Trump Exploits Civic Ignorance

Gallons of ink (both actual and cyber) have been spilled trying to explain the sources of Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump's support. Voter anger lies at the center of most explanations. No one climbs on a limb when they say that a sizable portion of the American electorate is angry. Some voters are angry about immigration, the size of government, the national economy, and congressional dysfunction. Others can't understand why gays can marry and that Obamacare has been upheld, among other issues. While these are real and fundamental contributors to the angry electorate that is the wind beneath Trump's wings, there is a far worse factor driving his support: civic ignorance.

The American electorate is shot through with voters who don't know the basics on how the political process works. That ignorance opens them to all manner of ill-conceived, unconstitutional, or otherwise dead on arrival proposals masquerading as serious policy ideas. The marriage of illogical ideas and an angry electorate leads us to where we are now: a major party candidate -- in this case the one most likely to win his party's presidential nomination -- completely absent of reasonable ideas and winning by tapping visceral public ignorance.

He can't undo media shields without amending the Constitution, a long and arduous process to people who paid even the slightest attention to their middle school civics teacher. Or how about the one where he rips up existing trade agreements and negotiates new and better ones? His supporters seem to think that he can just snap his fingers and things will happen. That's not how our system works. But in a nod to hyper-cynicism, his strategy is to keep pushing voter buttons on items he knows will never happen. He's able to do it because he knows his voters don't know how the system works.

There are so many examples of Trump's policy positions that reveal this ignorance that it's hard to pick just one. Here are three of my favorites.

The Great Wall of Mexico. Trump supporters clearly want the wall. They seem to actually believe not only that Trump will build a wall, but also that a sovereign nation that is the target of this xenophobic policy will pay for it. It doesn't appear that many, if any, of his supporters have bothered to ask the following (admittedly unsexy) questions: How much will it cost? How long will it take? How, exactly, will Congress approve funding? The answer to the first two questions, based on conservative estimates, seems to be in the neighborhood of $20 billion (wall only, not labor) and four years. A government estimate says it could take $750 million annually to maintain. Basic knowledge of the legislative process shows that there are hurdles too numerous to list here that make clear there is no chance this wall will ever be built. Ignorant voters, however, continue to provide grist for the Trump mill. And he keeps playing them like a violin.

Ban Syrian Refugees. Trump generated some heat with his call to ban all Syrian refugees from entering the United States. That heat shed little light on the issue. He provided no real plan for actually doing what he wants to do. He never told the country how U.S. immigration authorities were to look at someone and guess whether they were Muslim. There are Christians from the Middle East that look like Muslims. And if they are refugees, it's quite likely that they won't have a passport to give you a hint. According to exit polling data following the South Carolina primary, and analysis published by<em> The New York Times</em>, Trump won twice as many votes from those who supported the ban than any other candidate.

Make iPhones in America. This is among the most reckless of his promises. It ignores decades of tax policy and overseas labor market changes that made it more profitable to offshore all sorts of American jobs and suggests that undoing that damage is pretty easy. Congressional Republicans in particular, sometimes aided and abetted by Wall Street Democrats, crushed the labor intensive, smoke stack industries in America and off-shored most of the remaining to cheaper labor markets in Asia. Rather than tell voters that those jobs are gone and won't ever return, presidential candidates often float the idea that those jobs will return if the circumstances change. But they won't change because Big Technology, Big Textile, Big Steel, and related industries prefer the current status quo: offshore jobs for less cost and more profit without fear of policy punishment. It's the best of both worlds. Trump knows this but promises otherwise.

What Trump is doing isn't new. Many politicians knowingly make promises on which they could never deliver. Trump is simply extending what has been happening in the GOP for years (examples like proposals to amend the Constitution to outlaw abortion, define marriage only as a union between a man and a woman, and limit congressional terms in office; tax cuts to spur the economy; and opposing Obamacare arguing that it will doom the economy come to mind pretty easily). The problem is that the lack of action on illogical policies only breeds more anger that things aren't getting done. A sizable chunk of American voters believe the country is going to hell because congressional Republicans won't stand up to President Obama. This is ridiculous. But ignorant voters believe it anyway.

The civic ignorance that has pushed Trump to the top of the charts can no longer be ignored. His supporters need to know that his promises are no more plausible than the other illogical ones they have bought over the years from other candidates. Their anger that "nothing gets done" is largely a function of the civic ignorance of wanting things to be done that can't. Or shouldn't.

Michael K. Fauntroy is associate professor of political science at Howard University and author of Republicans and the Black Vote. His new book, More Than Just Partisanship: Conservatism and Black Voter Suppression, will be published next year. He can be found on his website,, and on Twitter: @MKFauntroy.

Posted by Michael Fauntroy on Wednesday, March 16, 2016
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What Trump and Reagan Share

This year's Republican presidential nominating contest shows that nearly three decades after Ronald Reagan left office, his impact on the Republican Party endures. Republican candidates can barely give a speech without invoking the Gipper's name. It seems as if every Republican candidate worth his or her salt calls his name on a daily basis. Every candidate wants to demonstrate a connection to Reagan in an effort to be the "heir" to his political legacy. Donald Trump is no different, though his opponents and critics in the Party don't see any real connections between Reagan and the brash, misogynistic, fact-averse policy lightweight, and otherwise unqualified egomaniac. But the recent kerfuffle over former Ku Klux Klan Grand Wizard David Duke's favorable comments on Trump's campaign reminded me of one genuine connection between him and Reagan: KKK support.

I know Reagan acolytes would rather I not mention this, but the Klan formally and publicly endorsed Reagan's 1980 general election campaign, which he launched his general election campaign in Philadelphia, Mississippi the location of the murder of three civil rights workers. Objections arose from all the usual sources noting that Reagan was playing to the hostilities of racial conservatives who wanted to rewind the societal clock to a time in which Black people had no rights Whites needed to respect. Reagan's handling of it was worse and more ham-handed than Trump's. Reagan took three weeks to issue a tepid, mealy-mouthed statement through his campaign rejecting the endorsement. He spent the intervening time between endorsement and rejection by solidifying his support among racial conservatives by not apologizing. While Trump has been rightfully skewered for his unbelievable response to this, by comparison, Trump was speedy in his half-hearted repudiation of Duke's words. While it is too early to know if this will cost Trump the nomination, the episode involving Reagan did not hurt him at all with conservative voters.

No one should conclude that Donald Trump is somehow taking the Grand Old Party down a new road of racial conservatism and footsie-playing with overt racists. He is not. He is simply trying to join Barry Goldwater in 1964 ("States' Rights"), Richard Nixon in 1968 ("Southern Strategy"), Ronald Reagan in 1980 ("States' Rights II"), on the Mount Rushmore of recent racist presidential campaigns. The modern Republican Party, which lauds Reagan at every turn, has been built, in large measure, on appealing to White anger and fear. Trump is just the latest hand on the wheel of this irresponsible political vehicle. But all you need to do is look at the demographic projections for the country to know that that is a losing strategy.

Michael K. Fauntroy is associate professor of political science at Howard University. He is the author of Republicans and the Black Vote. His next book, More than Just Partisanship: Conservatism and Black Voter Suppression, will be published in 2017. You can find him on Twitter @MKFauntroy and on his website,

Posted by Michael Fauntroy on Friday, March 04, 2016
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New Video: Michael Fauntroy Assesses Democratic Presidential Candidates

I participated in a one hour conversation assessing the Democratic presidential nomination campaign just prior to the February 10, 2016 debate in Milwaukee, Wisconsin that aired on WHUT-TV in Washington, D.C. Mo Ivory hosted the discussion, which also featured Keneshia Grant, Ron Harris, and Yanick Rice Lamb.

Posted by Michael Fauntroy on Monday, February 15, 2016
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Michael Fauntroy Breaks Down the Iowa Caucuses

I recently appeared on Al Jazeera America to break down the Iowa Caucuses. Click here for the video.


Posted by Michael Fauntroy on Thursday, February 04, 2016
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Some Thoughts Just Before the Final GOP Debate

Some thoughts:

We are entering the "lull" before the "storm" with America's attention largely shifting to the holidays. The Las Vegas debate will be the final time before voting begins for the candidates to make an impression on millions of voters at one time.

2. Donald Trump still leads in national polling but now trails Ted Cruz in Iowa. This is  major development that demonstrates the true weakness of Trump's support. Caucus polling is significantly more difficult than those for primary elections, so we don't really have a confident sense of how things will actually turnout.

A critical portion of Trump's support comes from voters who did not cast a ballot in the 2012 election. They are generally disconnected from politics. That reality, coupled with the difficulty in polling caucuses, leads me to conclude that a poor showing by Trump could dishearten his supporters in New Hampshire and cast real doubts on his ability to win there.

Cruz has nearly locked up the evangelical vote in South Carolina and stands likely to win that state.

3. Both Trump and Cruz cause heartburn for the GOP establishment. Trump is not a serious candidate and would get blown out in a general election. His presence on the top of the ticket would hurt Republican turnout in down ballot races in Congress and the state legislatures. That is good news for the Democrats, who would be in play to recapture the U.S. Senate.

Cruz is a serious candidate, albeit it one who has take unserious positions on some issues to inflame the grassroots. He has built his political persona on thumbing his nose at the establishment. While this energizes the right wing of the GOP and positions him to inherit most of Trump's voters when he leaves the race, it is not a recipe for trust and teamwork. Cruz is seen as a "loose cannon" who cannot be relied upon to work with the establishment.

Posted by Michael Fauntroy on Sunday, December 13, 2015
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Crafty Conservative Confederate Flag Move Obscures Larger Issue

Dylann Roof’s massacre of innocent, prayerful African Americans in a Charleston, South Carolina church forced the confederate flag back into the national dialogue. Roof’s brazen act of domestic terrorism led a number of southern conservatives, including some prominent elected officials, to call for the removal of the flag from all manner of public buildings. These calls have understandably been made and perhaps mark the beginning of a new period of enlightenment among some. But let’s keep our eye on the ball. I fear that all of the attention on the flag provides cover to politicians who want to ignore the larger problem. Some of the same politicians talking about bringing down the flag are doing so to avoid talking about the proliferation of guns.

Roof was able to do what he did not just because he was a racist. He committed this heinous act because he was a racist with easy access to a gun that allowed him to marry his warped fact- and context-free view of Black people (and Jews and immigrants) with a bravado that only a gun can provide. Yes, the confederate flag was his symbol. But it was the gun that created the tragedy.

The flag is a symbol of hate. No amount of historical revisionism can undo the fact that it was created to represent a movement to maintain slavery and the subjugation of African Americans. According to Alexander Stephens, Vice President of the Confederate States of America, in a speech before the Virginia Succession Convention, “The great truth, I repeat, upon which our system rests, is the inferiority of the African. The enemies of our institutions ignore this truth.” Succession, and the flag created to symbolize it, was built on a foundation of racism and White supremacy. Allusions to “States’ rights” or “heritage” are simply attempts to apply historical deodorant to cultural stench.

It is a shame and disgrace that there had to be a mass killing to get some people to understand the symbolic power of that flag. But let’s not give so much energy to fighting a flag. The more profound and badly needed fight should be about America’s bloodlust at the barrel of a gun. It’s now pretty easy to be courageous and call for the flag to be removed. Far more courage needs to be mustered to deal with the gun lobby, which cowers otherwise intelligent people into pathetic political positions.

The gun lobby is the most powerful force in America. It’s ability to generate fear and irrational behavior among allegedly intelligent elected officials and others rush to defend it is amazing. Their power is so profound that southern conservatives would rather throw the confederate flag under the bus than talk about the real and pervasive issue of gun proliferation. Let that marinate for a while. The confederate flag, a heralded symbol of pride and southern heritage that has served as a foundational piece of southern culture is being taken down after more than 150 years rather than deal with the real issue of guns in America. Pulling down that flag can’t happen without its juxtaposition with a more powerful force – the gun lobby.

America will never be fully free until with deal with this very real issue.

Michael K. Fauntroy is associate professor of political science at Howard University in Washington, DC. His next book, More than Just Partisanship: Conservatism and Black Voter Suppression, is forthcoming. He blogs at

Posted by Michael Fauntroy on Sunday, July 05, 2015
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Michael Fauntroy Discusses My Brother’s Keeper on NPR News

Here is the link to a report on NPR in which I discuss My Brother's Keeper.

Posted by Michael Fauntroy on Wednesday, May 06, 2015
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Michael Fauntroy Discusses American Voter Preference on Minnesota Public Radio

Here is a link to a March 25, 2015 edition of MPR News on Minnesota Public Radio in which I join host Kerri Miller and Huffington Post reporter Amanda Terkel for a discussion about the potential 2016 presidental candidates and what voters are looking for in the next president. It's always good to be on with Kerri and I really enjoyed the discussion.

Posted by Michael Fauntroy on Wednesday, March 25, 2015
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Michael Fauntroy Analyzes State of the Union Address on Minnesota Public Radio


Here is a link to the January 21, 2015 edition of The Daily Circuit on Minnesota Public Radio in which I join host Kerri Miller and Huffington Post reporter Amanda Terkel for a discussion of President Obama's State of the Union address and the Republican response.



Posted by Michael Fauntroy on Wednesday, January 21, 2015
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New Video: Michael Fauntroy Discusses Marion Barry on Fox5 DC

I had the pleasure of sitting with my friend and classmate Allison Seymour and her co-anchor Steve Chenevey to discuss Marion Barry's legacy.



Posted by Michael Fauntroy on Wednesday, November 26, 2014
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New Video: Michael Fauntroy Analyzes US Senate and Gubernatorial Races

Here is video of my appearance on WUSA-9, the CBS affiliate in Washington, DC, in which I discuss the outcome of the Virginia U.S Senate race between incumbent Senator Democrat Mark Warner and Republican nominee Ed Gillespie and the Maryland gubernatorial race between sitting Lt. Governor Democrat Anthony Brown and Republican nominee Larry Hogan.


Posted by Michael Fauntroy on Thursday, November 06, 2014
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Michael Fauntroy Discusses 2014 Midterm Elections on Minnesota Public Radio

Here is a link to the November 5, 2014 edition of The Daily Circuit on Minnesota Public Radio in which I join host Kerri Miller and Julia Azari of Marquette University to discuss the results of the 2014 midterm elections.

Posted by Michael Fauntroy on Wednesday, November 05, 2014
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2014 Takeover Takeaways: It’s All About Turnout

It was a great night for Republicans as they nearly swept all the important U.S. Senate races and won some governorships that seemed very unlikely. There has been a lot of handwringing about the role of President Obama, ISIS, and even ebola in the outcome. I think the results were driven by two seemingly conflicting emotions – anger and apathy. Add in the impact of age and other demographics in the makeup of the electorate and you get a clear understanding of what happened.

My Takeway

• Nearly two-thirds of voters in recent polls have expressed anger about the country’s direction. The president’s approval ratings are at their lowpoint in his administration. Roughly 60 percent of Republicans said their votes were anti-Obama votes. Congress has even lower approval ratings at 78 percent. A CBS poll showed that the economy was the most important issue facing the country. Nearly 80 percent of those who cited the economy are worried about its direction. Nearly two-thirds of voters think the country is on the wrong track. That helps to explain some of the results. We should be careful not to overplay the anger narrative, however, as very few House incumbents lost.

• Apathy is notable as well. Many of the younger voters who helped deliver Barack Obama to the presidency have not stood up for him in mid-term elections. The Democrats depend on notoriously fickle brew of younger voters and minorities, two groups that are inconsistent in their turnouts. In 2012, young voters, African Americans, and Latinos represented 19%, 13%, and 10%, respectively, of the national electorate. This year, those same groups represented 13%, 12%, and 8%, respectively, of the national electorate, according to CBS News. The smaller share of the electorate was not because White turned out in overwhelming numbers. It was because younger voters and minorities stayed home. This is a really key issue. These groups are impatient and are not yet ready to vote change from the top all the way down to the grassroots. And if my students are the gauge, there is serious doubt about the legitimacy of our political system. Young people are suspicious and think their votes don't matter.

• Age/Race/Ideology. Mid-term electorates tend to be older, Whiter, and more ideologically conservative, three characteristics that bode well for Republicans. In 2012, older voters, Whites, and conservatives comprised 16%, 72%, and 35%, respectively, of the electorate. This year, those numbers grew to 23%, 75%, and 36% respectively. While that’s great for Republicans in in mid-terms, it leaves them vulnerable in presidential elections. It also makes clear that America is a bifurcated electorate: one for mid-term elections. The other for presidential ones.

It should be noted, however, that there is also a strong structural component to these results. The Democrats had to defend a number of seats in red states. The Republicans will face the same challenge in 2016, in which there are a number of competitive seats currently held by the GOP.

Quick Hits

  • I think it's hard to call this a mandate for Republican governance. One of the issues that Republicans have consistently opposed, a minimum wage increase, passed in a number of traditionally red states: Alaska, Arkansas, Nebraska, and South Dakota. Newly elected Republicans from these states will have a hard time arguing against a national increase given what has happened in their own states.
  • Republicans now have ownership in American public policy. They have to now produce legislation that can pass through both chambers. That is no small order given the recent factionalism within the GOP. Look for the tea party wing to push hard and cause continued problems for congressional leadership.
Posted by Michael Fauntroy on Wednesday, November 05, 2014
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Donald Sterling is Low Hanging Fruit (And V. Stiviano is a Gold Digging Public Servant)

The only people surprised by the audio recording of Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling and his convoluted racism are those who have no idea who he is or what he is about. He is a well-documented and repugnant racist who for decades used his wealth to and privilege to negatively impact the lives of countless Black and Brown people for his own enrichment. He is a disgrace and has long deserved the scorn and ridicule that has now befallen him. But there should be no celebrating at his loss. Sterling is low hanging fruit in a larger, more significant reality: There likely are leaders in all fields of human endeavor who share his beliefs about minorities; it’s not much of a stretch to believe he has similarly low views of women. And the control the Donald Sterlings of the world have control over wide swaths of jobs, housing, and access to education. Scary.

The firestorm engulfing Sterling should not obscure this reality. From Congress and state legislatures to universities, from Wall Street to Hollywood, and from religious institutions to professional sports leagues, Sterling’s kind of racism still lives an active life. That truth constitutes a much bigger story than Sterling and his Benedict Arnold mistress. Applauding the NBA, which did nothing as his racism perfected over the years, now is to celebrate the grabbing of low hanging fruit.

Racism is a part of the human condition. It has been among us forever and will continue indefinitely. It cannot be eradicated as like a virus. The best way to deal with it is to expose the stupidity and ignorance that drives it and punish the pockets of those who perpetrate it. Enter V. Stiviano, gold digging public servant. For whatever reason, and by “whatever reason” I mean money, she kept company with a decrepit racist. In so doing, she was either blissfully ignorant or excessively tolerant of racism. While releasing the audio is probably revenge-driven, her action did the public the great service by expanding the conversation about racism from the fringes of America to the boardrooms  of the super rich.

Too often a racist is an ignorant person with no particular impact beyond his or her own words; think angry talk show caller. Here, we reconfirm that racist ignorance can be found in high and powerful places; think the guy who owns the radio network. That is an important change because those in the latter group have the means to impact the policies that perpetuate racism. We now can put a face on those people. They’re Sterlings.

So as the dust settles around this case and everyone recedes to the sidelines, let us not forget that there is a larger story worth following. Yes, Donald Sterling is a repugnant racist who is finally getting a taste of some bad medicine. Yes, V. Stiviano is a double-dealing gold digger. More importantly, though, is that the permanence of racism should not only be addressed in times of controversy. It should be exposed and treated for what it is: a dangerous scourge that merits continuous exposure in all aspects of society.

Michael K. Fauntroy is associate professor of political science at Howard University and specializes in race and politics. He blogs at and can be followed on Twitter @MKFauntroy.

Posted by Michael Fauntroy on Wednesday, April 30, 2014
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Black Youth, Social Movement Activism, and the Post-Civil Rights Generation

Here is my conversation with Professor Sekou Franklin, author of the forthcoming book, After the Rebellion: Black Youth, Social Movement Activism, and the Post-Civil Rights Generation. The interview airs on my podcast, "The Forum with MIchael Fauntroy" which premiers every Friday at Noon Eastern on the Tavis Smiley Network on Blog Talk Radio.

Listen To Politics Internet Radio Stations with Michael Fauntroy on BlogTalkRadio



Posted by Michael Fauntroy on Friday, February 07, 2014
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