As the Trump administration continues to advocate for questionable tariffs and trade wars with China, the blue-collar, white voters who put him over the top in 2016 stand to lose the most. Sadly, this shouldn’t come as a complete surprise given it comes from a man who orchestrated major tax cuts for the wealthy in 2017.
But it’s also not just Trump. The economic policy platform of the modern Republican party is bad for the majority of Americans and has fueled recent growth in the gap between the wealthy and the poor, begging the question, why does anyone who isn’t a millionaire support Republican policies?
When colonists first came to America, wealthy white landowners held the power, but knew they were vulnerable. After all, they were certainly outnumbered by the African slaves and European indentured servants they exploited, so they needed a way to prevent an uprising. Their solution: Give the European group privilege and legal superiority, and manipulate both groups into thinking the other race was their problem.
Since then, numerous coalitions have taken and maintained power by using race as a wedge issue. From old-school Democrats who passed Jim Crow laws to please poor Southern farmers to Reagan-and-Bush-era Republicans who painted crime and drugs as problems in black communities, the wealthy and predominately white have divided and exploited the working class to create a system allowing the rich to get richer while everyone else is left behind and somehow blaming each other.
At this point, racism is so deeply entrenched in our culture that a future without it almost seems impossible, but it’s not. Hatred and bigotry are not wired into our DNA, and dismantling the culture of racism is a goal worth fighting for. To be clear, the answer is not colorblindness. It’s also not for white progressives to decide we’ve done our part by trying not to actively harm communities of color.
Instead, we must make racial justice a central part of our movement–but that doesn’t have to mean conceding white working-class voters to the other side. Racial justice and income inequality are inherently tied together, and new research from Demos points to the need to treat them as such and explicitly talk about both as urgent priorities.
While the progressive movement has always relied on communities of color for votes, we have not done nearly enough to elevate the voices of marginalized communities in our agenda and our leadership. True equality is a distant goal, but there’s a lot we can do right now to improve the situation–so let’s get to work.