I stopped blogging about two years ago. I’m not restarting now, but I got into blogging in the first place because I frequently had a perspective that the media ignored, and, right now, when it comes to the election, much of the media seems lost in the woods. So, I want to add my thoughts.
More than any other campaign in my lifetime, it is easy to get caught up in the day-to-day news of this election. What did Trump say now? What are the latest leaked emails from team Clinton? I follow the constant stream of news about as closely as anyone. But at the end of the day, I think it’s best to take a 10,000 foot view of any election before voting. And the best way to do that is to consider how the election fits into the story of American history. In other words, how will people remember the 2016 election in 50 years?
This election will be remembered for Donald Trump’s racism. That’s not to say that all of his supporters are racist, or that there are no legitimate reasons to vote for him. But Trump’s campaign has been full of racism. He announced his campaign by calling Mexicans rapists. He proposed banning all Muslims from entering the country. His speeches are peppered with coded racial messages. Newspaper after newspaper has rejected him, many referring to his racism. And since history tends to forget nuance, that’s all that will really be remembered about this election in 50 years.
History is all about context. Set aside the current election for a moment and consider the major events of racial progress in American history. They have all been accompanied by major push-backs by racist forces. In 1860, for the first time, an overtly anti-slavery candidate was elected President. The push-back was massive and immediate, and the Civil War was the result. In the 1950s and 60s, the Civil Rights Movement made significant racial progress (ending Jim Crow, integrating school, The Civil Rights Act), and again, there was a major push-back: lynchings, police brutality, assassinations. We remember these historic events (the racial progress and the racist push-back) as connected, even though they sometimes took decades to develop.
In 2008, for the first time, a black man was elected President. I would argue that the mere fact that a black family occupies the White House makes this, right now, the third most significant period of racial progress in this country’s history. And the push-back has come in the form of Donald Trump. Whether he is personally racist, or whether he is just coincidentally attacking racial minority groups and using racially coded language, he is giving the racists of the country an opportunity to speak out and to rally in opposition to the racial progress that President Obama represents. It’s true that Trump talks about some issues that are real problems. And it’s true that some people support him just because they dislike Clinton so much. But 50 years from now, history won’t remember any of that, regardless of who wins.
It might be valuable to elaborate a bit on the type of racism I’m talking about. So, let me provide an example. About a year ago, I was playing a game of cards with six other white men in a pretty pro-Trump area of the country. About an hour into the game, two of the older men, out of the clear blue sky, started making ni**er jokes. Once they started, they didn’t stop. There were probably five or six in a row.
This type of situation, with seven white men sitting around a table playing cards and with nobody else listening is where racism usually lives. It hides from bright lights and microphones. It lies dormant. It is only expressed in seemingly friendly crowds, and even then it is often shrouded in the plausible deniability of “humor.” But it is nonetheless expressed, and it is done so to confirm that everyone is still on the same page. The unspoken premise is, “we all still hate black people, right?” And maybe everyone in the room is not on the same page, but anyone who objects is othered—seen as outside the social group.
That quasi-dormant racism becomes more overt across society when it needs to: when racial progress is being made. Lincoln’s election was one of those times. The Civil Rights Movement was one of those times. Obama’s presidency is one of those times. Those quiet, idle, “harmless” voices of racism see a world turning rapidly against their views, and they feel threatened.
Until 2015, those voices didn’t have a microphone, but they were around. That’s why polls have consistently shown for the past eight years that sizable chunks of the population falsely believe that Obama is a Muslim, and that he was not born in the US. Now, they have their microphone in Donald Trump.
Again, it is true that Trump has supporters who are not racist. But ask yourself, how will history remember this election? In light of all of the racist things Trump has said, plus the context of the Obama presidency, and the racial conflict of the last few years involving shootings of unarmed black men, the answer is easy. Win or lose, Trump will be remembered as the embodiment of a racist reaction to the racial progress represented by President Obama.
I will proudly tell my grandchildren that I was on the right side of history.