Unmasking America’s racism
In 2008, with the election of America’s first African-American President, it became the fashion to refer to our nation as entering its “post-racial” phase. Truly, one cannot underestimate the importance of Barack Obama’s election. Not all that long ago, I would have imagined it as likely that we would have a black President as that we would have gay marriage. So much for my prognosticating.
Nevertheless, the entire world took notice when Obama was elected.
It was less than fifty years after segregation was the law in much of the country. The memory of the civil rights struggles of the 1950s and 1960s still burned in the mind of many. And just forty years before had the Supreme Court overruled laws banning interracial marriage.
Contrast this with other countries that tore themselves apart, with two “ethnic” groups who looked alike killing each other for perceived wrongs that occurred generations ago. The fact that the United States could move on in such a way was striking.
But the idea that we had moved on from our racial past was either a pipe dream on the part of liberals or a case of denial on the part of conservatives. It reminds me of Baudelaire’s quote that the devil’s greatest trick was convincing us that he does not exist. Conservatives wanted to argue that racism was no longer a problem because then we could do away with affirmative action and the Voting Rights Act.
But African-Americans knew that despite Obama’s success, we were far from post-racial. They lived that reality. The shooting of Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown only showed white liberals like me that we were kidding ourselves.
Unfortunately, the rhetoric of post-racism allowed conservatives to paint those shootings as being the fault of the victim. After all, how could we claim that racism was a problem when we had elected a black President?
What Green Book tells me about my perspective on race
I may be a progressive, but I’m still white
While it is certainly true that we have made progress on racial issues, and the election of Barack Obama was a significant event in our history, we obviously still have a long way to go. For clearly demonstrating that fact, we have none other to thank than Donald Trump.
Yesterday, Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Jon Meacham argued that Trump just tied Andrew Johnson as the most racist President in our history. He made this statement in the wake of Trump’s repeated tweets telling Members of Congress, all young, progressive women of color, to go back to “the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came.” Note that three of the four were born in the United States, and all are American citizens.
For some conservatives, these tweets and the related follow-up were the straw that broke the camel’s back. Conservative Washington Post columnist Max Boot wrote that “what Trump said on Sunday is not legitimate criticism. It is as blatant an example of racism and xenophobia as we have seen in our politics in my lifetime.” And the inimitable George Conway wrote that “Trump is a racist President.”
But these statements are only the tip of the iceberg. David Leonhardt and Ian Prasad Philbrick of the New York Times Opinion have compiled the definitive list of Trump’s history of racism. Unsurprisingly, a recent poll of Republicans taken before this most recent tweetstorm found that most Republicans are embarrassed by Trump’s comments.
If Trump has accomplished anything with his blatant racism, he has helped clarify attitudes.
A recent poll found that after this most recent racist tweets, Trump’s approval among Republicans actually increased by five points. On the other hand, his approval dropped by ten points among Independents, and by two points among Democrats — largely because it couldn’t go any lower with that group. As a result of this split response, Trump’s approval rating remained unchanged at 41–55, a net 14 point negative rating.
We may despair over the increasingly enthusiastic racism of our Republican compatriots. But what’s more relevant is the drop in approval among independents. At this time of relative peace and prosperity, for a President to have such a negative rating is unprecedented. What is driving that negative view of him? An increasing discomfort with his blatant racism.
As Tom Edsall recently wrote in New York Times Opinion, “while the percentage of racially conservative Republicans has remained constant, the percentage of racially liberal Democrats has grown rapidly.” In effect, both Democrats and Independents have realized that racism is still a problem, even though we recently elected a black President.
Trump, once out of power, will be a long-term problem for Republicans
Can we really imagine him supporting other presidential candidates?
There are a number of arguments about the long-term effect of Donald Trump’s Presidency. While many envisioned outcomes are downright scary, up to and including the end of our democracy, one unintended effect will be the change in America’s racial attitudes. Already, young people are much more racially liberal than older generations. But even among us older folks, Trump has made us look in the mirror in a way that makes us uncomfortable. We can no longer deny the reality of racism, despite our most fervent hopes. In the long term, that might finally lead to real change.
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