Over on the Slate journalist Reihan Salam has an interesting examination of the electoral demographic which forms the backbone of the Donald Trump campaign in the presidential primaries for the Republican Party:
“…in an analysis of the Iowa counties in which the various Republican counties fared best, Patrick Ruffini found a striking contrast between the counties that went for Rubio and for Trump. While the counties that went for Rubio tended to have a higher number of households with incomes greater than $200,000, more new home construction, and more adults with post-graduate degrees, the counties that went for Trump tended to have higher rates of unemployment and a higher share of adults who identify as Scots-Irish, or simply as “American.” This fits neatly with Nate Cohn’s analysis of the Trump coalition, which he finds is concentrated in counties across the country with a low proportion of college-educated adults. Trump is strongest not in the metropolitan corners of America, where he’s spent most of his life. Rather, his strongholds are the mostly overlooked sections of the South, Appalachia, and the rural and semi-rural North.
Many have been struck by the overwhelming whiteness of Trump’s campaign, not least the small number of self-identified “white nationalists” who’ve rallied around his campaign. I would argue that the Trump coalition illustrates how whiteness as a category is so expansive as to be almost meaningless. The Scots-Irish or “American” whites who see Trump as their champion are profoundly different from the metropolitan whites who dominate the upper echelons of U.S. society—so much so that the convention of lumping them together as “white” detracts far more from our understanding of how they fit into our society than it adds to it. J.D. Vance, author of Hillbilly Elegy, a forthcoming book on the place of Appalachian whites in modern America, estimates that roughly one-quarter of whites belong to the Scots-Irish tribe that has embraced Trump. If we were to separate out these Americans as a race or ethnicity unto themselves, Vance writes, we would finds rates of poverty and substance abuse that would shock our national conscience. But we don’t generally collect detailed statistics on the Scots-Irish. We don’t have a clear sense of how their labor force participation or disability rates compare to those of other Americans, including other white Americans. And so their experiences and their collective traumas blend into whiteness, where they can be safely ignored. Whites are privileged, after all.”
Contrast Trump with the runner-up in the New Hampshire primary, John Kasich. Kasich has at least as much of a claim to speaking for the Scots-Irish whites who have been central to Trump’s success. Though he’s of eastern European descent, Kasich grew up in working-class western Pennsylvania, where he lived among the descendants of Appalachians who fled rural poverty for jobs in the region’s booming industrial cities. Yet Kasich seems incapable of playing the role of class traitor. Before becoming governor of Ohio, Kasich had parlayed his political renown into a job as a managing director at Lehman Brothers, a storied bank that went down in flames when the 2008 financial crisis hit. Kasich is an admirable figure in many respects, and he’s forgotten more about the workings of government than Donald Trump will ever know. Yet in the eyes of many Trump supporters, Kasich is the more compromised figure, as Trump has been quick to own up to his gleeful participation in political corruption.”
As I pointed out before, there are British unionist (and supposedly “Scots-Irish”) areas in the north-east of Ireland that in political, religious and socio-economic terms bear more comparison with parts of the southern United States than they do with places elsewhere on this island nation. The phenomenon of militant “flaggers” in both regions, whether supporters of the Union Jack or the Dixie Flag, is not an isolated example, and the confluence of right-wing politics and Protestant evangelicalism has shaped the history of both countries for at least the last two centuries. Of course independent-minded regions can have national effects, whether it is violent opposition to the implementation of Home Rule or violent opposition to the emancipation of slaves. Both Ireland and the United States have experienced separatist rebellions. In the case of the former the racist and sectarian secessionists won a pyrrhic victory of sorts, with the partition of the island and the establishment of the para-colony of “Northern Ireland” in the rebel zone. In the case of the US the racist (and occasionally, sectarian) secessionists were defeated, America was not partitioned and the establishment of the “Confederate States” in the rebel zone was overthrown.
While some may claim to be witnessing a resurgence or renewal of political unionism in Ireland the reality is closer to the experiences of the conservative or rural “Scots-Irish” communities, self-identified or otherwise, in the United States. The rise of Donald Trump, like that of the broader-based Tea Party movement before it, does not represent an assertive self-confidence or renewed strength among a certain, formerly majority demographic. Rather it is the raging of the few against the many, of stultified political tradition being subsumed by modernist political progress. Likewise, ideological unionism in the north-east of Ireland is changing not through choice but through necessity, one brought about by the same changes in population as can be witnessed in the US. Just as Latino-American and African-American communities have shifted the politics of the States, so too has the Irish nationalist community in the “Occupied North”. As a new generation of Hispanic and Black voters demand admission to the great, middle swathe of American society, an entire generation of nationalists have sought and achieved entry to the institutions of society and politics in the Six Counties.
However in the United States the political, social and economic ambitions of most Latino- and African-Americans begins and ends at the borders of their federal republic. In contrast the ambitions of Irish nationalists in the north-east extend to the borders of the island itself and in the long term they will not be satisfied with anything less.