The Color of Economic Anxiety

10 Oct 2018


Is the collapse of Democratic fortunes due to economic anxiety? Just ask Black Milwaukeeans.

“Studies show that voter suppression was among the least important factors affecting black turnout in Wisconsin.”

The building loomed over the intersection like an apparition. Though hollowed out and lifeless, the shell of the former A.O. Smith Milwaukee Works headquarters on N. 27th Street and W. Hopkins was still magnificent. But the grand two-story brick structure, wide as half a city block and featuring the odd boarded up window, felt like a tombstone. “Here lies the dream of the Great Migration,” it read.

“The 53206,” as the area is commonly called, and the predominantly black neighborhoods surrounding it currently have the highest rate of incarcerated black men in the country.Deindustrialization, wealth inequality, unemployment, and historical patterns of discrimination and police terrorism have created a toxic mix for Wisconsin’s 359,000 black residents.

“The ‘53206’ has the highest rate of incarcerated black men in the country.”

Yet, few outsiders seem to realize that Milwaukee is substantially black. And many of its black residents, who make up 40 percent of the city, have been simmering in their frustrations for decades. Those frustrations came to a head in 2016, after police killed 23-year-old Sylville Smith, when residents set fire to Milwaukee’s Sherman Park neighborhood. But there may be an additional form of resistance bubbling under the surface of Milwaukee’s famed breweries and steadily gentrifying neighborhoods.

A common narrative about the November 2016 election is that a wave of white backlash thrust Donald Trump to the White House and that white Obama voters “flipped” to Trump. This may have been true on a small scale, but Obama-Trump voters did not make a significant difference. White people of all genders and classes voted for Trump at about the same rates as they voted for Romney, McCain, and George W. Bush, and both white and white Obama voters stayed fairly steady between 2012 and 2016. More significant was the critical mass of Democrats who defected from the party or didn’t vote at all in the battleground states the Democratic Party needed most. The rate of this decline among Democrats in key swing states was larger than the increase of Republicans who brought Trump to victory. And in some states, the drop was unprecedented.


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