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The next big job for White women who oppose Trumpism

Editor's Note: (Fatima Goss Graves is president and CEO of the National Women's Law Center. Kristin Rowe-Finkbeiner is the executive director of MomsRising and author of "Keep Marching: How Every Woman Can Take Action and Change Our World." The views expressed here are their own. Read more opinion on CNN.)

(CNN) How could a majority of White women support President Donald Trump?

That's what many organizers and activists found themselves asking after early exit polls suggesting Trump expanded, though by a small amount, his overall support among White women in this election.

Fatima Goss Graves
Kristin Rowe-Finkbeiner

After four long years of unprecedented political engagement that inspired everything from national marches to voter registration drives to Black Lives Matter lawn signs, how could as many as 55% of White women still support a President who had proved so harmful to them and the people of color many often claim to support -- leaving Black women, 90% of whom voted for Biden and Harris according to early data, to help save our democracy once again?

This question is about so much more than this moment. It's about a problem much older than Trump -- and which demands from lawmakers and voters alike a set of solutions that will long outlast him.

To be clear, most White women who support Trump are not blindly voting against their own self-interest. These Trump supporters, aided by a toxic mix of racism and disinformation, seem to be consciously supporting what they believe to be their own group interest, putting them on the same team as the White men society has been largely built to benefit. But as this year has made all the more clear, the economic security of White women is not at odds with that of a diverse progressive coalition -- they're in fact often one and the same.

The socioeconomic devastation of 2020 is an ongoing disaster in the lives of women and will leave scars that likely last a generation. Women represent the majority of frontline workers we deemed essential; and women of color are more likely to be adversely affected by both the pandemic and the recession.

The right-wing has long focused its sales pitch to White women on the promise of preserving the modest gains a misogynistic system has allowed them -- advancing a delusion of forced scarcity that pits White, cisgender, heterosexual women against all others in a zero-sum fight for survival. In other words, Trump convinced far too many voters the only way for them to get more is for others to get less -- a politics of grievance the right-wing has deployed for decades to keep people from coming together in ways that build broader and stronger political power.

To hear Trump's dog whistle pleading to "suburban housewives" in the last days of the campaign (as if all of suburbia were White, which it's not) and his racist warnings about "low-income housing," you'd think Trump thought White womanhood was a gated community that he was promising to protect from the mounting hordes outside. In this fiction pushed by Trump, White women are framed as a special interest group whose fight for economic security and physical safety runs counter to the demands of low-income communities and progressive activists -- many of whom are Black, brown, immigrant, and queer people. That couldn't be further from the truth.

This insidious bill of goods has been used by past and present generations of conservatives to pit communities against one another in order to stifle progress that would directly benefit every woman regardless of race, gender, sexuality and disability -- from universal childcare and the Equal Rights Amendment in the 1970s to income assistance and food stamps in the 1990s to fair housing and transgender rights today.

Laced throughout each iteration of this political falsehood is a bet that conservative White women's own fears of poverty and violence can be transformed into racial grievance and mobilized for candidates like Trump.

Again, this tactic isn't new. In fact, the surge of right-wing politicians in the 1980s and 1990s was borne in no small part upon the false and racist specter many conservative candidates harmfully perpetuated around the myth of "welfare queens" and the slandering of undocumented immigrants. It's a playbook the GOP has hardly put down in the Trump era.

In truth, White women and the pluralistic coalition coming together across race and place are locked in the same burning building, some in rooms experiencing more intense fire than others, with flames stoked by political manipulation, fearmongering and generations of patriarchal control -- and recently doused in gasoline by an uncaged pandemic.

Even women with the benefit of being able to work from home are trapped between providing childcare, distance-learning, and keeping their own income. Data shows the real "suburban housewives" of Trump's delusional stump speeches are actually working moms of all races and ethnicities who have been pushed out of the labor force at four times the rate of men -- making his promise to "put your husbands back to work" all the more demeaning.

When we strip away the politics and the divisive rhetoric, you would be hard-pressed to find women, including White women, who didn't want a robust stimulus package. Most women of any race would welcome affordable, high quality childcare that would see their children in safe settings while they were able to work. The truth is, on a vast range of progressive priorities -- from raising the minimum wage to outlawing LGBTQ discrimination to transformative action to end police violence and equal pay -- there is a broad coalition for change.

We know those inroads are being made -- but the responsibility to solidify this powerful voting bloc cannot be disproportionately carried by people of color, so many of whom are exhausted by carrying our democracy for so long and by efforts to make others respect their humanity and address their needs. And long after Trump has left the White House, there will be new politicians who pick up his divisive playbook.

The answer is clear, if hard: White women who oppose Trump and Trumpism need to push to dismantle systemic racism within White communities. This includes having difficult conversations with other White women in their families and communities to address and stop implicit bias, end racism, and move forward the common causes that are shared with women regardless of race, gender, sexuality and disability.

This might be difficult organizing, and these may be difficult conversations -- many will likely be surprised and disappointed to find out how many of their peers are genuinely willing, and even quite proud, to support racist candidates and policies; but we must do the hard work of stopping racism and advancing real change no matter what.

Confronting the role of racism in our economy, our politics, and our own lives should not be a radical notion. The longer it's treated as such, the longer this essential work will be delayed. The fight for justice, and to end racism, is intertwined with gender justice and economic justice. One never happens without the others. White women who oppose Trump and Trumpism must double down on dismantling racism in White communities so everyone can rise.