I think we can finally concede that the election of Barack Obama… TWICE... did not herald the much speculated coming of a post-racial society. Though those of us who care about such things have no doubt known this for some time, others of us have hung to the expectation that the nation’s election of the first black president represented the triumph of good over evil, the embrace of hope over despair and the long-promised social and political equality of an oppressed people.
Well, so much for that.
The election of Donald Trump over Secretary Hillary Clinton represents the antithesis of many of our hopes. That the United States, the world’s leading economic and military power, the country to which the rest of the world looks to measure their commitment to the ideals of democracy, could elect a patriarchal, misogynistic, racist, nativist demagogue was a shocking development not only for millions in this country, but the world. However, though surprised and disappointed, I was not in the least shocked. I had hoped for a different outcome. Indeed, I had expected a different outcome. I readily concede that I had placed unsubstantiated faith in my fellow brothers and sisters to deny a man who, throughout the 2016 presidential election cycle, demonstrated through his vitriolic rhetoric an utter contempt for all those not fitting his paradigmatic vision of the United States: white, male and affluent.
I was sure my brethren would deny a man who referred to Mexicans as drug-peddling rapists and murderers, blacks as criminals dwelling in dystopian ghettos, Muslims as Molotov (not mazel tov) hurling, American-hating, Christian-slaughtering terrorists and women as good for nothing more than enhancing the social status of men as arm candy – providing they are pretty – i.e., “pussy grabbing” worthy. I felt sure that a man selling nothing but hate and racial/ethnic bias, a man presenting a sort of Orwellian picture of this country, a man lying with impunity, an inarticulate, ignorant, unstudied ORANGE man failing to articulate ONE coherent policy proposal could not possibly defeat a woman of demonstrated strength and intelligence, a woman with deep knowledge of policy and procedure palpably eager to work hard to serve her country and improve lives. Yes, I will concede that my arrogance allowed me to fully expect that a President Trump in 2016 America was as sure an improbability as an Associate Justice Merrick Garland. However, I was not shocked.
It has often been said that “history is the greatest teacher.” If you believe this (and I do), though you might have been surprised at the election of Donald Trump, you would not have been shocked. History has demonstrated time and again that when white folks feel their primacy threatened, are confronted with the inevitable progress of racial/ethnic liberties, sense a diminishing of their Christian god given power and influence, they act with a collective will to assert social control over those agents (historically blacks) who would dare challenge the status quo.
Black Americans had made great strides after the American Civil War. Following the assassination of President Lincoln and the assumption of the presidency by Andrew Johnson and then Ulysses S. Grant, the Reconstruction Era in the south, whereby freedmen were protected in their endeavor to establish a free black society by federal troops, led to everything from the adoption of the Civil War Amendments, to legal marriages and statewide and federally held offices by blacks. However, the election of 1876 and the compromise placing Rutherford B. Hayes in the presidency immediately led to a premature end of the protections provided by Reconstruction. Once the troops were pulled, southern whites immediately imposed violent restrictions carried out by terroristic groups of white men meant to return blacks to as a close a condition of debased involuntary servitude as possible. The result, an era of violent racial oppression and segregation that not only reversed any positive gains from the era of Reconstruction, but retarded the intellectual, social and political development of an entire race for generations. We know this era as JIM CROW.
Following the culmination of the Civil Rights Movement: the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the American south began a realignment resulting in the deep racially constructed “red” south we know today. Though, to some extent, this realignment went beyond regional boundaries, the truth is that the Civil Rights Acts of ’64 & ’65 and the freedom of movement, public access and voting rights provided assured that Republicans would in the future receive very little of the significant black vote available. As the Republican party was or appeared to be the vehicle through which racist policies were enacted, blacks naturally turned to the Democratic party. Whites responded with what historians have termed the “Southern Strategy.” A successful effort to appeal to southern white racism in order to secure votes, segregate blacks and whites and impose a system of de facto discrimination which every Republican presidential candidate from Nixon to Trump has used to some degree to great effect. For Reagan it was the welfare queens driving pink Cadillac’s and inner city crack addicts: both supporting their slothful excesses on the backs of hardworking whites. For Trump it is… well everyone who is isn’t white.
Though every race and ethnicity other than white voted in opposition to Trump by significant percentages, only whites…even white women voted for him by majorities. Though it was well expected that Secretary Clinton would lose the white vote generally, it was understood that her significant support among other demographics would require that she not win the white vote, but capture enough support. Due to Donald Trumps disparaging and offensive comments concerning women, polls tended to show that Clinton’s growing support among women in general and white women in particular, would provide the needed margin for victory. According to an analysis of demographic exit poll data by CNN, the New York Times and NBC News, Donald Trump won every white demographic from men to women, affluent to middle-class, college educated to non-college educated and rural to urban.
Though I am not shocked by the outcome, I am continually disappointed by the extent to which the punditry goes out of its way to explain the outcome as anything other than a racial judgment. We hear explanations ranging from immigration to globalization to the loss of the manufacturing economy. These are clearly exceptionally important and complex issues. These issues were no doubt important for many, and to some extent may have influenced their view of each candidate. However, Donald Trump’s empty rhetoric provided no substantive commitments to fixing anything… for anyone! Donald Trump spoke of these issues in rote campaign rhetoric promising everything and detailing nothing. In other words, he promised via tweet to “Make America Great Again” but declined at every opportunity to tweet HOW!
I find it difficult to believe that anyone could have heard this man and walked away with an appreciation for how a President Trump would improve their lot. His rote political double speak could not have possibly assured anyone of Trump’s commitment to improving their lives be they white, black, brown or speckled purple. In point of fact, he made clear through his hints at infrastructure and tax policy that his constituency extended no further than his own pockets and his rich cronies. Further, he made equally clear his disdain for every historically vulnerable and disenfranchised group this country has made some strides in lifting up.
As a country, as a people, as a community, we will respond accordingly to this iteration of the United States. That said, shocked? I wasn’t. Why were you?