Donald Trump, the story goes, won the Republican primary because he appealed to working class Americans who have taken the brunt of the globalization, immigration, and financialization of recent decades.

The counterargument is just as well-worn this election: Trump's supporters aren't really suffering economically. "Economic anxiety" is just a cover story for racism and bigotry. Trump Country is just bitter white people upset that Hispanics are moving into their country and that black people are increasingly on equal footing. They're also probably sexist.

These accounts are both myths by which partisans or ideologues use the Trump phenomenon to justify their views. They are also both, in part, true. The error is in trying to separate "economic anxiety" from race and sex.

White guys do have some grounds for complaint. The median wages for white males have dropped by 3 percent (adjusted for inflation) since 2000, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. In that same period, women of all races have seen their wages rise. Blacks and Hispanics have also seen their wages go up.

A man with some college, but no degree makes 11 percent less than his counterpart in 1991.

The disappearance of manufacturing jobs is one reason. In 2000, more than 17 million Americans were employed in manufacturing. As of the beginning of 2016, that total was 12 million. That's 5 million manufacturing jobs lost in 16 years.

At the same time the number of immigrants in the workforce has grown from 31 million to 42 million.

It's hard to deny that increased immigration and increased international trade has driven down wages for the white working class. Also, more women in the workforce has meant more competition for men in the workforce. This probably translates into lower male wages.

These different trajectories show up in polls about attitudes and demeanors. "Among the poor," writes Carol Graham of the Brookings Institution, "the group that scores the highest is poor blacks. The least optimistic group by far is poor whites."

But poor blacks are still poorer than poor whites. What's going on here?

Two terms to keep in mind are "relative success" and "trajectory."

Income inequality has been increasing in the U.S. for 35 years. The working class is flat or worse, while the upper-middle-class and above and soaring. At the same time, women have seen great gains. So have minorities, including immigrants.

If you're a white working-class guy, you are worse off than your father or older cousin, while every other demographic is doing better. Your trajectory is flat or down, while everyone else's trajectory is up.

White males aren't the most sympathetic victim group—especially because they still earn more money and have more wealth on average than any other demographic—but since we tend to judge our well-being relative to others and relative to the past, white working-class males naturally see themselves as the victims of the new economic order.

But the past (relative) success of white guys with no college degree was due in large part to inefficiencies. Constraints on international trade—constraints by government and by market frictions—propped up manufacturing in the U.S. Constraints on immigrant labor in the U.S. (again, results of both government policy and the natural difficulty of migration) also propped up low-skilled labor in the U.S.

Cultural norms and the letter of the law have over the past few decades favored whites over blacks and men over women in the workforce. This privilege is eroding.

All of these changes are good for all sorts of people, but they are bad for low-skilled white men. Here's an unsympathetic, but not necessarily untrue, way to put it: The system was rigged in favor of uneducated low-skilled white dudes, and it's less rigged today.

So you can scold the Trump supporters, and tell them that their flattening is really just the erosion of their unfair privilege. But it's still understandable that they're pissed off.

Across the country I've encountered this phenomenon. Corn farmers enriched by the indefensible ethanol mandate are displeased by Ted Cruz's proposal to wind it down. When Scott Walker dismantled some of the special favors for government-employee unions, a Milwaukee bartender—supporting Walker—put it this way: "If someone yanked away your gravy train, would you be happy?"

The analogy to the government-employee-union worker is telling in another way. The union-worker's strongest complaint is that his pensions are part of a deal—something he's entitled to as part of long-standing deal.

Working-class Trump supporters I met across the country spoke the same way about good-paying factory jobs. Their dads never went to college, and they got good factory jobs. They feel like that didn't just disappear — they feel like that was taken away from them.

Trump's success isn't just about race. It's about the fact that in America, you can't untangle economics from race.

Timothy P. Carney, the Washington Examiner's senior political columnist, can be contacted at His column appears Tuesday and Thursday nights on