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Income Distribution

The Trump Victory and Inequality   

Research & Commentary
November 25, 2016

by Sheila Kennedy

What does the Trump presidency mean for equality before the law?

This blog focuses primarily upon issues of economic inequality, but a different type of equality — equality before the law — remains a foundation of American political philosophy. Trump’s election threatens both.

Trump’s diatribes against Latinos and Muslims and immigrants in general received considerable attention during the campaign, as did his reprehensible attitudes  about and behavior toward women.

The torrents of anti-Semitism he unleashed received less coverage by mainstream media sources, but not because that anti-Semitism was less pronounced. Anti-Semitic posts surged on Twitter; and as the Atlantic reported, “This was the year that anti-Semitism went mainstream again.”

Reporters who are Jewish — or who just have Jewish-sounding names — were subjected to vile diatribes employing words that weren’t part of public conversations back in “political correctness” days. The extent of ancient “Jew hatred” tropes and the emergence of old anti-Semitic stereotypes was chilling.

This ugly reality is one reason I get so annoyed by naive and disappointed progressives who insist that Bernie Sanders could have beaten Trump. They point to polls taken during the primaries, which any pollster will confirm are so early as to be meaningless. Actually, polls taken during the campaign weren’t so meaningful either — just ask Hillary Clinton.[pullquote]Those who oppose Trump need to address the structural inequality responsible for his victory.[/pullquote]

Had Bernie emerged as the nominee, he would have been the focus of the full force of Republican campaign attacks. Given his economic positions, there would have been plenty of money pouring in from the 1% and their enablers to fuel those attacks.

But that’s not the only reason Bernie couldn’t have won, no matter how much his message might have resonated with voters who actually wanted change. Let’s be honest. The majority of Trump voters weren’t voting for change, as many pundits have convinced themselves — at least, not in the sense most of them mean. They were voting to repudiate social change and especially a black President.

They were voting to go back to the way things were when no one spoke Spanish, gays were in the closet, Muslim-Americans were non-existent, Jews and blacks were just barely second-class citizens, and women knew their place.

And in the pantheon of their hatreds, Jews rank high.

There’s a lot of debate over whether Donald Trump is anti-Semitic himself, or whether he was simply willing to pander to David Duke and the rest of the KKK and Nazis who endorsed him, but it really doesn’t matter. He did pander to them, he did encourage virulent anti-Semitism, and if he ever disavowed the Klan’s support, no one noticed.

The voters who thrilled to Trump’s nativism and White nationalism were never going to vote for Bernie Sanders, a progressive Jew. For that matter, if history is any guide, people nursing racial and misogynist resentments — according to research, the most accurate predictors of Trump support — weren’t likely to vote for anyone preaching an egalitarian or progressive message.

Instead of wasting time with fantasies of what might have been, all of us who oppose Trump need to first address the structural inequality that is responsible for his victory: the Electoral College.

Lest we forget, Hillary Clinton won the popular vote. She lost the Electoral College, a structural throwback that increasingly distorts national elections by failing to reflect the will of the voters as expressed at the ballot box.

This is the second time in 16 years that a candidate has won the popular vote only to lose the Electoral College and the Presidency.

Problems with the Electoral College are widely recognized: the outsized influence it gives swing states, the lack of an incentive to vote if you favor the minority party in a winner-take-all state dominated by the other party, and the over-representation of rural and less populated states.

Whatever the original merits of the Electoral College, it operates today to disadvantage urban voters in favor of rural ones. Hillary Clinton’s voters were women, minorities, and educated Whites, and they were disproportionately urban; Trump supporters were primarily less-educated White Christian males, and they were overwhelmingly rural.

In today’s America, cities are growing and rural areas declining. That decline undoubtedly feeds much of the anger and white nationalism displayed by Trump voters. One can be sympathetic to rural concerns without, however, giving the votes of rural inhabitants (already favored by gerrymandering) greater weight than the votes of urban Americans.

In Baker v. Carr, the Supreme Court famously upheld the principle of “one person, one vote.” The operation of the Electoral College violates that fundamental democratic tenet.

The cost of living is higher in cities, and most who choose urban life are willing to pay a premium in return for the benefits offered by cosmopolitan environments. But a reduction in the value of their vote shouldn’t be one of the added costs they incur.

It is time to get rid of the Electoral College.

Sheila Suess Kennedy teaches law and public policy in the School of Public and Environmental Affairs at Indiana University Purdue University at Indianapolis. Her scholarly publications include eight books and numerous law review and journal articles. Kennedy, a frequent lecturer, public speaker, and contributor to popular periodicals, also writes a column for the Indianapolis Business Journal. She blogs at

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