In 2016, race and identity has emerged as the central dividing line in American politics. Though race has always lived close to the surface of politics in the US, it has rarely been so explicitly front and center in political campaigns. So how did this happen?
The easy answer is Donald J. Trump. True, Trump was the first modern Republican to win the nomination based on racial prejudice. And, yes, racial resentment does more to explain support for Trump than even ideology.
But Trump is not acting in a vacuum. He is instead riding forces set in motion a half-century ago. His identity-based nomination should be seen as the logical culmination of Republicans’ 50-year “Southern strategy” to make politics primarily about race and identity instead of economics.
This history is not just an academic exercise. It’s crucial for understanding where politics is headed. Treating Trump’s nomination as a historical aberration allows one to think that there is some returning to “normal.” Viewing Trump’s nomination as a historical culmination suggests instead that there is no going back, and that “normal” is just a name we call a bygone era.