Amy Chua launches off the well-known fact that the economic elite despises Donald Trump to propose a fascinating new hypothesis about the crisis in American politics. The United States has “a market-dominant minority — a minority group, perceived by the rest of the population as outsiders, who control vastly disproportionate amounts of a nation’s wealth,” she argues. Like Indonesia’s ethnic Chinese minority, which accounts for 2–4 percent of the population but controls 70 percent of the country’s wealth, the oil-rich Sunni minority in Iraq, or other comparable groups, America’s market-dominant minority stands culturally apart from the majority yet dominates its resources.
Unfortunately, the well-known fact that supplies the foundation for this highly interesting theory is not actually true. American politics is polarized, but not by income. Trump performed the worst among the voters reporting the lowest incomes, while winning the votes of those earning more than a quarter-million dollars a year. The effect of wealth upon partisanship is difficult to tease out precisely. Race and education both have stronger effects on partisanship, and both are correlated with income, in opposite ways (white people tend to be richer and more Republican, and highly educated people tend to be richer and more Democratic).
Education, per se, is an important polarizing force dividing white voters over Trump. (Nonwhite voters tend to oppose him regardless of education level.) Isolating the effect of education shows that it moves voters away from Trump regardless of income. But this reveals that wealth pushes the other way, making voters like Trump more.
This is important because Chua is not offering up another theory of cultural division, which is familiar. She is describing the cultural elite as a market-dominant minority. But the way we measure market domination is in dollars, and Trump’s opponents are not dominating it.
Indeed, in some crucial respects, Trump’s coalition looks more like a market-dominant minority than does his opponents’. For one thing, Trump supporters were a literal minority of the electorate. For another, they have used their resources to leverage his minority control into lucrative policy gains. In the last election cycle, Wall Street (which Chua defines as one of the industries dominated by Trump opponents) devoted the majority of its political spending to helping his party.
It is true that some CEOs have staged high-profile displays of opposition to Trump. This is especially true of consumer-facing corporations skittish about being tied directly to an administration that cannot handle basic tasks like cleanly denouncing Nazis. Meanwhile, though, corporate America is in the midst of a choreographed effort to sell the public on the corporate tax cuts that are the centerpiece of the GOP’s midterm messaging strategy and likely to perform the same role for Trump’s reelection. Even though the corporate tax cuts are overwhelmingly financing stock buybacks, companies have leaked out a series of “news” reports presenting every employee bonus as the result of the tax-cut bounty. (Employee bonuses existed before the tax cut; they have simply been rebranded as a tax cut dividend.) The campaign has worked quite well, helping to turn a public that staunchly opposes tax cuts for the rich and corporations into supporters of a law that does exactly that.
Chua cites a New Yorker book review, discussing the “case against democracy,” as evidence that the liberal “market dominant minority” may be turning against democracy altogether. Aside from its lack of even a second example to support the trend, the plain fact before us is that Trump’s political opponents are working on measures to expand democratic participation. It is the Democrats who want to open up voting access, and to bring legislative representation into alignment with voting preferences. It is Trump’s party that is demanding the opposite. Perhaps the market-dominant minority is the one whose family cabal is using its power in office to enrich itself and its allies.