Car­los Lozada: Trump “ac­ti­vated” Amer­ica’s ha­tred.

Trump didn’t in­vent Amer­i­can hate. But new books ar­gue that he re­leased it — and his base gives him no in­cen­tive to ex­tin­guish it.

The Washington Post Sunday - - FRONT PAGE - Twit­ter: @Car­losLozadaWP Car­los Lozada is the non­fic­tion book critic of The Wash­ing­ton Post.

“Ac­ti­vate” is the most omi­nous word I en­coun­tered in three new books ex­am­in­ing the forces be­hind the 2016 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion.

“The in­for­ma­tion vot­ers ac­quire dur­ing a cam­paign can ‘ac­ti­vate’ — or make more salient — their pre­ex­ist­ing val­ues, be­liefs, and opin­ions,” po­lit­i­cal sci­en­tists John Sides, Michael Tesler and Lynn Vavreck write in “Iden­tity Cri­sis,” a vi­tal new work on the po­lit­i­cal cul­ture of the Trump era. “That is ex­actly how Trump won sup­port: he ac­ti­vated long-stand­ing sen­ti­ments” sur­round­ing race, im­mi­gra­tion and re­li­gion. In “The For­got­ten,” jour­nal­ist Ben Bradlee Jr. de­tails how con­tempt for Wash­ing­ton, a per­ceived loss of dig­nity and fear of im­mi­grants helped Trump win over white vot­ers in a key Penn­syl­va­nia county. “Trump was able to ac­ti­vate, own, and even weaponize the re­sent­ments that Luzerne res­i­dents had,” Bradlee writes. And in “Cy­ber­war,” com­mu­ni­ca­tions scholar Kath­leen Hall Jamieson ar­gues that Rus­sian trolls’ ef­forts to “ac­ti­vate the Trump vote” were de­signed to in­crease an­i­mos­ity to­ward Latin Amer­i­can im­mi­grants and Mus­lims as well as deepen wor­ries about civil un­rest.

Mil­i­tary units are ac­ti­vated. Cancer cells are ac­ti­vated. Ex­plo­sives are ac­ti­vated, too.

Don­ald Trump is hardly re­spon­si­ble for the ex­is­tence of white supremacy, misog­yny, na­tivism or anti-Semitism in Amer­ica, but his pol­i­tics en­ables and thrives on their resur­gence. Trump’s 2016 cam­paign en­cour­aged ci­ti­zens to in­dulge some of their most ret­ro­grade in­stincts, a tac­tic that suc­ceeded so well it is now back for the midterm races: Left-wing “glob­al­ist” bil­lion­aires threaten Amer­ica, we are told, any pro­test­ers are in­vari­ably “paid pro­fes­sion­als” and im­mi­grants seek not a bet­ter life for them­selves but a worse one for you. No won­der the ad­min­is­tra­tion has an­nounced plans to de­ploy thou­sands of U.S. troops to the south­ern bor­der to re­pel what the pres­i­dent calls a mi­grant “in­va­sion,” even while he muses about end­ing birthright cit­i­zen­ship via ex­ec­u­tive or­der — all just days be­fore the elec­tions.

Trump says the com­ing vote is about “Ka­vanaugh, the car­a­van, law and or­der . . . You know what I’m talk­ing about.” Yes, I be­lieve we do. Tues­day’s vote is not just a ref­er­en­dum on the Trump pres­i­dency but on the val­ues that Trump has ac­ti­vated — on whether Trump’s Amer­ica is sim­ply Amer­ica now.

Ev­ery pres­i­den­tial elec­tion pro­duces a glut of books at­tempt­ing to chron­i­cle what it took, how the win­ner was sold or made, or just what hap­pened. The au­thors of “Iden­tity Cri­sis” dis­miss some of the com­mon ex­pla­na­tions for the 2016 out­come, such as the eco­nomic mis­for­tune of the white work­ing class, the Clin­ton cam­paign’s strate­gic short­com­ings and Rus­sian in­ter­fer­ence. Draw­ing on nu­mer­ous elec­toral sur­veys, Sides, Tesler and Vavreck con­clude that white vot­ers’ fi­nan­cial and job con­cerns, while real, flowed from their cul­tural and racial re­sent­ments. “In­stead of a pure eco­nomic anx­i­ety,” the au­thors write, “what mat­tered was racial­ized eco­nom­ics.” Trans­la­tion: Sup­port for Trump was less about fear­ing you’d lose your job and more about fear­ing you’d lose your job to those lazy, en­ti­tled peo­ple who are dif­fer­ent from you. This “spillover of racial­iza­tion” into mul­ti­ple are­nas, they write, was an es­sen­tial fea­ture of the pres­i­den­tial cam­paign.

In 2016, Amer­i­cans’ long-stand­ing di­vi­sions over race, eth­nic­ity and re­li­gion over­lapped more closely than in the past with vot­ers’ par­ti­san iden­ti­ties. White Amer­i­cans who ex­pressed fa­vor­able views of black Amer­i­cans, Mus­lims and im­mi­grants were in­creas­ingly Democrats, the au­thors note, while those ex­press­ing less fa­vor­able at­ti­tudes were in­creas­ingly Repub­li­cans. Both of the 2016 nom­i­nees — not only Trump — cen­tered the con­test on this split. Rather than fo­cus on eco­nomic pol­icy or the size of gov­ern­ment, Hil­lary Clin­ton and Trump “made the cam­paign about . . . whether the coun­try’s in­creas­ing eth­nic, racial, and re­li­gious di­ver­sity was a strength or a threat.” That’s what “Stronger To­gether” vs. “Make Amer­ica Great Again” was all about.

And it wasn’t just the do­mes­tic po­lit­i­cal cam­paigns. The Rus­sian cy­ber­at­tack against the U.S. elec­toral sys­tem demon­strated Moscow’s keen un­der­stand­ing of Amer­ica’s cul­tural and racial fault lines. In “Cy­ber­war,” her ac­count of Rus­sia’s im­pact on the 2016 con­test, Jamieson em­pha­sizes “the mu­tu­ally re­in­forc­ing na­ture” of the Trump cam­paign’s themes and ef­forts by Rus­sian trolls to heighten Amer­ica’s so­cial ten­sions. “With a fo­cus on con­stituen­cies whom Don­ald Trump needed to mo­bi­lize,” Jamieson writes, “Rus­sian mes­sages stoked fears of the mul­ti­cul­tural, mul­tira­cial, ec­u­meni­cal cul­ture that Clin­ton Democrats cham­pi­oned.”

Jamieson does not make a case for col­lu­sion be­tween the Repub­li­can can­di­date and Moscow, though she notes slyly that “the trolls’ un­der­stand­ing of Trump’s com­mu­ni­ca­tion needs was sound.” More con­se­quen­tial, in her view, was the hack­ing of emails from Clin­ton cam­paign chair­man John Podesta and the Demo­cratic Na­tional Com­mit­tee. At crit­i­cal mo­ments dur­ing the 2016 race, the hacked ma­te­rial shifted the po­lit­i­cal de­bate and press cov­er­age against Clin­ton and in fa­vor of Trump, and Jamieson chas­tises the news me­dia for its un­wit­ting “com­plic­ity” with Rus­sian ef­forts. The fi­nal two de­bates be­tween Clin­ton and Trump in­cluded dam­ag­ing ques­tions about leaked ex­cerpts from the Demo­cratic nom­i­nee’s paid speeches — ques­tions that were pos­si­ble only be­cause of Rus­sian cy­bertheft. “Too of­ten,” Jamieson laments, “the press served as a con­veyor belt of stolen con­tent in­stead of a gate­keeper.”

The de­bate over whether the Rus­sians tilted the elec­tion is not set­tled in these books: Jamieson of­fers a de­tailed and com­pelling case that they could have done so, par­tic­u­larly through the mag­ni­fied im­pact of the hacked ma­te­ri­als, while Sides, Tesler and Vavreck counter that the ef­fect of on­line ads tends to be lim­ited, and that the Rus­sians sim­ply added mis­lead­ing and po­lar­iz­ing con­tent into a po­lit­i­cal sys­tem that was al­ready suf­fused with it. Less con­tro­ver­sial should be the re­al­iza­tion that the Rus­sians ex­ploited some of the best of Amer­ica — its re­spect for free mar­kets and free speech, its tra­di­tion of an open and com­pet­i­tive press, its com­mu­ni­ca­tions tech­nolo­gies — to bring out some of its worst. And that their tac­tics were con­sis­tent with those of the Trump cam­paign.

‘Af­ter the elec­tion, much the same way that Jane Goodall stud­ies chim­panzees in the wild, so­cial sci­en­tists and out-of-touch Democrats launched an­thro­po­logic-like sur­veys on the white work­ing class,” Bradlee writes in his in­tro­duc­tion. Of course, jour­nal­ists did much the same, and “The For­got­ten” fits com­fort­ably in this canon.

Bradlee spends time in Luzerne County, Pa., a former coal re­gion now caught in a “postin­dus­trial malaise,” with its ma­jor­ity-white towns ex­pe­ri­enc­ing rapid growth in their His­panic pop­u­la­tions. Luzerne County pro­vided Trump with nearly 60 per­cent of his slim win­ning mar­gin in Penn­syl­va­nia, and Bradlee pro­files a dozen res­i­dents fit­ting suit­able nar­ra­tive cat­e­gories: Trump Men, Trump Women, the Vet­eran, the White Na­tion­al­ist, the Chris­tian and the like.

In his con­ver­sa­tions, Bradlee con­stantly hears that peo­ple sim­ply wanted Trump to “shake things up” — one of the Trump Men even jokes that he won­dered if he was cast­ing “a vote for Ar­maged­don.” Yet the pres­i­dent’s sup­port­ers also echo his cam­paign rhetoric: too much il­le­gal im­mi­gra­tion and voter fraud, too many idle, un­de­serv­ing peo­ple get­ting ben­e­fits de­nied to the hard-work­ing. A Trump Woman and real es­tate in­vestor com­plains that mi­nori­ties are “run­ning wild” be­cause Barack Obama didn’t keep them in line. She quickly adds that her brother’s wife is mul­tira­cial, “so I’m not a racist.” Some fret about Trump’s lan­guage, but a pub owner shrugs it off. “Isn’t that what Amer­ica is now?” he asks. “Ev­ery­thing is crude, lewd, and all on so­cial me­dia.” And when a hair salon man­ager tells Bradlee that she is “work­ing [her] ass off to get by” even as African Amer­i­cans and Mus­lims come to town “get­ting all kinds of ben­e­fits I never got,” you see the “racial­ized eco­nom­ics” the­sis ar­tic­u­lated by Sides, Tesler and Vavreck hold­ing up quite well.

It’s all rather rec­og­niz­able if you’ve read any of the many jour­nal­is­tic for­ays into Trump Coun­try. When one of Bradlee’s char­ac­ters sounded fa­mil­iar — a former Demo­crat and la­bor or­ga­nizer who voted for Trump — I re­al­ized I’d al­ready met him in Salena Zito and Brad Todd’s “The Great Re­volt,” a sim­i­lar book pub­lished this year. What makes “The For­got­ten” mem­o­rable is not the white-work­ing-class cliches or cross-cul­tural an­i­mos­ity, but how our na­tional di­vides are re­flected within in­di­vid­ual fam­i­lies. A grand­son and grand­mother trade ac­cu­sa­tions over text mes­sages. “Con­grat­u­la­tions, you’ve dam­aged Amer­ica. I hope it was worth it,” he writes. “I’ve saved Amer­ica and I am very proud . . . Learn how to be grate­ful,” she re­sponds. An evan­gel­i­cal mar­riage spi­rals down­ward be­cause the hus­band is re­pulsed by Trump while the wife be­lieves that God chose this pres­i­dent. Trump’s elec­tion “has torn, ripped at, and tried to squash any­thing we built,” she ad­mits. “We were, and still can be, in se­ri­ous trou­ble if we talk about Trump.”

For some Trump op­po­nents, the in­ves­ti­ga­tion by spe­cial coun­sel Robert Mueller serves as a de­vice in a Sa­muel Beck­ett-style drama: They wait and wait for Mueller’s re­port to ap­pear, be­liev­ing that it will jus­tify their sac­ri­fices, re­store their hope, set ev­ery­thing right. But we al­ready know what the re­sponse will be: “I don’t think there’s any­thing to it,” a Trump Woman tells Bradlee. “If they find some­thing, they will have made it up.”

In “Cy­ber­war,” Jamieson con­cludes her dis­sec­tion of Rus­sia’s elec­toral at­tack by list­ing all the en­ablers who un­wit­tingly helped make it hap­pen. It’s ba­si­cally ev­ery­one: the breath­less news me­dia, the cred­u­lous cit­i­zenry, the po­lar­iz­ing — and pusil­lan­i­mous — elected of­fi­cials in Wash­ing­ton. Bradlee ends “The For­got­ten” warn­ing that Trump is push­ing us back to “the old sep­a­rate-but-equal ethos.” He urges the Demo­cratic Party to “de­velop more of a heart­land sen­si­bil­ity” and nom­i­nate some­one with “blue-col­lar cred.”

But the au­thors of “Iden­tity Cri­sis” see no in­cen­tives for such a move. They ar­gue that Democrats are like­lier to win by ad­vo­cat­ing for racial and eth­nic mi­nori­ties than by try­ing to woo back white Obama sup­port­ers who flipped to Trump, while Repub­li­cans have had more suc­cess ral­ly­ing their base over im­mi­gra­tion and the na­tional an­them rather than tax cuts or health care. The “cen­tral­ity of iden­tity,” they write, has be­come the defin­ing fea­ture of Amer­i­can life.

These im­pulses and in­stincts have al­ways been with us, and, prop­erly un­der­stood, iden­tity can dig­nify as much as it di­vides. But the spillovers of racial­iza­tion and the politi­ciz­ing of dif­fer­ence now mean that shoot­ings at syn­a­gogues and base­ball fields are as­sessed by their pol­i­tics as much as by their vic­tims, that mail bombs re­ceive dis­mis­sive scare quotes if their senders and tar­gets are in­con­ve­nient, and that the pres­i­dent of the United States at­tempts to make this midterm vote a ref­er­en­dum on na­tion­al­ism and ex­clu­sion, on the threats be­yond rather than the rot within.

It is easy to ac­ti­vate, but much harder to defuse — if we even wanted to try.


Car­los Lozada


Sup­port­ers in North Carolina await a speech by Don­ald Trump just be­fore the 2016 elec­tion.

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