You likely already suspected it, but a new study published in the scientific journal Nature finds that the time that Donald Trump spent in the White House during his term increased racial and religious prejudice in his followers.
What you may not have realized, however, is that Trump’s time in office provided such a negative example to those who opposed his brand of nationalist bigotry that it actually led to a decreased level of prejudice in those who opposed his racist, anti-immigrant agenda.
The study took place in the context of a trend of declining prejudice toward racial and religious minorities in the decades before Trump infiltrated the presidency and questions about whether the levels of biased attitudes in the United States had actually increased in the Trump era or merely seemed to be growing because of “increased national attention to issues of prejudice.”
The latter view posits that the perceived increase in racism during the Trump years reflects the greater visibility of fringe extremist groups rather than any actual increase in bigotry among mainstream Americans.
The authors of the new study — Benjamin C. Ruisch and Melissa J. Ferguson — use their work to answer “whether a single counter-normative public figure, and his widespread acceptance by a large portion of the American people, can lead to large-scale changes in social norms and societal prejudices.”
To determine the outcome, they sought to test two main predictions — firstly, that racial and religious biases increased significantly only among Trump supporters during his term; and, secondly, that the increase in prejudice was a direct result of changes in social norms that made expressing biased opinions more socially acceptable.
Ruisch and Ferguson designed a series of multi-year longitudinal studies with over 1000 participants, measuring “the breadth and depth of changes in prejudice across various target groups and measure types.”
The studies looked at the political affiliations and demographics of the participants and compared their responses before and after Donald Trump’s presidency and found that those who were in his political camp displayed “a significant increase in prejudice towards a range of social, racial and religious minoritized groups.”
Trump supporters noted that they felt more comfortable expressing their biases publicly once Trump took office. The studies also discovered that “experimentally leading participants to feel that Trump supporters approved of his controversial rhetoric significantly increased Trump supporters’ personal expressions of prejudice,” in a type of “birds of a feather” effect.
Still, those who opposed Donald Trump and his toxic politics — whether they were politically progressive or principled conservatives such as those associated with The Lincoln Project — showed actual decreases in prejudice from the beginning of Trump’s term until the end of it.
In conclusion, Ruisch and Ferguson determined that “together, this research suggests that the presidency of Donald Trump may have substantially reshaped the topography of prejudice in the United States.”
We might add, not in a good way.
One can only take solace in the idea that among the vast majority of people who voted against Donald Trump in the 2020 election, prejudice has been reduced — if only by the cautionary example of the bigoted White nationalist disgraced former president.
It may take years to undo the damage among the MAGA faithful, however.
Original reporting by Mane Kara-Yakoubian at PsyPost.