The American right has long been telling itself a simple morality tale that goes something like this: The white Christian establishment is the original source and continuing guardian of America’s tradition of liberty, free markets and limited government and minorities are a threat to it because they don’t share the same attachments. One of the major arguments that restrictionist right-wing pundits make for clamping down on immigration is that immigrants, hailing from Big Government countries, dilute these American principles.
This has always been nonsense. But Donald Trump’s election has turned this story on its head given that whites are the ones who voted for him because they wanted economic nationalism and protectionism. And minorities voted against him because they feared the loss of their liberties.
Indeed, if America’s constitutional freedoms have a future, it is no longer with Trump’s overwhelmingly white backers, but with his minority opponents, simply because they need them more.
Trump is a natural authoritarian who ran on a platform that blended populist economic policies with an aggressive law-and-order state. So he has promised to shut down trade and immigration to protect the American working class and use the strong arm of the government to bend businesses to his will – forcing them to stay in the country and hire workers at wages he mandates. (Hence his flirtation late in the campaign with a $15 minimum wage, even though it departs from his party’s orthodoxy.)
And economic liberties are not all that he’ll trample.
Ejecting millions of undocumented aliens, his signature campaign initiative, will require a vast expansion of the police state to hunt down and detain illegals. But that’s far from the worst of it. He ran as a law-and-order candidate who wants to end the “war on cops.” So he isn’t likely to have much appetite for reining in police abuse, especially if Rudy Giuliani is his attorney general. In fact, he speaks of African-American communities with casual disdain and has explicitly promised to expand racial profiling and stop-and-frisk policies where police can stop people on the street they suspect of carrying contraband or drugs without a court order. He vowed to ban Muslims from the U.S. And on and on and on. And then there is his threat to loosen libel laws to go after the press and use anti-trust laws to chasten media conglomerates that challenged him.
All of this will need to be forcefully resisted. But where will this resistance come from? Not whites. His promise to protect their economic interests has proven to be sufficient for them to overlook his anti-constitutional proposals.
Indeed, exit polls show that 58 percent of white voters went for Trump. A majority of white men (63 percent) backed him. But so did a majority of white women (53 percent). They weren’t just non-college educated, low-information voters. As expected, 67 percent of that group voted for Trump — but so did 54 percent of college-educated white men. Among white women, about 62 percent of the non-college educated went for Trump and — shockingly — also 45 percent of college educated.
Now, obviously, not all the white folks who voted for Trump necessarily approve of his character or tactics or agenda – or because they are all active racists. But they simply don’t think that his executive excesses pose a huge danger to their interests — or else they wouldn’t have pulled the lever for him.
With minorities, it’s the exact reverse: It is not that all of them disapprove of all his economic ideas. But he poses a direct threat to their rights and liberties, which is why they pulled the lever against him.
The Latino firewall that was supposed to stop Trump on Election Day failed. Latinos did not come out in high enough numbers. About 29 percent actually voted for Trump, defying expectations and besting Mitt Romney by 5 percentage points. However, in literally every swing state except Florida, according to exit polls by Latino Decisions, Trump got less than 17 percent of the Latino vote. It was in reliably red states that Trump ran up his numbers with Latinos.
Among blacks, Trump got less than 8 percent of the vote. Meanwhile, two-thirds of Asian Americans, who have historically voted for Democrats at rates that rival those of blacks, said they were “scared” of Trump being in the Oval Office.
The fear and trembling that Trump is striking among minorities, about 40 percent of the population, could be a potent force to protect America’s limited government traditions and the Constitution that Trump threatens. Minorities have every reason to heighten their vigilance because they need the constitution’s protections. This is one reason why so many of them are out on the streets protesting Trump’s election. These protests will escalate if the Trump presidency unfolds as expected – as will lawsuits against his administration by civil libertarian outfits. In fact, we may be entering a new era of minority activism.
This is, in a way, in keeping with the constitutional design. The whole purpose of the constitution is to protect the most vulnerable groups from tyranny. The only foolishness is the right-wing fairytale that the abstract commitments of the white majority alone today could be a reliable custodian of America’s freedoms.
A version of this column ran in The Week