But none of these theories answer the question why now. Each of these forces has been in play for years. Wages for working-class Americans have long been stagnant, and the collapse of job opportunities for workers without a college degree was apparent in the 1990s, long before the Great Recession. What’s more, economic and social decline—as well as frustration with foreign competition, which Trump has channeled in his campaign—isn’t unique to white Americans. Millions of Americans—blacks and Latinos in particular—have faced declining economic prospects and social disintegration for years without turning to a demagogue like Trump.
Race plays a part in each of these analyses, but its role has not yet been central enough to our understanding of Trump’s rise. Not only does he lead a movement of almost exclusively disaffected whites, but he wins his strongest support in states and counties with the greatest amounts of racial polarization. Among white voters, higher levels of racial resentment have been shown to be associated with greater support for Trump.
All of which is to say that we’ve been missing the most important catalyst in Trump’s rise. What caused this fire to burn out of control? The answer, I think, is Barack Obama.
But not in the way you might think he means. There is some real hard empirical evidence used here that potentially reflects just how racist Trump's following really is. And, no, not in the singular. The you reading this—no, of course you're not a racist. But the person to your left at the Trump rally? And the person to your right? And the person in front of your? And the person behind you?