Cokie Roberts and Steven V. Roberts

Playing the Race Card

The word of the year in politics is "anger." And many backers of Donald Trump are outraged about their economic conditions and prospects.

Exit polls reveal that the less education voters have, the more likely they are to back Trump. Their lack of schooling means they don't possess the technical skills many new jobs demand. Their feeling of exclusion and disillusion is real.

"GOP voters who support Trump ... stand out for their pessimism about the nation's economy and their own financial situation," reports the Pew Research Center.

But that's not the whole story. Trumpians are also impelled by another visceral motive -- racial anxiety and animosity. They won't say so publically, but for many of them, the slogan "Make America Great Again" really means, "Make America White Again."

We don't say that casually. Accusations of racial prejudice, like charges of anti-Semitism, should be stated carefully and rarely. But this year, to ignore race in the political campaign is to ignore reality.

Race, moreover, is only part of a larger set of disruptions and discontents fueling the Trump movement. From gay couples holding hands to uppity women holding jobs, the world of the aging white men who flock to Trump is clearly crumbling.

To reinforce that point: Views about Trump divide sharply along gender and racial lines. In the latest ABC News/Washington Post poll, 2 out of 3 Americans viewed the New York businessman unfavorably. That negative rate rises to 3 out of 4 women; 4 out of 5 African-Americans; and 85 percent of Hispanics. Among white men, only half don't like Trump.

The truth is that America will never be white again, or at least as white as it used to be. When Ronald Reagan won in 1980, the electorate was 88 percent white. In 2012, only 72 percent of voters were white (only 34 percent were white men, and older guys are even less numerous), and this year the percentages will drop again. Mitt Romney actually won a higher percentage of the white vote than Reagan did, and yet lost badly.

"If we're going to be a majority party in the 21st century," Rep. Tom Cole, an Oklahoma Republican, told The New York Times, "we're going to have to be a multiracial, multiethnic and inclusive party."

But Trump is following a strikingly different strategy: divide not unite, exclude don't include. He has no interest in a "multiracial, multiethnic" party. He aims to win with white votes, and he's not even subtle about it.

His appeal to a "silent majority" that would "take our country back" is loaded with coded language. From whom, exactly, does he want to take the country back?

The answer is obvious: the "others"; the black militants and foreign jihadists; the dark-skinned hordes who speak other languages, worship other gods and threaten our womenfolk. Rick Wilson, a Republican strategist, said Trump's words echo the racially divisive strategy perfected by Richard Nixon and George Wallace.

"That's not a dog whistle; that's a dog siren," he told the Times.

And Trump supporters hear his whistle. A recent Washington Post/ABC poll asked voters which was a bigger problem: whites "losing out" to "preferences" for black and Hispanics, or minorities "losing out" to white privilege. Overall 28 percent said whites were getting shafted, but that almost doubles for Trumpians.

And while we're at it, Trump is saying, we'll take the country back from Barack Hussein Obama, the black crypto-Muslim with the strange name who, Trump believes, wasn't even born in America. Don't forget, long before he ran for president, Trump was a leading exponent of the "birther" movement. His worldview has always been rooted in nativism, and his campaign reflects those impulses.

He announced his candidacy by branding undocumented Mexican immigrants rapists and criminals. Since then, he's doubled down on the xenophobia, proposing to ban all Muslims and force Mexico to pay for a massive wall across the Southern border. He might as well put a neon sign atop that barrier saying, "TRUMP: Make America White Again."

There were heartening signs out of Wisconsin that this vicious appeal to racism might be losing force. About 35 percent of Republican voters said they'd be "scared" if Trump became president, and about the same number said they would not support him in the general election.

Racial appeals might work in the short run, as they often have in American history, but they are doomed to fail eventually. Smart Republicans know that America is better than Donald Trump.

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