One of the most frustrating phenomena of the last few year’s is the refusal on the part of much of the traditional media to grapple with the true source of Donald Trump’s powerful and dangerous appeal: racial animus. In a brilliant new piece in the Atlantic, Adam Serwer lays bare the simple facts behind Trump’s rise—and castigates the press for insisting the answer has to be something, anything, other than what it is. The thing is, we’ve been here before:
Thirty years ago, nearly half of Louisiana voted for a Klansman, and the media struggled to explain why.
It was 1990 and David Duke, the former grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, astonished political observers when he came within striking distance of defeating incumbent Democratic U.S. Senator J. Bennett Johnston, earning 43 percent of the vote. If Johnston’s Republican rival hadn’t dropped out of the race and endorsed him at the last minute, the outcome might have been different.
Was it economic anxiety? The Washington Post reported that the state had “a large working class that has suffered through a long recession.” Was it a blow against the state’s hated political establishment? An editorial from United Press International explained, “Louisianans showed the nation by voting for Duke that they were mad as hell and not going to take it any more.” Was it anti-Washington rage? A Loyola University pollster argued, “There were the voters who liked Duke, those who hated J. Bennett Johnston, and those who just wanted to send a message to Washington.”
It was none of these, as Serwer shows.