President Trump has fueled a resurgence in racial prejudice, right? That’s the story the country has been told almost from the moment he came down the Trump Tower escalator in 2015 to announce that he was running for the office.
A widely cited Quinnipiac University Poll, for example, found that 54% agreed that “President Trump has emboldened people who hold racist beliefs.” A Pew Research Center survey found that 56% say Trump has made race relations worse.
But a new study by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania found the opposite has occurred, as least among whites.
The researchers looked at survey data spanning a decade that gauged racial animus among white Americans. They concluded that “anti-Black and anti-Hispanic prejudice declined after the 2016 campaign and election.”
How can that be? The working assumption for most people has been that racism is widespread in America, and just below the surface. By normalizing racism, the thinking went, Trump would unleash it. If nothing else, Trump would simply lead people to more racist positions.
Instead, the study’s authors concluded that public views on racism are more likely to “move in the direction opposite that being promoted by the president or enacted by the government.”
“Given that the declines in prejudice appear concentrated in the period after Trump’s election, it seems quite plausible that it was not simply Trump’s rhetoric but also his accession to the presidency that pushed public opinion in the opposite direction,” they write.
Of course, there’s another possibility that the authors fail to consider. Namely, that President Obama stoked racial animosity, possibly more than Trump has.
It was Obama, after all, who took every opportunity to open racial wounds when he could have been a healer. That happened after the Trayvon Martin shooting, with his pronouncements about a racist criminal justice system, and by his tacit support of the militant Black Lives Matter movement.
The data in the study itself show that, even among Democrats, prejudice against blacks increased under Obama, then plunged under Trump.
Similarly, anti-Hispanic prejudice is much lower now than it was under Obama — among Republicans, independents and Democrats.
Surveys at the time made it clear that the public saw Obama as worsening racial tensions. A CNN poll taken in 2016 found that 54% said race relations had gotten worse under Obama. A Gallup poll that year found that more than a third said they worried about race relations, up from 12% when Obama took office.
The City Journal’s Myron Magnet argued around the same time that Obama had “set back American race relations by 50 years.”
That’s an exaggeration, but Obama clearly failed to move the ball forward, something he was uniquely suited to accomplish.
At the same time, Trump hasn’t unleashed a wave of racial hatred, no matter how much the left wants to believe otherwise.
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