Everybody wasn’t operating in their own rational economic self-interest

On the day Donald Trump was to take the oath of office in 2017, I’d been the president of Demos for three years. I was gearing up to fight against the onslaught that Trump’s incoming administration portended for civil rights and liberties, for immigrants and Muslims, and for the Black Lives Matter movement that he had gleefully attacked in his campaign. But as an economic policy advocate, I also knew that the Trump agenda – from repealing the Affordable Care Act to cutting taxes for big corporations and the wealthy (apparently the concern about the national debt expired with the Obama presidency) to stopping action on climate change, which would have catastrophic economic and social costs for the country and the world – was going to do damage across the board. It would create more economic inequality. Why would white voters have rallied to the flag of a man whose agenda promised to wreak economic, social, and environmental havoc on them along with everyone else? It just didn’t add up.

The inadequacy of the tool I was bringing to this question, economic policy research, felt painfully obvious. Contrary to how I was taught to think about economics, everybody wasn’t operating in their own rational economic self-interest. The majority of white Americans had voted for a worldview supported not by a different set of numbers than I had, but by a fundamentally different story about how the economy works; about race and government; about who belongs and who deserves; about how we got here and what the future holds. That story was more powerful than cold economic calculations. And it was exactly what was keeping us from having nice things – to the contrary, it had brought us Donald Trump. 

From ”The Sum of Us: What Racism Costs Everyone And How We Can Prosper Together” by Heather McGhee