Trump's Angry White Men and Why There Are More of Them Than You Think
Michael has presumably had a rough day. Nine hours working as an exterminatortakes a physical toll on the 45-year-old, who didn’t go to college, makes $33,000 a year, and relies on a steady swarm of pests to pester people in his 90% ruralcounty.
Michael is technically fictional, but he’s created entirely from fact. The story of Trump’s success is, in some ways, the story of the many American Michaels. Frustrated white men who reject the stories offered to them, and admire leaders who feel the same.
White Americans feel more angry than black Americans, according to a November survey of 3,257 US adults by Esquire and NBC. White people were more likely than black people to say their current financial situation isn’t what they thought it would be when they were younger, and they were also more likely to put that down to difficult circumstances rather than “wrong choices”.
When asked whether they ever hear or read anything on the news that makes them angry, white respondents were more likely than black ones to say they felt angry at least twice a day. There were gender differences too – men were more likely than women to say that they felt angry about the treatment of white men.
Trump understands these white men – or at the very least, he understands that these white men want a politician who understands them. It was these voters that Trump was speaking to when he said last year: This is more than just opportunism – Trump gets it. Of course, the history of American politicians is the history of many, many white men, but there’s something unique about Trump’s whiteness and his masculinity. He is distinctly unashamed of either trait, and is unwilling to even pay lip service to the notion that they were beneficial to his success. In a 1989 NBC interview, for example, he made his point:
A well-educated black has a tremendous advantage over a well-educated white in terms of the job market. I think sometimes a black may think they don’t have an advantage or this and that … I’ve said on one occasion, even about myself, if I were starting off today, I would love to be a well-educated black, because I believe they do have an actual advantage.
Liberals may respond with rolled eyes or outrage, but for men like the hypothetical Michael, quotes like these are evidence that Trump is simply willing to state facts others are too cowardly to say. Michael still probably wouldn’t think of himself as racist – 10% of white Americans think white Americans are racist. But 38% of those white Americans think black people are racist.
More than 20 years later, a Michael would probably still agree with the statement. When asked why black Americans have worse jobs, incomes and housing on average than whites, 45% of white Americans in 2012 said it was because “blacks don’t have the motivation or willpower to pull themselves out of poverty”.
The fact that most media organizations do not repeat these beliefs – aka “facts” to some who hold them – merely entrenches the feeling that the mainstream, “lamestream” mediacannot be trusted.
A 2014 study from Pew Research Center shows just how divided Americans are about the media. Liberals express trust in more media organizations than conservatives do, and receive more sources and perspectives as a consequence. Of 36 organizations listed, Fox News stands out as the crucial source to 88% of conservatives who say that they trust the information they receive from the channel.
Social media is important too; the study shows that if Michael does exist, he would probably also be checking Facebook – where he would hear from close friends who are more likely to share his views.
This isn’t just healthy skepticism– at times it’s an entirely different version of the world. Whether you want to call them conspiracy theories or government secrets, a 2013 survey from Public Policy Polling shows these views tend to differ by political party too (though not all – 28% of Democrats and 28% of Republicans believe aliens exist).
Republicans were more likely to believe in Bigfoot, government TV mind control and diseases invented for pharmaceutical companies to profit than Democrats were. White Americans were more likely to believe those claims than black Americans, and in most cases, men were more likely than women to believe the conspiracies listed in the survey.
One theory is particularly important: 37% of Americans think global warming is a hoax. That number rises to 39% when you only look at male respondents, 41% for white respondents and 58% for Republicans. With that in mind, it’s easier to understand who the audience is when Trump makes statements like these:
With all this in mind, Trump’s rising political fortunes aren’t surprising at all. Polling shows he is more popular among Americans that are white than those who aren’t, and more popular among Americans with penises than those without. Often, these white men are also working or middle class and middle-aged – just like Michael.
Those men represent a significant voting block in a country which is still 62% white. When those men want to hear from someone who is willing to stand up for them, Donald Trump is only too willing to oblige. And, when what’s “right” is about unapologetically refuting facts, Trump can’t go wrong.