American Sociological Association

Trump Supporters and the Boundaries of the “I”

After Donald Trump’s victory in the 2016 election, Democrats’ handwringing centered first on the woes of the white working class. Displaced from jobs that had offered decent pay and a modicum of self-respect and unheard by mainstream politicians, the argument ran, working-class voters turned to Trump in the vain hope that he would restore their economic fortunes. The diagnosis was compelling, but it soon ran aground on new analyses of Trump’s electoral base. The people who voted for Trump were white, yes, but many were middle-class. What they had lost, in this alternative diagnosis, was not their economic security but their unquestioned racial supremacy. That Rory McVeigh and Kevin Estep compare the rise of Trump to that of the Ku Klux Klan might lead one to think that they side with the second view. But in fact, their argument is closer to the first. The point of comparing Trump’s supporters to those who joined the KKK is not to liken them to white-hooded racial terrorists. Rather it is to show how susceptible to nativist appeals are white Americans who have been whipsawed by political and economic change.


Francesca Polletta





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