The anger that Donald Trump voters feel is very real. You don’t fling a proto-fascist pussy-grabbing monstrosity into the White House unless you really want to convey that fuck-you sentiment.
Because this anger is so real and so palpable, there’s been an unfortunate tendency in much of the media to assume that this anger must also be valid. The entire election cycle was a clusterfuck of articles demanding empathy for Trump voters, insisting that their rage must have some rational roots — perhaps economic insecurity?
The persistence of the “economic insecurity” angle in the face of overwhelming evidence against it was a testament to the power of hope over reason. If economic insecurity drives this rage, then something can be done about it. But if the rage is driven by less savory factors — unrepentant sexism and racism — then there is no way to mollify it without throwing women and people of color under the bus. It is also not for nothing that most “economic insecurity” theorists were themselves white men, perhaps eager for a narrative that makes people who look like them seem a little more sympathetic.
But wishing doesn’t make something true, or we’d be chatting about a President-elect Hillary Clinton today.
No doubt Trump supporters are people who felt they’ve lost something. But what they’ve lost is something that wasn’t rightly theirs to begin with: Unearned privilege. The Trump revolution was driven by white men who are watching women and people of color making gains that put them closer to equality. They are rebelling at the erosion of the sense that white men are better and more important than everyone else, simply because they exist.
This loss is real. The anger that it causes is real. The anger is not valid, but it exists.
It’s tempting to be dismissive about this. A general sense of superiority over other people is hard to measure. It’s not a job or a paycheck or some other material thing that we can point to and say, OK, losing that would be hard.
Of course, it’s also gross and immoral for people to feel this way but is a massive mistake to believe that since this feeling of white superiority cannot be measured, it isn’t important. In a lot of ways, it matters more than material possessions or economic security. Take, for instance, the Tulsa race riot of 1921, when white Oklahomans descended on a prosperous black community, killed 300 people and basically burned 35 blocks of city property, functionally destroying the economic prospects of the Tulsa black community for generations.
The rioters didn’t do this because black people were taking something from them by having nice things. They weren’t worried that black people creating jobs in their own community meant fewer jobs for white people. They just didn’t like seeing black people have nice things because that messed with the white people’s sense that having nice things is a privilege that should belong to them and them only.
Other writers (I recommend Jenée Desmond-Harris and Jamelle Bouie) have dealt with the racial aspects of the Trump win. But gender resentment also played a huge factor.
Trump won because men voted for him — and voted to reject the feminist leadership of Hillary Clinton.