In bad times people tend to draw back into their own communities, focus support on their own kind and become hostile toward outsiders.
People who feel that things are going badly for them can still be very generous to people like them, for example, the farmers who recently shipped hundreds of tons of alfalfa to other farmers whose pastures had been devastated by wildfires. But they are anything but generous to outsiders. If there's a plague, kill the Jews, or if there aren't any Jews around, pick some marginal old woman, declare her a witch and burn her.
Thomas Edsall has a round-up of all the social science linking the loss of manufacturing jobs to right-wing nationalism, and while no single piece of this research is convincing in itself, the overall picture is pretty grim. On industrial robots in Europe:
robot shock increases support for nationalist and radical right parties. . . . both technology and trade seem to drive structural changes which are consequential for voting behavior.and in the US:
some of the places where Trump made the biggest gains relative to McCain or Romney are in the heartland of heavy manufacturing where robots did lead to losses of manufacturing jobs.And likewise in places where jobs were lost to foreign trade, anger is turned not against the politicians who gave us free trade, but toward convenient outsiders:
Rather than directly opposing free trade policies, individuals in import-exposed communities tend to target scapegoats such as immigrants and minorities. This drives support for right-wing candidates, as they compete electorally by targeting out-groups.Edsall summarizes:
In other words, job losses and plant closings are a political gold mine for the Republican Party, crucial to their victories in House and presidential races and almost certainly in Senate, gubernatorial and state legislative races as well.The whole argument about whether economic turmoil or racism is behind support for Trump is moot, because insecurity and racism are strongly linked. Obviously there are racists who will always vote their prejudices no matter what else is happening, but what carried Trump into the White House was a wave of insecurity and resentment among white working people. Trump showed that by deflecting that anxiety away from Republican policies and toward outsiders and unspecified "elites," a white majority can be created for winning elections.
If you ask me, the left in America now is much too focused on racism itself, as if it existed in a vacuum, and not enough on creating a more secure and comfortable world for working people.