In Washington, DC, Democratic party leaders are still working out what went so horrifically wrong in the 2016 election and how to fix it. About 10 miles north, at the University of Maryland, academics claim to have found the answer: race and class. The “Understanding Race and Class in the 2016 Election” panel was held on the university’s campus on Monday and featured a discussion between Dr. Matthew Hughey and Dr. Paula Ioanide, professors of sociology and comparative race studies. The Bahá’í Chair for World Peace at the University of Maryland hosted the event, which was open to students and the public alike.
According to Hughey and Ioanide, understanding the election of President Trump requires understanding race and class alone. Speaking on the “racial reasoning of American nationalism,” Hughey sought to tie the 2016 election to issues ranging from low black representation in the Jim Crow south to high black incarceration rates today. The strongest parallel he found, however, was to a science fiction novel by Octavia Butler, where a “hardcore patriarchal candidate” ran under the same “Make America Great Again” slogan.
Hughey did not elaborate on the book’s ending.
Instead, he raced through a modified history of the Republican Party. Highlighting early members from the anti-immigrant Know-Nothing Party, Hughey’s version of events focused on the “negro question” while ignoring the party’s formal organization by thousands of abolitionists at a meeting in Jackson, Michigan.
No matter, because for Hughey, the racism of the GOP is hidden in codewords phrased as economic issues. These terms include things like “forced busing,” schools, and taxes. Any mention of crime was clearly a means of speaking about race. How this long tale of sorrows tied to understanding race and class in 2016 was rushed, for lack of time. Suffice to say, Trump won against Hillary Clinton, a white woman, because of race.
Rather than elucidating this point, Ioanide, in her talk on the “spiritual degradation” of whites in America, began by presuming her own point to be true.
“The detrimental effects of racism have been definitively proven,” she said. Since this is true, she wished to discuss the harm such attitudes have on whites.
Whatever this harm may be, it is difficult to quantify. The “price that white America pays for the investment into systematic racism” is a form of dehumanization that leads to a destruction of the self, says Ioanide. What this really looks like though is not explained. Aside from her discussion of white economic success, she has few examples of what racism looks like outside of “racial possession.”
This may be why the news that white men lead suicide rates shocked her so much. According to her paradigm, these men would be at the top of the societal pyramid. Meanwhile, data shows that death rates for white men ages 45-54 are climbing, particularly among those without college degrees. The suicide rate for this group went up more than 80 percent between 1999 and 2014.
Both Ioanide and Hughey, though, found it difficult to believe that Trump voters were motivated by anything other than antipathy towards Barack Obama.
“Obama’s legitimacy is constantly attacked on account of his race,” said Hughey, whose talk did not discuss Obama’s unpopular policies including the Affordable Care Act and the Iran deal. Instead, Hughey saw only “ethnicity, race, and racism,” which he said “play an immeasurable role.”
Meanwhile, Ioanide blamed Trump’s electoral success on a “rural America dominated by the prison-industrial complex.”
The elephant in the room was Trump’s success outside of these areas. Winning the presidency took not only Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Ohio. Trump also needed Florida’s 29 electoral votes. These he won in part because of strong support from Cuban-Americans in and around Miami.
“In Florida, Cubans were about twice as likely as non-Cuban Latinos to vote for Donald Trump,” wrote the Pew Research Center. Trump won 54 percent of the Cuban Latino vote, compared to 26 percent of non-Cuban Latinos.
Organizers clearly feared that dissenters would cause a disruption. Bags and backpacks were subject to search before entering the ballroom and the event had a visible police and security presence. (This made Ioanide’s description of the police as an “institution where racism is certainly, actively institutional,” ironic to say the least.) Despite, or perhaps because of the security presence, the event was calm. None of the speakers were interrupted, although many students began to leave midway through the second speaker.