By LAURA PEARSON
Ta-Nehisi Coates opens his widely-read essay in The Atlantic:
The headline for this piece is: The First White President.
We all know the presidents were all white until 2008. What is Coates' point?
As a young student, I sensed and witnessed the resulting tension and unrest from the deaths of Trayvon Martin in 2012 and Michael Brown in 2014. It doesn't take much time or insight to realize this tension and unrest has worsened since the presidential campaign and election of 2016.
Police brutality, profiling and accountability are serious issues that Trump dismisses, focusing instead almost exclusively on police who are targeted.
Coates delves into this development and others with a philosophical perspective that cannot be dismissed:
“Trump truly is something new—the first president whose entire political existence hinges on the fact of a black president. And so it will not suffice to say that Trump is a white man like all the others who rose to become president. He must be called by his rightful honorific—America’s first white president.”
Here's a longer excerpt from Coates:
"His political career began in advocacy of birtherism, that modern recasting of the old American precept that black people are not fit to be citizens of the country they built. But long before birtherism, Trump had made his worldview clear. He fought to keep blacks out of his buildings, according to the U.S. government; called for the death penalty for the eventually exonerated Central Park Five; and railed against “lazy” black employees. “Black guys counting my money! I hate it,” Trump was once quoted as saying. “The only kind of people I want counting my money are short guys that wear yarmulkes every day.” After his cabal of conspiracy theorists forced Barack Obama to present his birth certificate, Trump demanded the president’s college grades (offering $5 million in exchange for them), insisting that Obama was not intelligent enough to have gone to an Ivy League school, and that his acclaimed memoir, Dreams From My Father, had been ghostwritten by a white man, Bill Ayers.
"It is often said that Trump has no real ideology, which is not true—his ideology is white supremacy, in all its truculent and sanctimonious power. Trump inaugurated his campaign by casting himself as the defender of white maidenhood against Mexican “rapists,” only to be later alleged by multiple accusers, and by his own proud words, to be a sexual violator himself. White supremacy has always had a perverse sexual tint. Trump’s rise was shepherded by Steve Bannon, a man who mocks his white male critics as “cucks.” The word, derived from cuckold, is specifically meant to debase by fear and fantasy—the target is so weak that he would submit to the humiliation of having his white wife lie with black men. That the slur cuck casts white men as victims aligns with the dicta of whiteness, which seek to alchemize one’s profligate sins into virtue. So it was with Virginia slaveholders claiming that Britain sought to make slaves of them. So it was with marauding Klansmen organized against alleged rapes and other outrages. So it was with a candidate who called for a foreign power to hack his opponent’s email and who now, as president, is claiming to be the victim of “the single greatest witch hunt of a politician in American history.”
How could large swaths of people vote for a candidate who so clearly shows his racism while racism still causes so much suffering for so many people?
As I ponder that question, I ask readers to do the same.
I find the rationalizations offered by liberals like author / chef / TV personality Anthony Bourdain lacking in thought and courage.
Bourdain's assertions include the claim that certain elites including himself missed the boat by discussing "red-state, gun-country, working-class America as ridiculous and morons and rubes."
Does this not seem petty and self-centered to think a large population of people elected their own president just because of a small group of elites looked down on them? Could it not be something more?
As I have learned throughout my own life, smaller towns with mainly white people don’t interact with minorities regularly. They form their own biases and racist attitudes through what they see on TV and hear on the news. This racial separation is part of the reason Trump was elected.
If the idea that white people are superior to minorities still exists, then it wouldn’t matter what kind of person we elect, even if they have no experience in politics, even if they have been accused of and admitted to sexual assault, as long as they are white.
“The mind seizes trying to imagine a black man extolling the virtues of sexual assault on tape (“When you’re a star, they let you do it”), fending off multiple accusations of such assaults, immersed in multiple lawsuits for allegedly fraudulent business dealings, exhorting his followers to violence, and then strolling into the White House,” Coates wrote.
If Hillary Clinton had admitted to sexual assault, there would be an uproar and calls to have her imprisoned. Yet, Trump was able to get away with all of this. Because, when you’re a white man and when you’re a reality-television star, they let you do it.
Our country chiseled the idea into law that to be black meant to be less than other people and to be white meant to be superior. This idea still survives today, as black people are stereotyped and discriminated against purely because of the color of their skin.
By focusing his run for the presidency on the negation of President Barack Obama’s legacy, Trump attracted white supporters who also supported the undoing of the Obama presidency. Evidence contradicting the pundit’s theories, Coates wrote, show that “the racial and ethnic isolation of whites at the zip code level is one of the strongest predictors of Trump’s support.”
“From the beer track to the wine track, from soccer moms to NASCAR dads, Trump’s performance among whites was dominant,” Coates wrote. “According to Mother Jones, based on pre-election polling data, if you tallied the popular vote of only white America to derive 2016 electoral votes, Trump would have defeated Clinton 389 to 81, with the remaining 68 votes either a toss-up or unknown.”
The pundits who insist that the discrimination directed at white working-class voters was at fault for the emergence of Trump are not taking into credit the amount of support Trump had among all white people, no matter their income. In this assumption, these liberal pundits are ignoring the minority working-class voters, as Coates explains, who were not among his strong supporters. If these white working-class people only voted for Trump because they wanted more jobs and were tired of being ignored by establishment politicians, why, then did the black and Hispanic and immigrant working-class not vote for him as well?
Coates' essay is a warning we all must heed -- especially people who believe that racism had little to do with the election.
“The first white president in American history is also the most dangerous president—and he is made more dangerous still by the fact that those charged with analyzing him cannot name his essential nature, because they are too implicated in it,” Coates argued.
I take his valid point this way: Political pundits have become so entrenched in the idea that those in the white working-class are not racists or bigots that they can’t see that racism is why Trump was elected.
Does this mean everyone who voted for Trump is racist or at least agrees with the racist things he has said? We can’t say that for sure. Coates considers this idea as well. He concludes: “Certainly not every Trump voter is a white supremacist, just as not every white person in the Jim Crow South was a white supremacist. But every Trump voter felt it acceptable to hand the fate of the country over to one.”
I believe many voters chose to support a racist. Some in Jim Crow territory just happened to live in a place run by racists. It doesn’t mean they are all racists because of this.
That last point gives me hope.
In places with more diversity – for example, here at the University of St. Joseph – people are able to get to know and become friendly with people of other races. This experience tends to teach them that the stereotypes they have seen expressed in movies, TV shows, and the news are not a reality. To overcome our racial divide, we need to come together and learn more about each other.
Laura Pearson is a Public Health major and Political Science minor. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org