. Such commentators would do well to ask who benefits from the fact that tribal conflict inhibits the passage of majoritarian policies in the United States — and to consider the possibility that voters did not polarize themselves.

The “broadly popular policy goals” he references are the desire for higher taxes on the top 1% and the desire for universal health care… both of which have been pushed to the background because of the misperception that if taxes are increased on the rich the main beneficiaries will be minorities and if health care is increased the costs will be picked up primarily by “had working whites”.

But here’s what Mr. Levitz should have pointed out: the use of race to promote “the triumph of their team” plays to the basest instincts in humanity and ignites an animus that is difficult if not impossible to offset with reason. And he should not have characterized the use of racial fear as a “weird trick”… he should have called it what it is: morally reprehensible.

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