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Race, Class, and the Tea Party

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willis

What drives the Tea Party? Sean McElwee and Jason McDaniel suggest it is racial resentment, not class anxiety. That a reasonable conclusion as far as it goes, but it’s not like the two issues can really be separated among white working-class voters. Racism is a huge driver of American politics and society from the beginning of European occupation to the present. That racial resentment cuts across class lines, but it certainly has long been useful for employers and politicians to deploy in order to draw attention away from class-based oppression. So white workers see government programs as helping people of color and thus oppose them based upon racism, even as opposing those programs also hurts them. But then at the same time, the economic resentment is also real in an America where employers are moving good paying jobs overseas. The reason Trump is winning the Republican primary is because he is making those racial and class resentments real and interconnected. It’s the Mexicans and Chinese and Vietnamese stealing our jobs, not the rich employers stealing our jobs, but either way, Trump says he is going to stop it from happening. So does race trump class in Tea Party (or more usefully at this point, right-wing populism) support? I suppose it defends on the definitions, but I don’t think we should be asking these questions in this form. More valuable is to understand the variety of reasons why people are inclined to feel and vote this way, reasons that will always be complex.

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