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Author Keith Boykin probes persistent questions of race


The growth of politics of confusion

Melvin B. Miller
The growth of politics of confusion
“Now that Trump is my role model, I ought to join his party.” (Photo: Dan Drew)

A fundamental principle of democracy is that citizens will vote out of office those politicians who fail to serve their interests. Over the years, conservatives have claimed that African Americans do not adhere to that principle but are captives of the Democratic Party. Now that whites with low incomes are becoming Republicans, the party of the well-to-do, there is considerable speculation about their motivations.

In considering this new Republican political phenomenon, it is specious to maintain the myth that black voters are insensitive to public issues but have become Democrats out of a political herd mentality. In the presidential election of 1960, an estimated one-third of black citizens voted for Richard Nixon. Only four years later when Sen. Barry Goldwater, an ardent opponent of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, became the Republican candidate, blacks left the Republican Party in droves. Only six percent of blacks voted for Goldwater. It is generally agreed that this black political rebellion resulted from Republican opposition to the Civil Rights Act.

The black vote for Republican candidates for president has not substantially recovered since then. Some analysts nonetheless assert now that the black presidential vote actually is racially inspired. How then do we explain the 92 percent black vote in the presidential election for Al Gore in 2000? At the time there was not the slightest intimation that a black family would occupy the White House in eight years. Obama’s black vote was only four points higher than Gore’s at 96 percent in 2008.

Now that conservatives and liberals are engaged in continual combat over issues of importance to blacks — an increase of the minimum wage, Medicaid expansion and racial wealth disparity — there have been fewer serious assertions that African Americans are not better represented by Democrats. The issue now is why poor and working-class whites believe that Republicans have their interests at heart.

The number of whites living in poverty in America is almost twice the number of destitute blacks — 19.0 million to 10.3 million. Also, the stagnation in wages since 1975 has stranded millions of whites below the middle class. The standard of living for many whites has declined while the wealth of the affluent has grown. How could such economic disparity induce working class whites to unite with the party that opposes many safety net issues?

A recent New York Times article opines that blue states are turning red because the truly poor fail to vote and low-income workers are so offended by the abuse of welfare and Medicaid that they prefer to be represented by the party that would eliminate entitlements. It is unlikely that black voters would ever embrace that point of view. Life in America has been so challenging for blacks that there is a cultural sympathy for those who have failed to thrive.

Especially now with the unexpected emergence of Donald Trump as a leading Republican candidate for president, sociologists and political analysts will have a field day trying to unravel the intricacies of the political psyche of white Americans.