I’ll cut to the chase; Donald Trump posted this whopper on Twitter yesterday, and we need to talk about it:
In addition to winning the Electoral College in a landslide, I won the popular vote if you deduct the millions of people who voted illegally
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) 2016년 11월 27일
First, there’s no evidence whatsoever that it is true. The claim originated from Infowars, a conspiracy theorist site run by Alex Jones, a site that has also claimed that the Sandy Hook shooting was staged and that 9/11 was planned by the U.S. government. Second, if Trump is trying to argue that there shouldn’t be a recount, then why is he claiming that millions of votes were fraudulently cast? Wouldn’t a recount vindicate his claims?
But there’s something more to these claims than sheer absurdity. Why does Trump’s claim have any traction whatsoever? Quick perusal through the Twitter responses shows that there’s something that many Americans find convincing–or, at the very least, worthy of consideration–about Trump’s evidence-free assertion. What is it?
A few years ago, blogger Duncan Black wrote about “The Secret Welfare System”, a right-wing trope that racial minorities are adept at gaming social safety nets. This satirical model seems to explain why the now-infamous tweet resonates:
An issue in American politics isn’t just that too many whites can’t stand the idea of blah [sic] people getting any of “their” money, it’s that they truly think there is some secret welfare system that only blah people have access to. Plenty of white people have had whatever it is amounts to “welfare” in this country and have found it to be quite stingy. All those young bucks with their cadillacs and t-bone steaks must be getting the really good welfare.
Welfare benefits are, to put it lightly, not very generous. As with any system, someone will inevitably find a way to take advantage of it; however, even by conservative estimates, that number is only somewhere around 1%. Roughly 90% of all entitlement benefits are paid to people who are elderly, disabled, or in a working household. Yet the myth that millions of people are living lives of public-assistance luxury persists in spite of the facts.
How do proponents of this myth respond when confronted? A commenter on the aforementioned post elaborated on how this often plays out:
The truth is a victim of the “Everybody knows” syndrome, i.e. —
Liberal: Poor whites receive the majority of benefits of welfare and food stamps.
[Conservative]: Oh, c’mon, everybody knows who really gets all that government money!
While these analyses were originally written in response to right-wing rhetoric toward black people on welfare, they seem applicable to right-wing rhetoric toward undocumented immigrants, as well: in addition to the “secret welfare” that undocumented immigrants receive (they actually don’t), they also use The Secret Voting System, too (they actually don’t)! Undocumented immigrants pay no taxes (they actually do) while the average U.S. citizen feels no benefit (they actually do). Meanwhile, white working class people are working longer hours for less pay and fewer benefits (jokes aside, this is actually true).
The underlying thought process in these two scenarios (“They are taking advantage of us!”) is nearly identical.
Over the last eight years, this rhetoric was mostly restricted to Republican campaigns and right-wing blogs, but expect to hear a lot more of it coming from the incoming administration. Expect it and push back against it! It’s demonstrably false, cynical race-baiting all for short-term political gains. Put bluntly, it’s nothing more than a “secret welfare system” of conservative support.
In Post Notes, I add some additional thoughts or context to a blog post I’ve previously written. That can be found here.
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