Tuesday, July 16, 2019
In 2016, Donald Trump, an unapologetic racist, lost the popular ballot by three million votes but, thanks to the antediluvian rules that still govern our voting system, succeeded Obama in the Oval Office. Understanding the role of racism and its persistence in this dismal pivot will be as central to our understanding of our times as it was to our understanding of Reconstruction. What's curious is just how many people have resisted seeing squarely Trump's racism, his shrewd exploitation of animosity, hatred, and division for political advantage. Trump is hardly a man of subtle concealment. W. E. B. Du Bois wrote that Andrew Johnson's unwillingness to enact policies to give freedmen land, a decent education, or voting rights resided, first and foremost, in "his inability to picture Negroes as men." Trump's hostility toward minorities and his capacity to signal that hostility to others has never been a secret. This quality is central to his politics and his appeal.
Trump can hardly run a reëlection campaign on policy triumphs. His polling results show him trailing the top four Democrats: Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, and Kamala Harris. And so he will sling as much filth as possible and hope his base comes out in sufficient numbers. This is what he knows how to do.
The present moment is never fixed, or not for long. History is in the hands of members of Congress who have the option to collude or impeach, go along or resist; it is in the hands of citizens who can vote or stay at home. In 1989, we lived the illusion of unstoppable democratic advance. Democratic values have since receded. In 2008, we enjoyed the illusion of racial progress. Today, Donald Trump is in the White House.
"The slave went free; stood a brief moment in the sun; then moved back again toward slavery," Du Bois wrote in his great study, "Black Reconstruction in America." Then came the Second Reconstruction, better known as the civil-rights movement. Now we are where we are. What's next is entirely up to us.
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