How Donald Trump Made 'Working Class' White
Donald J. Trump campaigned on the slogan “Make America Great Again,” a phrase whose “great” was widely heard as “white.” Certainly the election has been analyzed as a victory for white Christian Americans, especially men, especially the less educated. Although a cascade of commentary since the election has characterized the outcome as a loss for Democrats, Hillary Clinton received the majority of votes — almost 2.9 million more than for Trump. Against Mr. Trump were women, people who had attended college, young people, and middle- and working-class people of color. Trump’s supporters increasingly have been labeled by class — working class.
Though white Americans differed sharply on their preferences for president, the election of 2016 marked a turning point in white identity. Thanks to the success of “Make America Great Again” as a call for a return to the times when white people ruled, and thanks to the widespread analysis of voters’ preferences in racial terms, white identity became marked as a racial identity. Formerly seen as individuals expressing individual preferences in life and politics, white Americans in 2016 became Americans with race: white race.
I don’t mean that Americans suddenly started counting people as “white.” This has been going on since the first federal census of 1790. Since 1790, population statistics have faithfully recognized a category of “white” people, sometimes more than one — especially native and non-native born, for in previous centuries, the census divided white people into subgroups according to nativity. We did not suddenly discover the category of white in 2016.