A lot has been said and written about the election since last Tuesday, and certainly, there’s lots more to come. For my part, I can honestly say that I saw this coming. I had been telling people for months that any polling data that showed Clinton with less than a 5 or 6 point lead meant she was actually behind. That’s because I knew that, although some ridiculed the notion, there was a certain percentage of voters, mainly White, who simply would not reveal that they planned to vote for Trump. As Dave Chappelle said the other night on SNL, “I know the Whites… You guys aren’t as full of surprises as you used to be.” I figured no matter what the polls said, Trump had at least 3 or 4 more points than everyone believed.
I also knew that regardless of what the polls said, that Clinton would not get as many votes as people believed. That’s because this was, in fact, the first presidential election since the gutting of the Voting Rights Act. Some folks may have missed this critical point, because as the Nation recently pointed out,it was the most undercovered story of 2016. People showing up as Clinton supporters in the poll would never make it to the voting booth, either because they didn’t have ID, or their name had been removed, or their polling location had been closed, or Sheriffs had been sent to their house to intimidate them (yes, that happened) or some other tactic that Republicans (and some Democrats in red states) used to minimize the voting by people of color. They even bragged about this being their purpose in TV interviews and in official party memos. Well, in case we didn’t already know it, guess what… voter suppression works, especially when those who have the ability to protect those rights are unwilling or unable to do so, and when those who have the responsibility to report on those rights are preoccupied with email servers.
So yes, I saw this coming. But that doesn’t change the fact that, after spending all of election day coordinating and canvassing with workers in one Georgia legislative district that we actually successfully flipped, I returned home and watched in disbelief as state after state went for Donald Trump. A friend of mine posted that it’s amazing how many radicals actually believe in the system and are shocked by these results. I’m not sure if the shock and pain is so much a reflection of a belief in the system, as much as a painful, stinging reminder of our status in this country. No matter how often we are reminded, there is still the sting of being reminded of how much hate there is in this country. It’s the kind of momentary sting we feel with every policy shooting—not disbelief that such a thing could happen but disbelief that it has happened again, and again… and then again. It’s the kind of sting that makes you wonder, not whether we’ll eventually win (we will!), but why the fight is even necessary to begin with. It’s the kind of shock and pain that I don’t ever won’t to NOT feel when such events occur, because that would mean that my *own* humanity has been changed.
Nevertheless, I’m not writing to say “I told you so” or to explain my own reaction. I’m writing so we can better understand why this happened and where we go from here.
A Lot of Blame to Go Around
A lot of folks played a role in the election results, starting with the candidate herself and her campaign team. Yes, the email story received far more attention than it ever should have, but at the end of the day, 1) it was stupid, and 2) I still don’t understand how, after two years, she and her team NEVER found a good response to the question. More importantly, her team made several strategic mistakes, including chasing fool’s gold in places like Arizona and Utah without consolidating her base in states where they HAD to know she was vulnerable (e.g. Michigan, Wisconsin and others).
And speaking of her base, I’m not particularly interested in giving advice to the Democratic Party, but if they expect to make gains either in Congress or in the next presidential election, someone better pick up Brown is the New White or listen to any of the Black and Brown commentators who have been trying to make it clear that the Democrats have all of the votes they need if they would simply pay serious attention to addressing the needs of Black and Brown communities and then truly investing in mobilizing voters of color.
In terms of the voting population, as The Root explains, “Black women were the only ones who tried tosave the world.” Black men gave only 80% of support to Clinton, compared to 93% of Black women, so a significant group of us are apparently unwilling to vote for a female president. It’s also possible that Trump’s anti-immigration message resonated more with Black men than women, but I’m thinking it had more to do with sexism. We’ll see if someone studies that further.
As for the Latino vote, I’m confused by the 30% of Latinos who saw fit to vote for the man who called many of them murderers and rapists. I’m guessing a significant segment of the Cuban-American community in Florida probably felt that Trump was just talking about Mexicans and that they’re exempt from his racism. I haven’t seen the Florida voter breakdown, but we’ll see.
With all that said, I in no way intend to ignore the elephant in the room. White people elected Trump. It’s that simple. Trump and his team waged a campaign based on the belief that if he could galvanize enough White people, he could offset the minimal support he expected from people of color. Trump basically nationalized the Southern Strategy of the 60s and 70s. And it worked. Every demographic of the white vote—men, women, college educated, non-college educated—each segment gave Trump a majority of their support. A vast majority of White America voted for Trump either because they agree with his racism or because they simply aren’t that concerned with his racism.
I don’t want to minimize the role of Trump’s sexism and misogyny, nor do I want to assume that just because a majority of White women voted for Trump that sexism was not at play. Certainly, we should all know that women can internalize sexist oppression just as people of color often internalize racist oppression. Every oppressed group has a tendency to participate in their own oppression to one degree or another. But what we saw at play here was not only that White women chose to vote in support of sexism; what we saw was that White women chose race over gender. Again, to those of us who study history, this should come as no surprise, and yet it has been astonishing to watch it play out.
A couple of weeks ago, on the radio show that I co-host with Heather Gray on WRFG, I pointed out that Trump’s campaign was highlighting several contradictions in the electoral process, and that in a strange way, he was correct in some of his critiques. He was absolutely right that the media rigs campaigns, but he was absolutely wrong in pretending he was the victim of this rigging. For more than a year, Trump benefited from free advertising as the networks sought big ratings by covering everything he did or said. Even CNN’s presidentrecently admitted it was a mistake giving Trump so much coverage. Perhaps he should also admit that it was a mistake giving nightly access to not one, not two, but often three of his surrogates.
The media strengthened Trump in other ways as well. But what’s more important now is that they are continuing to do what they did throughout the election campaign—they are normalizing Trump. With the exception of a few journalists, mainly Black and Brown, the media is moving on from Trump’s racism, misogyny, religious intolerance, etc. to discuss standard transition plans. And in doing so, they are spreading the mantras of “give Trump a chance”, “let’s wait and see”, and “maybe he’ll be different”.
Most of the those who are spreading this narrative have something in common—they are not the ones whose lives are in grave danger right now. They are not the ones facing increased stop and frisk. They're not the Muslims being attacked and in at least one case killed, like the Muslim brother in Wisconsin. They're not the Latino children being taunted at school, not only by students but by TEACHERS as well! They're not the girls being sexually assaulted and told that it's okay because the president can do it.
For everyone who is tempted to go with the "let's wait and see", I encourage you to read Dr. King's "Letter from Birmingham Jail". I suggest reading the entire letter, but especially the section on why we can't wait:
For years now I have heard the word "Wait!" It rings in the ear of every Negro with piercing familiarity. This "Wait" has almost always meant "Never."
The paragraph that follows that quote contains a beautiful defense of extremism, which is exactly what is called for at this time. Not less, but more protest. In fact, when confronted with forces that have such little respect for your lives, or the lives of those you call allies, friends, and loved ones, extremism isn’t even the correct word. Some, like Thomas Paine, might call it “Common Sense”.
Speaking of common sense, part 2 of this Cliff Note will explore Malcolm’s “The Ballot of the Bullet” and discuss potential electoral and non-electoral responses to our current situation. Stay tuned!