Report on Michael Tesler’s presentation on his new book Identity Crisis: The 2016 Presidential Election and the Battle for the Meaning of America

I attended this presentation on May 2nd at the Cal State Long Beach Multimedia Center.  Michael Tesler was the keynote speaker, and he was hyping his new book about the 2016 Presidential election.  His main point was that politics now is all about race, and President Trump made this so.  According to Tesler, Mr. Trump banked on white identity politics to get elected, and was successful because he won the hearts of uneducated whites.  He did so by allegedly playing the race card, driving a wedge through the white population bringing him primarily those uneducated white masses, where college educated whites tended to be Progressive and leaning heavily toward the Clinton camp.

He used graphs to make his point, some from Pew Research and others from the Huffington Post and other sources.  The graphs were somewhat myopic, using a short time frame from about 2008 to present.  His case was that President Obama talked of race less than any other President, and 5 of his 8 years in office were periods of relative racial harmony, with outliers primarily conservative Republicans, who had more negative viewpoints on race, gender, and ethnic issues.  It showed that the Democrat Party embraced unfettered immigration, amnesty for undocumented immigrants, Muslim immigration, abortion on demand, Social Justice issues, and political correctness.  On the flip side, the Republican Party embraced limited legal immigration, and end to illegal immigration, building the wall, anti-abortion, were against unvetted Muslim immigration,  and were anti-PC.  The crux of his argument was that this rift, this partisanship polarized the election cycle and gave Mr. Trump a pathway to victory based entirely on racist ideology that his base, uneducated whites would readily embrace in lockstep to propel him to victory.

I found this thesis simplistic, and not necessarily one that would stand up to history, when taking a bigger timeline into consideration.  Further, I thought that his statement that President Obama mentioned race less than any other President to be ignoring the actual history of his Presidency, especially the last 3 years of his term.  Let’s take a look at a graph identifying racism  over the last 17 years in the USA:

From this graph you can see that in 2014 an uptick in racial worries in the USA.  Why did this happen?  In his last 3 years in office, President Obama more than doubled down with the race card, using it to preach to everyone about police racial brutality, racial bias in white society, and making almost every issue about race.  In fact, his racial comments on police shootings were immediate, without any evidence, and almost every time wrong in conclusions.  Before the facts where known, President Obama was quoted “If I had a son, he would have looked like Trayvon Martin”.  We all know how that eventually ended, and Obama’s comments escalated from that point on.  Indeed, he also brought the Muslim Brotherhood, Black Lives Matter, and Occupy people into the White House, further pushing blue collar people away from his support, and infuriating the conservative movement.  But was this all about race, as Mr. Tesler contends? Let’s look at a Pew Survey graph that he did not include in his presentation:

It appears that those people that voted Republican do not have race on their minds in any great degree after all.  This graph shows that race is by and large an issue that the Democrats own, and in fact keep alive for their own benefit.  It has long been a strategy of the Democrat party to divide our population into disparate groups (LGBT, black, Hispanic, women, etc…) in order to play the Identity Politics game, a political strategy that they invented and historically worked so well for them.  It appears that they will have to consider a new way to appeal to the masses, because this strategy appears to be backfiring on them at this point in time.

Primarily white blue collar workers were traditionally Democrat voters.  They went to the Republican camp because the Democrat Party left them, not the other way around.  Nothing in the Democrat platform was working to improve their lives, and they went another direction for a good reason.  This was not about racism, it was in many of their minds about survival, both personal and as a country.  It can be said that ignoring this very large voting block was a primary reason for President Trumps victory, and it had little to do with race.

Mr. Tesler spent a lot of time on the so called “Diploma Divide”.  He pointed out that many white educated voters went with the Hillary Clinton Campaign, and that the uneducated masses of white voters went to the Donald Trump Campaign.  The insinuation was that Clinton attracted the smart people, those in the know, and the Trump Campaign picked up those that did not know what they were doing.  39.4% of the working and voting population have at least a 2 year college degree.  That leaves 60.6% without any degree.  This “divide” seems to be a fatal strategic error on the part of the Clinton Campaign.  Ignoring a voting block that comprises the biggest population group in the USA is just plain bad politics, and has little if anything to do with overt racism, unless of course one reads racism into the heart of Identity Politics.

Mr. Tesler’s focus on what he called candidate Trump’s “Muslim Ban” was just plain wrong.  There never was a call for a Muslim ban, there was a call for a temporary ban on immigration and visitation from select Muslim countries that are hotbeds for terrorism, in order to put together a proper plan for vetting people from those countries.  This was not racism, it was common sense, the type of realistic thinking that cannot happen in a system steeped with political correctness.  Further, it was an abject admission by candidate Trump that if he were to be elected, PC would suffer a well deserved death from political and social speech, and that resonated with those that decided to support him.  Many citizens have been tired of PC in our culture, and had been praying for relief from the shackles of political correctness, and Donald Trump was promising that!

His presentation also intimated that only whites were racist.  That is absolutely wrong and antithetical to reality.  There is ingrained racial bias in every soul.  In fact, diversity as it is celebrated in our country is an attribute that is hard to come by, and something that has to be aspired to with open hearts and minds.  It is not the natural state of the human mind, and eons of cultural bias needs to be chopped away to have the American culture embrace this disparate concept.  We are trying and for the most part it is working, and if we can make it work seamlessly, it will be the first time in human history that it will have been achieved.

We were told by the Obama Administration that manufacturing jobs would never come back.  We were told that we would never see growth rates with GDP of 3% or higher ever again.  We were told that we were going to stop using hydrocarbon fuel, close coal mines, eliminate oil drilling, and only use renewable energy.  This we were told was the new normal, a new world where we won’t see strong economy, and will need to reconsider lifestyles and living spaces in order to adjust to this societal shift.  Donald Trump painted another vision, one where America could be great again.  One where manufacturing jobs would come back, one where the economy would grow, and one where the market, not government would make economic decisions for the American people.  The people voted, not because of racism, but because of vision, and Donald Trumps vision of America won the day.

At the end of the presentation, Mr. Tesler allowed 3 questions from the audience.  One question stood out, asked by a young woman student.  Her question was this:  “I know people that voted for Donald Trump and claim they are not racist.  How can I convince them that they are racists?  I’m from the Midwest and many people there are Donald Trump supporters.”  The question is very telling, making the assumption that anyone that ever voted for Donald Trump is by association a racist.  That in itself is a sad commentary on the state of our University educational system.  I found it quite telling not only with that question, but with the premise that people with college degrees vote Progressive, and somehow voting for Donald Trump is something that only those with lesser minds and a proclivity for racism would consider.  Quite elitist, don’t you think?