There seems to be some debate in the Democratic party now: should we continue to build the diverse Obama coalition, or should we learn again to talk to the revered "white working class"? Bernie Sanders says he's embarrassed that the Democratic party isn't talking to this all important demographic, and new Democratic leader of the Senate, Chuck Schumer, was reported to have said something to the effect of this debate as well.
It is true that Hillary Clinton lost rural white America by wider margins than President Obama, the country's first black president. It's true that Donald Trump stumped in rural areas and the suburbs far more than Clinton. The Washington Post even finds that an astonishing 17% of people who approve of President Obama's performance in office voted for Donald Trump.
On the surface at least, these facts would seem to contradict the narrative that racism was the dominant factor contributing to the electoral college loss of the candidate who won the popular vote. These facts, on the surface, would seem to support the conclusion that a wave of economic populism played at least as big a role in Trump's victory as his racist rhetoric.
That's like saying racism plays no part in your life because you have a black friend. Or maybe even a few.
Before there is a whole lot of criticism of Hillary Clinton's pre-election travel map, let's consider why it looked so urban. Clinton ran a pioneering campaign that sought to address the pains of the marginalized: people of color, people with disabilities, working people, LGBT people, immigrants. She addressed economic inequality but also social inequities, racial injustice in particular.
I hate to break this to the Monday-morning quarterbacks, but our nation's diversity lives in our cities. That's why Clinton went to the cities. And cities delivered for her. Her deep and broad appeal in urban areas won her the popular vote resoundingly.
I would submit that it was this very pronounced advocacy for the marginalized that got Clinton into trouble in the rural parts of the country, where apparently all "working" white people live, much more so than her itinerary. What these people saw was the rise of a qualified woman who effectively addressed the issues of communities of color, and they felt "left out." You'll forgive for thinking it wasn't (mainly) for the lack of hard hats.
In one very significant way, Hillary Clinton's unwavering call for equal protection and racial justice was different than the historic candidacy of Barack Obama. Where Barack Obama had to struggle to rise above the perception of being "the black candidate" by groundbreaking speeches on race relations in America that put some in white America at a greater ease voting for a black man, Hillary Clinton's fierce defense of people of color was seen by many of the same people in white America as offensive. Why? Because as someone once said in the comments here (I can't find it for proper credit), Hillary Clinton challenged systemic racism and white privilege as a white person, and forced white people to confront their own sometimes deeply hidden stigma.
Way too many white liberals had trouble confronting that stigma during the primaries, fancying themselves enlightened beings. No wonder it irked non-liberal whites the 'wrong' way, too. Hillary Clinton, for these whites, may have been seen as even more of an 'other' than Barack Obama because she made them uncomfortable in their own white skin.
Donald Trump, on the other hand, ran on a platform of preserving white privilege, and not just through his bombastic, irresponsible, reprehensible rhetoric that made the headlines. By promising to brig back the jobs that were lost to trade, (rather than to create 21st century new jobs) Trump was telling them that the days when white America did not have to compete with the rest of the world could come back. By promising to crack down on immigration and on immigrants, Trump was sending essentially the same message: under him, white people would not have to compete against others. They would have their comfortable lives back - the same comfortable lives they led at the expense of others in America. He was pulling a dangerous con, for certain, but that is what he was telling them.
As President Obama said again and again this year on the campaign trail, a man who has spent 70 years on this earth with zero regard for working people could not suddenly become the champion of working folk now. Donald Trump did not win rural white America's heart because he sang their coal-mining songs. He won them because he was able to reassure them that he would make them feel good about the systemic privileges they enjoy rather than confront them and challenge them to extend those rights to everyone else.
Longing for white privilege - a most pernicious form of racism - cost Hillary Clinton the White House. It may not have been the only factor that sent Donald Trump to the White House, but it was deterministic. No doubt about it.