Perhaps I lived a sheltered life in New England college towns and New York City, but I saw very little of Trump’s brand of naked racism. I knew that it existed, of course, had read about it in books and newspapers, seen it on television and in movies, but I didn’t truly understand the magnitude of the phenomenon. So I placed less weight on the evidence for Trump’s victory than I should have. I simply couldn’t believe someone with his racially charged worldview could win over the nation.
And here’s the thing: I still don’t. First, many Americans voted for Trump despite his race-baiting, not because of it. But more important, a majority of Americans disapprove of Trump and have for almost his entire presidency. His average approval rating throughout his term is the lowest of any president since we started counting. As the New York Times’s Nate Cohn has said, Trump’s luck was that he ran against the second-most unpopular presidential candidate in modern American history (after him). Because of the electoral college and small margins in three states, he was able to capture the White House.
There are parts of Trump’s coalition who are anxious about the country’s future — and their own place in it — and are thus susceptible to the snake oil being peddled by a clever salesman. The United States is changing. If you consider the core of Trump’s support — Whites without a college degree — you see that they are shrinking as a share of the adult population. If you take the core of Joe Biden’s support — Whites with a college degree and minorities — they are growing in even greater measure. The New York Times analyzed the data and found that in Florida, the core Trump voting bloc of non-college-educated Whites has fallen by 359,000 since 2016, while the Biden coalition has grown by 1,579,000 people. In Pennsylvania, Trump’s base shrank by 431,000, while Biden’s grew by 449,000.