The Politics of Losing: Trump, the Klan, and the Mainstreaming of Resentment
Dr. Rory McVeigh, University of Notre Dame
Dr. Kevin Estep, Creighton University
“Trump Books” seem to be a dime-a-dozen since the 2016 presidential election, however, McVeigh and Estep offer something different. They examine not the man, but Trump Supporters and the emerging structural conditions in the United States that he appealed to. Building on McVeigh’s previous work on power devaluation theory and the Ku Klux Klan, McVeigh and Estep’s new book analyzes the parallels of the Klan of the 1920’s and Trump support today. With a global reemergence of right-wing movements, their book investigates a topic that is timely for scholars in many contexts.
The Ku Klux Klan has peaked three times in American history: after the Civil War, around the 1960s Civil Rights Movement, and in the 1920s, when the Klan spread farthest and fastest. Recruiting millions of members even in non-Southern states, the Klan’s nationalist insurgency burst into mainstream politics. Almost one hundred years later, the pent-up anger of white Americans left behind by a changing economy has once again directed itself at immigrants and cultural outsiders and roiled a presidential election.
In The Politics of Losing, Rory McVeigh and Kevin Estep trace the parallels between the 1920s Klan and today’s right-wing backlash, identifying the conditions that allow white nationalism to emerge from the shadows. White middle-class Protestant Americans in the 1920s found themselves stranded by an economy that was increasingly industrialized and fueled by immigrant labor. Mirroring the Klan’s earlier tactics, Donald Trump delivered a message that mingled economic populism with deep cultural resentments. McVeigh and Estep present a sociological analysis of the Klan’s outbreaks that goes beyond Trump the individual to show how his rise to power was made possible by a convergence of circumstances. White Americans’ experience of declining privilege and perceptions of lost power can trigger a political backlash that overtly asserts white-nationalist goals. The Politics of Losing offers a rigorous and lucid explanation for a recurrent phenomenon in American history, with important lessons about the origins of our alarming political climate.