During pre Civil War days in the South, the wealthy planter class treated poor Whites, comprising the majority of Southerners, hardly less punitively than the planters treated their field hand slaves.
The communal structure of Dixie was two fold — an economic and status wise arrangement. For the rich planters their wealth was of necessity tied up in human bondage. No slaves, no wealth — just that simple. And of course wealth and privilege does not normally concede its advantages without a fight, thus the American Civil War with its enormous, for the size of the totally American population of the time, 600,000 dead.
But what accounts for the tens of thousands of poor Whites who flocked to fill the ranks of the Confederate armies? Why did they want to perpetuate an economic system that did them little good? The short answer was the fear of a loss of status. As long as slavery survived they were guaranteed at least one rung up the social status ladder.
Once the North won the war and slavery was “officially” outlawed Whites felt a need to fight even harder to stay off the bottom of the social pecking order. This meant demeaning blacks in every way possible — Jim Crow segregation was the mechanism that evolved. As long as Black “inferiors,” could be segregated, poor Whiles Southerners could feel secure in at least some social standing. Of course this has always held true with the sentiments of many poor White Northerners to a lesser degree.
Now along comes one Donald J. Trump to exploit White status fears, being naturally most effective in the South. And what better way was there for Trump to fire up poor Whites than to belittle an African American President, implying that he was not really an American — the birther ploy. Indeed, Trump’s core message, unlike that of Bernie Sanders, has never been about economic inequality. It’s been about the fear of White male social status.