Why do rural Americans usually vote Republicans?

Trump's demographic panic

Dozens of demonstrators stormed the polling station in the Miami-Dade constituency when the votes were re-counted after the narrow result of the 2000 presidential election between Democrat Al Gore and George W. Bush. There was a scuffle, the demonstrators beat and stood up to election officials. Shortly afterwards, the Supreme Court decided to stop the counts and George W. Bush became President. It is now known that the demonstrators were by no means spontaneously acting »indignant citizens«. It was a planned Republican action; most of the demonstrators were conservative party activists. The events in Florida at the time were like a premonition of what was to come.

American democracy is shaking. Donald Trump's tirades and media abuse are more reminiscent of an autocrat than a democratic head of state. But the Republican Party also seems to be increasingly alienating the central rules of the game of democracy. Even in the Obama era, a sharper tone had spread among the conservatives. For years, Republican voters were told on right-wing television broadcaster Fox News that Obama's cautious reform policy was a socialist plot, an existential threat to the constitution and the country. Trump and his supporters live and breathe these paranoid fantasies. For them, the Democrats are not just a political opponent, but an existential threat that must be fought with all means. And so the Republicans are showing less and less scruples about pushing democratic rules to the limit and sometimes even breaking them.

Questionable incidents also occurred in the mid-term elections last November. In the state of Georgia there is even an allegation of systematic election manipulation. For the first time in decades, a Democratic candidate, Stacey Abrams, had a chance for governorship. Their opponent was Republican Brian Kemp - who as Secretary of State of Georgia was responsible for overseeing his own election. In this role, Kemp struck hundreds of thousands of voters off the electoral roll. Not all of those affected then did the arduous task of reactivating their right to vote. After the very narrowly lost election, Stacey Abrams filed a lawsuit with the Federal Court of Justice, accusing the Republicans of deliberate election manipulation. For years, polling stations in Georgia have been closed, especially in poor counties, which are more often inhabited by blacks. Last summer, local authorities tried to close most of the polling stations in poor rural and mostly black Randolph County - only one lawsuit and a court ruling stopped this. The president of the black civil rights organization NAACP spoke of "classic electoral influence" aimed at "silencing the votes of non-white voters".

Georgia is an extreme, but not an isolated one. When in doubt, victory is more important to Republicans than democratic rules. If they lose an election, as they did recently in Wisconsin, they simply bring in a law that simply forbids the new, Democratic governor to implement his key election promises. Here, too, it was only a federal court that stopped the efforts of the Republicans in mid-January to restrict so-called "early voting" - the ability to vote at an early stage - and to make voting more difficult by new identification requirements. In addition, there are numerous small and large measures that are constantly eroding the principle of the same elections. Gerrymandering, for example, is the name given to the systematic reshaping of electoral districts to give one's party an advantage. In this way, a lower number of votes can be used to win an election. In the midterm elections in Wisconsin last year, the Democrats received 54 percent of the vote, but only got 36 percent of the parliamentary seats. At the national level, too, the Democrats would have received significantly more seats in Congress had the Republicans not gained advantages through Gerrymandering.

Republicans across the country are trying to make voting as difficult as possible. They know that this primarily keeps poor, non-white voters away from the polls, who vote for the majority of the Democrats. The requirements for voter registration are becoming more and more stringent, for example through ever new requirements for the presentation of ID cards, or the postal vote is restricted. Convicted offenders are also excluded from voting. In Florida, for example, until the last mid-term election, 10 percent of the population and 20 percent of African Americans were not allowed to vote because they had been convicted - no matter how long ago the crime was committed.

When the Democrats passed legislation in January to facilitate access to elections, combat gerrymandering, and limit the political influence of major donors, it met fierce opposition from Republicans. Senate Republican majority leader Mitch McConnel called the bill an illegitimate "grab for power." McConnel said openly what is usually said behind closed doors: the more people vote and the fairer and freer the elections are, the worse the Republicans' chances are.

The fact that leading Republicans, of all people, are trying to restrict the will of the people does not quite fit the idea that we normally have of populist movements. Right-wing populism is often described as a regressive uprising of the popular masses: the people go crazy and, like King Kong, start to pull the chains of the constitutional order. A populist like Donald Trump presents himself according to the same scheme - as a man of the people who moved to Washington to wrest power from the elites. But if you look behind the facade, you see exactly the opposite in the Republican Party: an elitist movement that is trying by all means to push through its agenda against the will of the majority.

The Republicans justified all of this by reproaching their opponents for what they themselves seek. For years the American Conservatives have spread the legend that there is mass electoral fraud for which there is not the slightest evidence. This has to be countered with ever stricter rules. In the Trump era, there is an even shoddier claim that American democracy is being undermined by illegal migrants. There is even a conscious plan behind this by the progressives who wanted to import foreign voters through "open borders". The "long-term Democratic plan" to secure a majority is based on continually breaking the law to allow non-Americans to vote - prominent former Republican leader Newt Gringrich recently commented on an election in California on Fox News. Therefore, said former Trump employee Michael Anton, the Democrats did not want to finance the wall that Trump wants to build on the border with Mexico. The Democrats wish "that more immigrants would come in and that the country would change demographically," because that "would benefit the democratic politicians first."

The big bang of this development was Barack Obama's election victory in 2008. At that time, the Democrats not only won the presidential election, but also controlled Congress and the Senate. Because demographers predicted that white Americans will make up less than 50 percent of the population by 2045, observers assumed that demographics in the country will play into the hands of Democrats in the long term. The American population is becoming more and more multicultural. Obama as the child of a white mother and a black father represented the politics of the future, so the hope and assessment at the time.

Republicans are still in power today because their voters are structurally preferred in the American electoral system. Both in the presidential election and in the powerful upper house of parliament, the Senate, the conservative, white rural population is clearly over-represented. The largely deserted cowboy state of Wyoming with its 290,000 inhabitants sends as many senators to Washington as the 40 million Californians. The 21 most populous states have as many inhabitants as the large state on the west coast, but each has two senators. These distorting effects have been increasing for a long time because the demographic imbalance between the populous coastlines and the central land is growing. At the same time, the political polarization in the USA is becoming more and more geographical; the Democrats dominate in the big cities and on the dynamic, more affluent west and east coasts, while the Republicans own the "heartland". Left-wing filmmaker Michael Moore never tires of mentioning during his television appearances that the Democrats have won the most popular votes nationwide in six of the last seven presidential elections since the 1980s. Only George W. Bush managed in 2004 to mobilize enough votes in the right areas of the country and thus electoral votes, as well as more voters overall.

The power of the Republicans thus stands on feet of clay. The young generation is not only ethnically more diverse, but also much more liberal than the baby boomers, who mostly voted for Trump. Younger generations, on the other hand, tend to vote democratically - the 18 to 29-year-olds, for example, elected 67 percent of the Democrats in the mid-term elections in November - and in surveys see themselves further to the left than their parents and grandparents. Especially in conservative strongholds such as Georgia, Florida and even Texas, the power of conservative whites threatens to wane as a result of these developments. Republicans fear that the whole country will go through a development like the one that has already happened in California. Today the state is clearly liberal, although there used to be a strong republican party there; Nixon and Reagan began their political careers there. But the proportion of non-white voters in California has been growing for a long time, and the social climate is also becoming more and more liberal. Many Latinos - like Afro-Americans, by the way - are quite open to conservative politics, such as an emphasis on religion or family. But California Republicans have responded to demographic change since the 1990s with tough anti-immigration rhetoric. In a sense, they decided to become the party of the whites. Today, a Republican election victory in California is out of the question.

This demographic panic is central to Trumpism. Donald Trump entered the stage of big politics as a "birther": He claimed that Obama was not born in the USA and was therefore not a legitimate president. He symbolically represented the resentment of the white conservatives, who believed that the land that rightfully belonged to them had been stolen from them by the election of the first black president. Large parts of the population were thus declared to be second-class citizens, as it were.

Ordinary racism has always been mixed with the authoritarian impulses of a neoliberal, conservative elite. Mitt Romney, who ran as a Republican presidential candidate against Obama in 2012, expressed this stance. Behind closed doors, he told an audience of wealthy party donors that “47 percent of the population” would definitely vote for Obama because they “believe that the government must take care of them, they believe they have a right to health care Eat, have an apartment. It's not my job to take care of these people. I'll never be able to convince them to take responsibility for their own lives anyway. "For a moment, what the Republicans seldom say openly, but clearly express through their policies: Who is poor, who is not among the" top performers " heard does not count. This contempt for entire strata of the population has always been racially shaped, but for some years this aspect has come more and more to the fore. For example, the former Trump employee, Michael Anton, warned in a highly regarded essay in 2016 against the “endless import of third world foreigners”, which leads to “the electorate becoming more and more left, more and more democratic and less republican and less and less American "become. Donald Trump represents the last chance to save the US from ruin.

The fear of threatening and supposedly parasitic "third world foreigners" is the bond that holds conservative business elites and the right-wing base together. The Republicans have always accomplished the feat of combining their elitist, economically liberal stance with a populist culture war that also brought the less affluent, white population on board. The sociologist Arlie Russel Hochschild describes exactly how this works in the book "Fremd in her Land". For years, Hochschild has studied the worldview of ultra-conservative followers of the tea party movement in rural Louisiana, her book was published just in time for the 2016 election and is an important attempt to explain Trump's election victory.

Louisiana is located on the Gulf of Mexico and is a center of the American oil exploration and chemical industry. Nevertheless, the state is desperately poor, and the oil industry brings people little more than inconceivable environmental pollution. Almost everyone Hochschild spoke to had stories to tell - about cancer caught while working in the refineries, rivers that were forever polluted, and entire neighborhoods that became uninhabitable. And yet they were all staunch supporters of the Republicans - the party that still removes any ecological obstacle to industry. How is that possible?

Hochschild's empathic portrayal describes the deep resentment of people who have completely dedicated themselves to the capitalist achievement ideology, but to whom nothing in life was given, who had to fight every day. Now they watch all the more bitterly that no one else gets anything for free. "You stand patiently in line for the American dream and wait," is how Hochschild describes this conservative "basic narrative." "But then you see people who are jostling each other." Most of them are black people who benefit from the anti-discrimination policy or receive social assistance. Or career-obsessed women who get jobs they didn't have before. Then immigrants, Mexicans, Somalis or Syrian refugees who work their way up.

So perhaps one understands how the Republicans managed to get these people to reject Obama's health care reform - although they would probably have benefited the most from it themselves. The steady radicalization of the Republicans in recent years has also been driven by conservative political and business elites who simply would not be able to implement their liberal economic program if they did not ride a wave of reactionary resentment. Donald Trump's voters know exactly who they are supporting, and they love to do it, almost with pleasure. The tea party supporters described by Hochschild want the authoritarian ultra-capitalism of the Republicans - they just don't want to be among the losers.

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