Suppose that you were asked to assess the state of American society under Donald Trump, the essence of our problems and divisions, without any access to the president’s own words or the media coverage thereof. Suppose, instead, that you had to cobble together your assessment based only on the way the electorate and the culture has responded to his ascent and presidency — by looking at the changes wrought in our partisan landscape, the new sociological and political fissures that have opened, and the protests and mass movements, social trends and cultural expressions have defined his strange first year in office.
I suspect this exercise might lead to the conclusion that both race and class, the two tangled areas that so many commentators — myself included — have written about endlessly for the last two years, are less important to our moment than the scale of the media attention paid to them suggests, and that divisions and anxieties around sex and gender are where the essential cultural action of the Trump era really lies.
This possibility seems like a deliberate provocation in a week when Trump’s outburst about countries that resemble outhouses has made the president’s racism a headline topic for the umpteenth time. And I’m not denying the reality of that racism, which has been apparent since Trump embraced birtherism and which plainly informs his views on immigration more than the commitment to merit-based migration policy that his minders and managers have been trying to advance.