Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Guest Post: "How Race, Ethnicity, Migration And History Have Affected 2016 Votes" By Ted Venegas

In the aftermath of Wisconsin, the media is going to tell you that Trump finally shot himself in the foot with his comments, that people are finally starting to turn away from him. There's very little evidence of that. His abortion comment happened on March 30. The polling in Wisconsin after the comment was the same as it was before. His numbers are pretty similar after his vicious attacks on Heidi Cruz.

Trump was never strong in Wisconsin. It's one of the states, like Iowa, that Ben Carson led at one point during his surge. Consolidation of support after some candidates dropped out has truly hurt Trump. In Wisconsin, he has hard core support, like he has had in other places, but the rest of the electorate was clearly looking for someone else. There is no ceiling for Trump at 35 percent. He's polled nationally over 40% for a month. He's cracked 40% in 10 states and over 35% in several others. So why not in Wisconsin? Or Iowa? Or Minnesota? Or Kansas? Or Utah? Or Idaho, Oklahoma or Nebraska?

Part of the reason in the western states is Mormonism. Sure Mormons are "nice" people and all that, but a lot of people are nice. As an aside, when you see someone use "nice" as analysis, they are talking out of their asses. I live in Illinois, and there are tons of nice people here, yet Trump won it. Same with Ohio and Michigan. Mormons don't like Trump for two reasons. First, they are against his immigration policies. Second, his attacks on Muslims hit a little too close to home since they are also a religious minority. They also are outside his demographic region since many are well educated and most are weekly churchgoers.

But the upper non-Rust Belt Midwest is not known for its Mormon population. Why has it been resistant to Trump? Part of that has to do with ethnicity, and part with migration patterns. We're about to go down a long and winding road, but bear with me. There's a payoff.

In my US History classes, part of the curriculum involves "old" vs. "new" immigration, another part involves the two waves of the Great Migration of Southern blacks to the North. The first large wave of immigration from Europe to the US was sparked by Napoleonic Wars in Europe. The end of those wars meant the end of service for many men in Northern Europe, including Germany, the Netherlands, Scandinavian countries, and England. Industrialization transformed those economies and made employment difficult to come by. So waves of these "old immigrants" came to the US. Where did they settle? The upper Midwest where they gained their own land and farmed it. A vast majority of these people settled in homogenous regions in these states. We're taking about Minnesota, Iowa, North and South Dakota and...Wisconsin.

The Irish immigration story is different. The first wave involved skilled workers, and they settled mostly in Appalachia. The second wave was poorly educated and unskilled. They came as a result of the Potato famine. Industrialization caused them to settle in the cities on the East Coast. They were reviled because of their lack of education, their accents, their Catholicism, and the fact that they were competition for labor. This caused them to ghettoize themselves into packed and poor neighborhoods that closely bordered neighborhoods of other ethic make ups.

Then came the "new immigrants." Russians, Italians, Greeks, Polish, other Eastern Europeans, natives of the Balkans. Few spoke English. Most were uneducated and unskilled. They were also reviled, to the point where in the 20s, in the aftermath of WWI, the US passed the National Origins Act to stop them from coming.

These people settled in the East Coast and in the Rust Belt and got industrial jobs in the cities and in the immediate surrounding areas. They also ghettoized by necessity because of common language and job availability. Upton Sinclair's famous socialist screed, The Jungle, was about the plight of these Eastern Europeans workers in the stockyards of Chicago.

The Great Migration involved the descendants of slavery, and it lasted for decades. There were many reasons for it: the fear of white violence, the boll weevil infestation in the cotton crop, the poor subsistence level for tenant farming, industrial employment availability especially during wars when white males were abroad fighting, and propaganda type prodding to migrate by black publications like the Chicago Defender, which even claimed that winters were milder up north. (Ha!) Black people wound up settling in the same cities and surrounding areas where Irish and new immigrants lived. Large numbers were also lured to work in the coal mines in Appalachia with the Scotch-Irish and with Eastern Europeans, specifically because the tensions among those groups were so high that they were unlikely to unionize.

This has had effects that last even to this day. It mostly has to do with employment competition, but racial fear is a factor as well. For example, in Appalachia, when the coal mines used more automation after WWII, job competition became intense. We've seen a long series of racial conflicts in these areas since these migrations happened. Race riots in major cities. Bussing standoffs like those in Massachusetts. MLK's Freedom Campaign in Chicago which led to major protest from white ethnics in the suburbs who did not want their neighborhoods integrated for fear of the violence they saw in black areas of the city. Shoot, you can go back 100 years before that, when Irish rioters protesting the Civil War draft indiscriminately killed any black person they could find.

So how does all this affect the 2016 election? Racism is not as prevalent as it was in 1863, nor as it was in 1919, nor as it was in 1966, nor as it was in 1975, nor as it was in 1992. But it's still there. When people are fighting for jobs, especially uneducated people (Trump supporters?), it can cause racial polarization.

When whites see black people abandoning nonviolence and destroying their own cities in the intermediate aftermath of the passing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and several Great Society programs targeted at black people, they can come to a reasonable conclusion from their perspective that black people are ungrateful. There was fear of the Black Muslims, Black Panthers, and the Black Power movement that lasted into the 80s. There was the emergence of gangsta rap in the late 80s and 90s, and the fact that many white kids embraced it. There were the LA riots and the OJ trial, where black people foolishly celebrated the freeing of a likely double murderer. Couple this with the decay of urban marketplaces and schools, and from the white perspective, this can give some whites the impression that black people are dysfunctional. Obviously the explanation for these phenomena is not that simple, but it can be without proper research of the issues, and most people don't have the time or inclination for that. Combine that with affirmative action in the workplace and on campus, the expansion of the social safety net to the poorest of people, the fraud that comes with that, and the slow creep of the PC culture in schools and in the marketplace, and these people can feel like they're under attack.

So let's apply this to today. Anyone paying attention to the campaign knows that Trump has made explicit racial appeals. He kicked off the campaign by calling Mexican illegal immigrants rapists. He has decried Islamic immigration. He has defended police officers no matter what they do. He talks about the good old days when protestors used to go off on stretchers, a particularly galling image for black people who remember or have studied the civil rights movement. And let's not kid ourselves, when his campaign uses his Twitter page to retweet false claims from white supremacy groups, or when he pretends to not know David Duke before the SEC primary, they know exactly what they're doing. They're calling to the people I've talked about above: people who are mostly uneducated, people who have seen racial conflict, sometimes up close, and people who fear the way the country is moving. Of course, this isn't the only reason, and many of these people aren't out and out racists. Trade has obviously been a major issue, and the lack of a true Republican economic plan geared at actually helping these people has also been a large factor. But in these exit polls, when people say Trump "tells it like it is," this is what they mean.

Evidence of this is literally everywhere. It's in the higher percentage of his supporters that favor the ban on Muslim immigration. It's in the higher percentage that believe the wall should built, although I admit you don't have to be racist to want that, but it's also no coincidence that a lot of racists do. Shoot, most REPUBLICANS don't believe the wall should be built. It's in the 70% of Trump's South Carolina supporters who wished the Confederate flag was still flying over their statehouse, or in the 76% of his SC supporters who either wished the South had won the Civil War or weren't sure (?!) Or the 85% of Trump supporters nationally who feel that the US has lost its identity, the 91% who feel their beliefs and values are under attack in America today, or the 80% who feel like minorities are getting too much from the government.

You see it in this.

Or this.

Or this.

Or this.

Notice the similarities between this map (click on Trump)...

And this one...

Most importantly, the evidence is how Trump has dominated majority-minority districts in this primary despite the fact that not enough minorities vote in Republican primaries to even register in exit polls.

So what does this have to do with his failures in Wisconsin, Iowa, Minnesota, Kansas,etc.? Simple. These areas have not seen the same kind of racial strife in the past like the Northeast, the Rust Belt, and the South have. As a result, you see less racism in those areas. I was telling my wife about this a week ago. Sure enough, it showed up in the New York Times a couple of days later. Trump does WAY WORSE in places whose residents identify as Northern European ("old immigrants") than he does anywhere else. And that map above with Google searches of the N word? Less searches in the areas that he loses.

So what can we do with this information, other than try to predict the results of future primaries? Well, in my opinion, not much. I'm not much of a "national dialogue on race" kind of guy, and jumping up and down and screaming "you people are racists" doesn't help. Only events change minds. Talking doesn't. The gradual change will continue. The country is getting younger and browner. These factors by themselves will cause the Republican Party to naturally drift away from this stuff, just as it caused the Democratic Party to start the natural drift away in the 60s. The next generation is far more educated, and as we can see from some of the protests on campus, even some of the dumber ones, these kids are not gonna tolerate it.

I think there are good ways to use this information though. First, it can be used to get away from the media coverage of the primaries that focuses on day to day "gaffes" and the mostly ridiculous idea of "momentum," which almost never exists. We'll see it when Trump wins NY, NJ, PA, DE, and WV easily. This information doesn't translate directly to the West Coast, but the different issue of white/Latino relations does, as we've seen in the Arizona primary, and as we could see in California, which has had its racial ballot initiatives in the past like Prop 187.

More importantly though, it's a good historical understanding of how things that happened over 150 years ago still affect us in concrete ways today. I'd love to teach that in a classroom, but it's a little too radioactive for that. I'll just have to settle for sharing it with you. 😀

A wise old writer from Mississippi once wrote: "The past is never dead. It's not even past." Boy, was he right.

Venegas teaches History and Social Sciences at a suburban Chicago high school.  He has a B.A. in History from the University of Southern California and a Masters Degree from Saint Xavier University in Illinois.  

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