Some will remember 2016 as the year a reality show host was elected to the nation’s highest office. I will remember 2016 as the year the U.S. media trivialized dissent and trivialized the concerns of Donald Trump’s most vocal critics. Some media personalities did so directly, others passively, while many more were bystanders. “Democrats are alarmists”, “Our Democracy is safe, we have structures in place to protect it.”, “Dems have Clinton, on one hand, and the pretense of an impending doomsday, on the other”, “The Democrats are hysterical”.
I can hear the Trump-warnings as clear as a ringing bell. Democrats from the grassroots to the Presidential level warned about the danger Donald Trump posed, and not just to the American Presidency, but to the nation, as a whole. He was on a two-year media tour with zero plans to govern the nation, while the media found Hillary Clinton “too-prepared” and “too-rehearsed”. It was clear that Trump didn’t know the difference between the U.S. Constitution and a poorly written “Celebrity Apprentice” script. Hillary Clinton was “too wonky”, by comparison. Despite the numerous run-ins with the law at federal, state, and local levels, and a smug disdain for authority – other than those who sided with him politically, Trump’s legal issues were largely ignored. Clinton was always “allegedly-guilty” in the eyes of the media and some voters. Proof of guilt was never necessary.
Trump’s harshest critics were women, and African-Americans. While 42% of women supported him, only 8& of African-Americans did. Why? As a woman of color, I can tell you why I believe most of us never bought into the argument that our structures (courts, judges, law enforcement, and ultimately the voters) would hold Trump accountable.
As people of color, here is what we know from firsthand contact and generations of survival weariness: the structures that so many in the, primarily, white (male) media thought would constrain a uniquely unqualified white (male) candidate are neither tangible nor rigidly applied. They are structures that work when the people who apply them do their jobs – without bias. The experiences of African-Americans in the U.S. have led us to understand how fragile those systems are. We knew what it meant that Trump stirred deep racial animus among his supporters. We knew what it meant to hear crowds chanting about their passion to possess the American dream, for themselves, and to dispossess others of that dream. There was no way those structures were going to hold for long (see the Muslim travel ban). We also knew that the man who would be granted the power to push the boundaries of those structures would do so gladly, and most likely succeed.
African-Americans have seen this particular shit-show up close and personal, many times before. We know it does not end well not matter what anyone tells you. We watched post-civil war Reconstruction become secondary slavery and lynching. Our 40 acres and a mule became sharecropping and convict leasing. The right to vote became the poll tax and grandfather clauses. Trayvon Martin and Tamir Rice replaced Emmett Till. Recy Taylor, “4 Little Black Girls (Addie Mae Collins [age 14], Carol Denise McNair [age 11], Carole Robertson [age 14], and Cynthia Wesley [age 14] become Sandra Bland, Gynnya McMillen, Cyntoia Brown, and countless others. Redlining, the unholy banking and real estate alliance that deprived generations of African- and Latino-American families of a home surrounded by a white-picket fence in tree-lined suburbs, became affordable (segregated) housing- turned untended housing projects and untended rental property. Outlawed redlining became modern-day redlining. How many examples do you need? I have more.
Almost every major stumbling block dropped into the lives of people of color took place IN SPITE OF the structures of society that were designed to ensure equality and fairness. In many cases, those structures aided and abetted the destruction of minority lives, placing blocks at the local, state, and federal levels. Individuals, like Martin Luther King, Jr, and the contemporary Black Lives Matter heroes, end up on watchlists and are described as potential threats to our freedoms and/or safety. They are placed alongside the names of spies who sell out the nation’s interests to hostile, and friendly, foreign governments. Those structures, at times, treat the people who fight for a fairer America with the same disdain as those who would do her harm – especially when the fight centers on racial equality.
The very fact that media sources and politicians play the game, “What if Barack Obama did that?” shows the tacit acknowledgement that #44, by virtue of his race and the bigotry of those who were determined to see him fail, could never have gotten away with behavior for which Trump has been given a pass. Trump’s behaviors range from sheer incompetence to potentially traitorous. The same “structures” that demanded perfection of Obama, and still rejected his best efforts, are the very structures that demand almost nothing of value from Trump. Why? Those structures are ideas, accepted and put into practice by people, who have to hold to those values despite personal beliefs and biases.
So you see the problem here? If the answer is yes, you know what African-Americans knew when we gave him only 8 percent of our vote (and by the way “8%”, you are not invited to my cookout – and you know what that means).
The bottom line is that, yes, we will survive Donald J. Trump, whether he is in prison by the end of his term, or simply voted out of office. The problem is that with any major tragedy, we run the risk of surviving but without being able to recover the delicately progressing nation we were before Trump came along. We run the risk that the privilege that afforded this grand opportunity to the most uniquely unqualified man, in history, will lead us all to pay for it, for the rest of our lives and part of the lives of our children and grandchildren.
The next time the primarily (white, male) media tells you to “calm down” or that you are being “hysterical”, vote like your lives and futures depend on it. They just might.