Which came first: the racially resentful chicken or the economically anxious egg?
I’m talking, of course, about some of Donald Trump’s supporters. Ever since the presidential candidate took the escalator down Trump Tower and shot up the Republican polls, everyone else has been trying to figure out what exactly it is he’s tapped into. Has he turned what used to be racial dog whistles into ones even a deaf person could hear? Or have his diatribes against trade and immigration filled a political vacuum left behind by both Republican and Democratic administrations?
The short answer is, well, it’s complicated. Racial and economic anxiety are closely intertwined. Sometimes wage stagnation can be a necessary but insufficient condition for the politics of racial backlash. But other times it’s not even that. Why? Because it’s not only how you’re doing that matters, but also how you’re doing compared to everyone else. Which is to say that even being better off doesn’t stop people from wanting to be better off than somebody else—especially somebody who doesn’t look, sound, or worship like they do.