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‘White Fright’ Elected Trump: Prof. Christopher Parker on The Conversation

Submitted by Caterina Rost on November 21, 2016 - 10:11am

Following the 2016 presidential election, UW Political Science Professor Christopher S. Parker discussed the question why Trump won in an article published on The Conversation website.

After noting that Trump now faces “a country whose division is exceeded only by Civil War-era America,” Professor Parker criticized the “conventional account” of how Trump succeeded, which contends that he got elected based on the support of the white working class driven by economic anxiety. Contrary to this account, “Hillary Clinton actually beat Trump among poor and working-class voters: 52 percent to 41 percent,” Parker notes. Instead Trump surpassed Clinton among the white middle and upper class. So the question is why did the more educated white middle and upper class support Trump even though their higher levels of education should lead to higher levels of support for tolerance and democratic values. Parker argues: 

“My reading of history suggests that the boundaries of American identity intersect with whiteness, patriarchy, xenophobia and homophobia. This means that anyone, any group that falls outside of such a definition of American identity, is considered beyond the political community; they’re aliens. 

Rapid social change, which poses a threat to this truncated version of American identity, activates anxiety and anger on the part of those who lay claim to this identity. The America with which they’ve become familiar is changing too fast.” 

Furthermore, Parker points out that this has happened before. For example, the “growth of the Ku Klux Klan in the 1920s and the John Birch Society in the 1960s” were also backlashes to rapid social change. And even more recently we saw the emergence of the Tea Party movement following the election of Barack Obama. Parker concludes the article with what he sees as the silver lining of the election of Trump.

The article entitled “The real reason Trump won: White fright” ( appeared on The Conversation website on November 17, 2016. The Conversation “is an independent source of news and views from the academic and research community” that launched in October 2014.