Submerged for Some? Government Visibility, Race, and American Political Trust

Submerged for Some? Government Visibility, Race, and American Political Trust

By Aaron Rosenthal, Simmons University

Scholarship concerning American government visibility has focused on the state’s growing submergence, yet these accounts contrast with racial and ethnic politics research focusing on the American state’s conspicuousness in the lives of people of color. Attending to this disconnect, I ask how government visibility varies across racial groups. Combining interviews and quantitative analysis within a policy feedback framework, I argue that five public policy trends have created a racial split in the American state’s visibility. For whites, submerged state policies have grown alongside the rising visibility of racialized poverty policies and taxation. As a result, whites are less aware of how government benefits them and more aware of how government uses tax dollars to fund programs perceived as solely benefitting racial others. For people of color, the decline of civil rights legislation has contrasted with criminal legal policies that have made the criminal legal system a uniquely visible manifestation of government in their lives. To demonstrate the political importance of this racial divide, I uncover a racial heterogeneity in people’s political trust attachments, wherein white trust is connected to welfare attitudes, while trust among people of color is associated with feelings about the police.

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