“That the electorate has, in its plurality, decided to live in Trump’s world of vanity, hate, arrogance, untruth, and recklessness, his disdain for democratic norms, is a fact that will lead, inevitably, to all manner of national decline and suffering.” — David Remnick, The New Yorker, Nov. 9, 2016
The recent Presidential election was a lot more about race than economics. It was yet another time when Black achievement and Black advancement unleashed a flood of white resentment.
Carol Anderson, in her book White Rage: The Unspoken Truth of Our Racial Divide, says “the trigger for white rage, inevitability is Black advancement. It is not the mere presence of Black people that is the problem, rather it is Blackness with ambition, with drive, with purpose,, with aspirations and with demands for full and equal citizenship. It is Blackness that refuses to accept subjugation, to give up. A formidable array of policy assaults and legal contortions has consistently punished Black resilience.
Let us recount White Anger’s shameful past:
- Reconstruction – After the Civil War, white Southerners resorted to Black Codes, Jim Crow, lynching and all manner of violence against Black former slaves, claiming they were needed to avoid lawlessness and vagrancy.
- Brown v Board of Education – Faced with SCOTUS-ordered integration, Southern governors redirected public education dollars to white private schools and reduced funds to public schools attended by Black students.
- The Voting Rights Act of 1966 – A half century after acknowledging federal oversight was required to ensure Blacks were able to vote in Southern states, the high court gutted the Act in 2013. Chief Justice Roberts disingenuously explained it was a new day in the South “largely because of the Voting Rights Act, voting tests were abolished, disparities in voter registration and turnout were erased and African Americans attained political office in record numbers.” Result — subtler forms of Black voter suppression quickly ensued.
- The fate of Affirmative Action – In 1965 President Lyndon Johnson stated that, in order to redress the vestiges of slavery and racial discrimination, affirmative action in federal hiring and contracting was necessary. Ever since there has been an assault on these policies. With Blacks taking precious slots in medical, law and other prestigious schools, complaints of “reverse discrimination” have swelled to the point that the Supreme Court is deliberating whether “race” can be considered in college admissions. Now, with Trump poised to nominate the ninth and tie-breaking justice, the fate of affirmative action appears sealed.
The Obama Bash
No instance of Black achievement has so energized white resentment as the 2008 election of Barack Obama as president of the United States.
It is safe to say that, without Barack Obama, the very idea of a President Donald Trump would have been laughed at by a vast majority of the voting public. But Obama, who never had any political, financial, sexual or social scandal, nonetheless was so vilified and disrespected, so insulted by calls to “take our country back,” that the preposterous became reality.
This vilification and disrespect of our first Black president has been constant, yet it helps to recall some lowlights. From the get-go in 2008, with citizen Trump leading the “birther” cry, right-wingers began charging that Obama was not born in the U.S. and therefore ineligible for the office. In 2009, during his address to a joint session of congress, a South Carolina congressman yelled at the President “You lie!”
Later the Speaker of the House invited the Israeli prime minster to address the Congress without clearing it with the White House. For his part, the Republican Senate Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell, stated without equivocation that his main goal was to deprive Obama of a 2nd term.
At no point during this string of insults did the mainstream media – a supposedly leftist force in American life according to conservative rhetoric – call out Obama’s detractors for their obviously racist behavior. Had racism become, as the pop-psych expression has it, “normalized?” Had Jim Crow been let out of the closet? That question is answered now by the seemingly impossible ascendance of Donald J. Trump, a billionaire real estate mogul with a flair for publicity and zero governmental experience. It has been estimated that television, radio and social media provided his campaign with over $2 billion worth in free coverage. This is known in the political trade as “earned media” … as if the candidate’s racist, xenophobic rants deserved something other than condemnation. In one case a Sunday TV talk show broke all precedents and allowed Trump to be interviewed via telephone rather than require him, to come to the studio. The CEO of CBS stated it best when he quipped that the Trump campaign roadshow “may be not be good for America but it’s damn good for CBS”
The Justice Department has long-standing guidelines against public comment by prosecutors concerning ongoing investigations. There is even a policy, for instance, of avoiding the filing of completed indictments against candidates for political office within 60 days of an election. Yet in his letter to Congress on October 28, 2016 regarding the FBI’s supposedly closed investigation of Hilary’s Clinton’s emails, agency Director James Comey’s action moved the needle of public opinion away from Clinton and toward the previously unthinkable. His public reversal less than a week before the election served only to remind voters that she might have done something wrong.
For the first time in over 20 years, most polling data proved off by over 4%, not just for the presidential race, but for many House, Senate and state elections. Statisticians will parse the numbers, but given the highly-charged racial and gender subtext of the campaigns, one can reasonably assume much of this error was due to interviewees not telling the truth about whom they supported. Yet these same polls had enormous impact on candidates’ decisions on resource allocation and ground game emphasis. Leading the polls by 2% in Wisconsin, for instance, Hilary Clinton skipped personal appearances there … and ended up losing the state by just 30,000 votes.
The Angry White Guy
Several mainstream analysts, trying to assess the motives of Trump supporters, have cited statistics showing a decline in quality-of-life among blue-collar whites. And indeed there’s been a slight and as-yet-unexplained decline in his life expectancy, a rise in drug and alcohol abuse as well as suicide, and perhaps non-coincidentally a 30-year stagnation in real wages.
No doubt many blame their troubles on what they themselves see in everyday life – increasing numbers of immigrants from Asia and Central America, with more apparently on the way from the war-torn Middle East. Highly publicized incidents of domestic terrorism – think San Bernardino and the Orlando nightclub – feed his sense of unease-turning-to-outrage. Like Howard Beale in the movie Network, he’s mad as hell and not going to take it any longer.
This analysis goes on to argue that Trump listened to this AWG as no other candidate has … and offered blessed relief. I can understand this, though as a Black American whose people have endured far worse for far longer, I do not totally sympathize with Mr. AWG. What I do not understand is why AWG sees Donald Trump – an alleged tax-avoiding billionaire with a litigious history of stiffing local contractors and buying foreign supplies – is suddenly viewed as the agent of AWG’s salvation. Might it be that race, not economics, is the more plausible explanation for what happened Nov. 8?
The Way Forward
It’s been said that winners write history, so as Trump’s noisy self-congratulation unfolds in Washington I would urge fellow scribes to review and remind about the achievements of Barack Obama. While the mainstream media continues to parrot Trump’s denigration of his predecessor, let us set the record straight.
We must review, for instance, the impact that Obama’s choice of Eric Holder as Attorney General and consider how significant that was in responding to police misconduct toward Blacks in places Ferguson, Baltimore and Tamir Rice’ Cleveland. We must record the genuine relief and hope given to Black people with pre- existing health issues … now able to get insurance. We must not forget the pride and self-affirmation we saw in young Black boys who in 2008 saw someone like themselves become President of these United States.
“All politics is local,” the late Speaker of the House Tip O’Neil once reminded. This will be another focus for me. For the first time Chicago and Cook County will have an African American directing traffic at the intersection of police and prison. Incoming States Attorney Kim Foxx will need support, direction, and advice. Let us, for a time, tend our own garden rather than be distracted by vaudeville on the Potomac.
The last word
Still, one cannot help but be profoundly disappointed by what happened Nov. 8. Disappointed not just in the result, but in fellow Americans who allowed fear and resentment to guide their vote. In the end it is their loss, not ours.
Toni Morrison said it best: “In order to limit the possibility of this untenable change and restore whiteness to its former status as a marker for national identity, a number of white Americans are sacrificing themselves. They have begun to do things that they clearly don’t want to really be doing, and to do so they are 1) abandoning their sense of human dignity and 2) risking the appearance of cowardice.”