Donald Trump makes it very easy for Black Americans to hate the Republican Party. In fact, he makes it too easy. So much so that many of us only think of racism in partisan terms. We develop amnesia over a not-too-distant past when Democrats were overtly bigoted and spewed the same venom we now hear out of the mouths of Trump’s legion. The right-wing of the Republican Party has adopted Dixiecrat tactics and language for political gain and their thirst for power has now put the future of the Grand Old Party in jeopardy. There are limits to the utility of a purely racist appeal to the electorate as we witnessed with the Democratic Party of the mid-20th century and the presidential campaigns of segregationist Alabama governor George Wallace in 1968 and 1972. It is why racism has now been mainstreamed and promoted through a coded dialect to incite poor and working class whites to vote against their interests. What we have witnessed at Trump rallies is simply the latest incarnation of racial hatred.
We risk whatever political capital we possess if we allow Trump to brand his hate a product of a single party. It is not. Racism is an American dilemma. Many of those angry, rabid white faces in those Trump rallies are Republican but I would dare say many are Democrats. And many have no party affiliation. Racism has never been about political party. It’s always been about power and white supremacy, and the oppression of American Indians and people of African descent in our nation. When we cast one party as racist, we create a false narrative of civic benevolence for the opposing party that cannot be supported by the evidence. Our frame must be larger because history teaches us that the determination of our ‘friends’ in the political sphere is dependent on how a particular political party at a particular time views us relative to their immediate political fortunes. Even when it seems obvious that we are an asset, such as the influx of Blacks in northern cities during the Great Migration, the maintenance of white privilege trumps even pragmatic politics.
The same can be said about what we are witnessing today with the rise of Donald Trump. You need not possess a public policy or urban planning degree to understand that our nation is undergoing a dramatic transformation. Though the African-American population has stabilized, the Latino population is experiencing significant growth and combined with Asian-Americans, people of color will comprise a majority of this country in about three decades. That seems like a long time from now, but it’s not. As the overall population shifts, so will the dynamics of the voting population. It is this reversal of political fortune that is sending many whites into a panic. It is why brown immigrants and Muslims now have a target on their backs.
One of the real reasons that Senator Hillary Clinton, a Democrat, is receiving strong Black support in the south but is looked upon with suspicion by Blacks under 40 is our relative racial memories. Blacks of a certain age, and certainly from the south, hear Donald Trump and in his voice the echo of Wallace, Lester Maddox, Strom Thurmond, Ross Barnett and James O. Eastland. They view Senator Sanders with suspicion because the Red Scare of the 1950’s made Blacks wary of anyone championing a political ideology that mainstream (white) America can deem anti-American. The support of Senator Clinton can also be traced to the close and complex relationship that southern Blacks have with white southerners, and the Clintons understand our below the Mason-Dixon line sensibilities.
On the contrary, younger Blacks equate Senator Clinton with the politics of her husband, the former President, and rightly so. The Clintons have always been a two-fer since their days in Arkansas. They operated as such in the White House. Hillary Clinton was no stay at home, tend to the social calendar First Lady. She was very much a policy wonk and a principal messenger of the center-right Democratic Leadership Council agenda that the Clintons embraced and put forth. Blacks under 40 think about that disastrous crime bill that criminalized their generation, trade policy in the form of NAFTA that exported jobs they or their peers could have secured, and President Clinton’s timid support of affirmative action. There is also the matter of the messiness of the Clinton’s disposal of Justice Department nominee, their friend professor Lani Guinier, and Arkansas native, surgeon general Jocelyn Elders. And many of the Black radio stations that once existed fell victim to the corporate raid facilitated by the Telecommunications Act of 1996 under the Clinton administration.
The point is that the conversation around racism cannot be framed in a partisan manner. If we do, we lose the opportunity to address the root cause of our subordination – white supremacy. Republicans perpetuate it and Democrats engage in it. Historically, Black Americans have simply been on a pendulum – swinging between the two hoping for acts of kindness in return for our loyalty. This strategy has not served us well because our partisanship is rarely reciprocated for its true value and often betrayed. We bear much of the blame because in our desperation for acknowledgement we are willing to drink from any cup that will momentarily quench our thirst.
Trump is promoting a far-right, racist politics that a bloc of the Republican Party has used for political gain since the mid-1960’s. The only difference is that he has dropped all pretense and all coded messaging, and laid bare what is behind conservatism in America. But, we must remember that its roots are in American politics in general, and that as recent as the 1990s we were subjected to public policy from Democrats that while not racist on its face, had racist impact and was destructive to our community.
I have grown tired of the “lesser of two evils” rationalization that is used to convince ourselves that ‘slightly better’ is a real choice over ‘far worse’ when bad is bad. The Trump plague and the skepticism toward Clinton and suspicion of Sanders should allow us to move toward a reimagining of our political engagement. What we see in Trump is the face of America, and what we now have in the Republican Party is a capitulation to hate. The hate, however, is rooted in the maintenance of white supremacy and has nothing to do with party. If a Democrat emerged with a Trump like message, you would see the same outpouring of support. We need to come to terms with this because in our anger toward Donald Trump, and by association Republicans, we risk shadow boxing and not hitting the real target.
Walter Fields is Executive Editor of NorthStarNews.com.