President Donald Trump has a theory about how to overcome America's racial divides — and no, it doesn't involve him clearly and forthrightly condemning the violent white supremacist rallies being carried out in his name by avowed racists and neo-Nazis. It involves jobs.
"I really think jobs are going to have a big impact," he told reporters on Tuesday. "If we continue to create jobs — over a million — substantially more than a million, and you see just the other day, the car companies come in with Foxconn, I think if we continue to create jobs at levels that I'm creating jobs, I think that's going to have a tremendous impact — positive impact — on race relations."
In the context of Trump's others remarks at that press conference — which saw him empathizing with white nationalist rioters in Charlottesville, Virginia, and defending monuments to the Confederacy — this might sound reasonable. It's not a totally implausible theory, that the country becomes more tolerant during economic booms and that white Americans become more racially prejudiced during recessions or stagnation.
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But the evidence for the theory is mixed at best. In many cases, it's hard to see much correlation between objective economic conditions and the status of race relations.
"There's no easy answer to 'overcoming racial divides,' and there probably is no 'overcoming' them," Michael Tesler, professor of political science at UC Irvine and a leading expert on race and American politics, says. "The easiest way to mitigate them, though, would be for politicians of all stripes to acknowledge the realities of the historical and ongoing white supremacy in America, and vocally condemn them."