Posted on November 3, 2022

Political Appeals to White Insecurity Are Now Explicit

Philip Bump, Washington Post, November 1, 2022

The story of racial politics in the United States over the last half-century isn’t complicated. The passage of the Voting Rights Act helped solidify African American support for Democrats — and provided an opportunity for Republicans in areas hostile to the expansion of voting rights for Blacks. That primarily meant the South, where partisan differences on race and generational change contributed to a deep-blue region becoming a dark-red one.


Instead of talking specifically about limiting the power of Black Americans (as was common in the Jim Crow era), Republican candidates talked about issues with obvious racial subtexts: integration efforts, states’ rights, support for social services. Richard M. Nixon’s 1968 presidential campaign focused on crime — very much with the understanding of how that focus would be interpreted by White Americans.

In recent years, the facade has slipped. Former president Donald Trump’s appeals to White insecurity were far more explicit than those of prior political candidates. That was in part because he shared that insecurity and saw how it played in conservative media. But it was also timing: A surge in immigration in 2014 and the emergence of Black Lives Matter that same year heightened the concerns of heavily White older Americans. This was measurable and measured.

Still, though, the appeals were usually subtextual. Trump ran close to the line, suggesting that he was being targeted by New York’s attorney general because she, a Black woman, was racist. With a new radio ad from a Trump-allied group, though, the appeal is explicit.


“When did racism against White people become OK?” it begins. The spot then rehashes news stories elevated in conservative media that cast efforts to ensure equal access for non-Whites to things like medical care with limits on access for Whites. “Progressive corporations, airlines, universities: All openly discriminate against White Americans. Racism is always wrong. The left’s anti-White bigotry must stop.”


{snip} White Republicans commonly tell pollsters that they view Whites as targets of discrimination to the same extent as other groups, including Blacks and Hispanics. Polling released last week from PRRI, in fact, found that Republicans see discrimination against Whites as a problem just as big as discrimination against Blacks — and that Republicans are less likely to think that Black people still face systemic disadvantages. {snip}

{snip} To the extent that it is meant as anything other than a wave of the hand at perceived “wokeness,” it appears to loop in White backlash against affirmative action policies. {snip}


This idea that Whites are disadvantaged is cultural and generational and amplified repeatedly in an increasingly unconstrained right-wing media. Miller’s unsubtle intertwining of hostility to immigration and race manifests in this ad that specifically asserts that White America is on the decline.


That PRRI poll found that two-thirds of Republicans think American culture and way of life have changed for the worse since 1950. The America First Legal ad is nostalgic for that era in all the wrong ways.