From A Black Perspective, Trump Is A Problem Only White Americans Can Fix
Why it’s important White voters do the right thing for our democracy
When comedian and late-night host Trevor Noah mentioned the 2020 presidential election during his standup routine the audience roared with applause as if to say, “Yeah! We’re getting rid of Donald Trump!” This prompted Noah to ask, “Oh, so you’re taking the election seriously this time?”
The implication is obvious: If we were serious about the 2016 election our democracy would not be in peril. We wouldn’t be arguing about a constitutional crisis, we wouldn’t feel under siege by our own president, or be pitted against one another as if we were enemies.
Naturally as Americans we’re all in this mess together. All of us are impacted by what this president does. But from a black perspective, candidate Trump directed his appeal to white Americans — and they responded. Therefore the consequences of Trump’s presidency on our democracy rests with white voters.
According to Edison Research, in 2016 Trump won white women (+9) and white men (+31). He won white voters without college degrees (+37) and white voters with them (+3). He won whites from age 18–29 (+4), age 30–44 (+17), 45–64 (+28), and 65 and older (+19). Trump won whites in mid-Atlantic New Jersey, whites in midwestern Illinois, and whites in the Sun Belt of New Mexico. In total, 57% of white voters supported Donald Trump. He won the white popular vote. He was elected for and by white Americans.
Whereas past Republican presidential candidates made direct appeals to blacks for their support, Trump’s message to black voters was to say simply, “What have you got to lose?” His vision of America is coded to resonate with the white American experience. Make America great again? For black Americans it’s difficult to talk about making America great “again” because from a black perspective, America’s “greatness” lies ahead, not in the past.
On election day 2020, enthusiastically or reluctantly, blacks will vote for the Democratic candidate — whomever s/he may be, as most people of color will do. The Republican promise of a “big tent” marked by diversity and inclusion never materialized for us to have a better choice. Our fate is tied to the Democrats. That means Trump’s reelection hinges on what white voters do.
From a black perspective, the question confronting white voters in the leadup to the next election is this: Can democratic norms, values and institutions that withstood the test of time withstand the test of Donald Trump?
We’ve all heard the story of our nation’s founding. It goes something like this: Brave men and women left Europe in search of a place free of restrictions on ideas, religion and the pursuit of personal liberty. Despite setback, tragedy, and an unrelenting British government they prevailed in this new land. Among them select men established a framework for social order and governance that’s revealed in our Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.
At its core the story of America is less about brave men and women and more about ideas and concepts like popular sovereignty that undergird our democracy, as well as norms and values like honesty, fairness, and respect for a free press. As compelling as these precepts are, so is our commitment to hold true to them for over 200 years.
Donald Trump tests our commitment. He’s crass, dishonest, and attacks individuals and institutions with equal disregard for consequence and decorum. Yet he offers something of value to nearly every segment of the white population that supports him: more money, less government, moral superiority, racial superiority, or just plain schadenfreude.
So is this the rewrite of the American story? Have the offspring of those brave men and women abandoned the ideals of their forebearers in exchange for the favor of Donald Trump? Are norms and values once deemed indispensable now disposable? Is this the future of America or simply the latest test of our will and commitment to centuries-held beliefs?
Through his words and deeds it’s clear Donald Trump knows little of our past and therefore cares little about our future. The question becomes, do you?