To understand Donald Trump’s victory one has to understand resentment in white America. While visible minority Americans voted overwhelmingly for the Democrats, the fact is that whites still make up an overwhelming number of U. S. voters (Pew Research has whites at 74 percent of all voters in 2016 , and second, it has whites without a college degree, Trump’s key constituency, at 44 percent of all voters). This means that American politics is still defined primarily by white voters divided by attitudes towards race, religious values, class and suburban vs. urban lifestyles.
With regard to racial attitudes, when white American anxieties are directed towards racial intolerance by the rhetoric of Trump and the Republican Party more generally, they obviously cost Republicans visible minority votes. But they cost the Republicans white votes as well, alienating urban, university-educated voters who value diversity – even as they mobilize some racially resentful whites.
The fact that American politics is defined by the politics of white resentment is widely understood and commented upon (often in discussions of the rise of “populism”) and is the conventional explanation of Trump’s surprise victory. But what is less appreciated is that the same working class voters that can be mobilized to vote Republican by anti-immigrant and racist rhetoric, can also be mobilized by economic resentment to vote for left-wing Democrats. And while economic resentment has been used by the Republican Party to stoke hostility to taxes by connecting taxes to programs like welfare and food stamps (programs perceived by many voters as “something for nothing” programs), economic resentment has also been used by left-leaning Democrats and unions to mobilize support for higher minimum wages, better pensions, tougher job protection measures, and improved access to health care.
In other words, while it is true that Trump’s anti-immigrant and racist rhetoric helped him win the white working class votes in the Midwest that gave him the necessary electoral votes to win the presidency, the resentment of those very same voters has historically been – and can be again – mobilized against Wall St. and corporate America by left-leaning Democrats for progressive ends. The fact that Trump won Michigan by taking many of the same overwhelmingly white counties that socialist Bernie Sanders won in beating Hilary Clinton in the Michigan Democratic primary, makes this point clearly.
The politics of resentment in Canada
Much the same dynamic around the politics of resentment plays out in Canada. However, there are some differences.
On the Canadian side of the border, the politics of racial resentment is in some ways more complicated in that all three major parties seek to attract non-white voters. Canada has no equivalent to a Republican Party that has pretty much written off visible minorities. While the Doug Ford conservative government in Ontario (along with federal Conservative leader, Andrew Scheer) may be picking a tactical fight with the Trudeau Liberal Government over “illegal border crossers” in order to mobilize its base, the heart of Ford Nation is still primarily in ethnic Greater Toronto – and much of it is non-white. Even Andrew Scheer’s Federal Conservative Party has to tread carefully on the immigration/refugee issue as they need to win at least some seats in heavily immigrant suburban ridings in greater Vancouver and Toronto to form a government.
As such, the Ford Government has to be cautious in tapping into anti-immigrant/anti-refugee resentment if it wants to keep the visibility minority voters who supported it in the June, 2018 Ontario election. Having figured out how to win with next to no visible minority support, Donald Trump and the Republican Party do not have to exercise such caution.
While for political reasons, the Ford government can’t put racial resentment at the heart of its political strategy the way Trump can, there are two other sources of resentment Ford can tap into to without alienating heavily ethnic Ford Nation in the GTA. These sources of resentment also have support amongst the Ontario PC’s white, rural base.
First, Ford Nation is extremely hostile to anything that smacks of “handouts” for those who are not perceived as working hard for any sort of government benefit they may be receiving. That is why the Ford government moved quickly to cut a planned 3 per cent welfare increase in half and scrapped a proposed basic income pilot program. The Ford base in rural Ontario shares this hostility to paying taxes for what many in the traditional PC base view as “something for nothing” social programs.
Secondly, much of GTA based Ford Nation – like the Ford government’s rural, white support – tends towards social conservatism. It’s the social conservatism that is shared by the two very different constituencies that explains the prominence the Ford government is giving to repealing the former Liberal government’s sex-ed curriculum changes first implemented in 2014.
However, just as it is true that Trump’s anti-immigrant and racist rhetoric helped win him white, working class voters in the Midwest who have historically been supportive of an economic populism (again socialist Bernie Sanders won pretty much the same counties in the Michigan democratic primary as Trump did in the general election), so it is true that the resentment of much of Ford Nation could be guided towards an anti-corporate, economic populism rooted in high wage jobs, good pensions and expanded medicare (pharmacare, etc.). The Ontario New Democratic Party made a strong showing in the GTA in the 2018 election running on just such a program and could easily win a majority of seats in Peel and Durham regions and Scarborough in the next Ontario provincial election. These suburban Toronto communities form the very heart of Ford Nation.
North American politics is now dominated by the politics of resentment. However, whether that resentment results in victories for the right or the left, depends upon whether right wing parties are effective in guiding working class resentment towards an anti-immigrant, anti-tax stance or whether left-of-centre parties can guide the resentment of that same working class voting block towards an anti-corporate, economic populism rooted in high-wage jobs, good pensions and access to high quality health care.