Over the course of this farce of a presidential campaign, we have seen mainstream media outlets and politicians seek to analyze and understand white people who support Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump.
What drives them? What incites them? What brings them to the polls and why? We’re all expected to be so fascinated, as if black people who have been crushed under the Chinese steel-toe boots of white supremacy don’t already know.
Society at large has been encouraged not to ignore the rising tide of white frustration and angst because if we do, pundits have warned, we can never progress and heal as a nation. In an election largely propelled by racism, sexism, xenophobia and hypercapitalism, white fragility has been positioned right alongside white supremacy.
Earlier in the election cycle, former President Bill Clinton, who will be “in charge of revitalizing the economy” in a Hillary Clinton administration, told Stephen Colbert that he understands Trump's "macho" appeal.
“I run things and I build things and you need somebody that will go in there and fix it. And if they don’t let me fix it, I’ll just get them out of the way,” Bill Clinton said of Trump’s effectiveness with a rabidly racist right-wing base. “There is a macho appeal to saying, ‘I’m just sick of nothing happening. I’m going to make things happen. Vote for me.’”
While campaigning for Hillary Clinton, President Barack Obama came to the rescue of a disruptive Trump supporter. To protect him—and, hopefully, get the votes of others like him—Obama demanded that HRC supporters show the Angry White Man™ some respect.
“Everybody sit down and be quiet for a second. I’m serious, listen up," Obama said. "First of all, we live in a country that respects free speech. Second of all, it looks like maybe he might have served in our military and we’ve got to respect that. Third of all, he was elderly and we’ve got to respect our elders. And fourth of all, don’t boo, vote.”
CNN contributor Van Jones, who once teased support for the Green Party but has come out strongly in support of the Democratic presidential nominee in recent months, has launched a series aimed at bridging the gap between Clinton and Trump supporters. In the first installment of The Messy Truth, Jones visited a Trump-supporting family to better understand where they are coming from.
Jones, for whom I have great respect, then defended “this extraordinary family” when they were criticized in the comment section, writing of one of the participants, Kimberly Fean Corradetti:
This woman has tremendous passion—and compassion, too. She is one of the smartest, high-integrity people I have met all year. And she has guts. We were learning from each other, going back and forth. I appreciate and admire her. … So please give her credit for taking a stand and making herself vulnerable.
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) recently posted a series of #NotAllTrumpSupporters tweets:
We have been inundated with article after article after article after article legitimizing the feelings—so many feelings—of Trump supporters who just want to "make America great again." As Corradetti cried in her interview with Jones, "The word 'racist' is thrown around so much, it's losing its meaning. That is so sad. You're a racist if you dress up in a Halloween costume as an Indian. [Is the country] so sissified now?"
I'll give you a few moments to unpack those layers.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch, Trump supporters set fire to Hopewell Missionary Baptist Church in Greenville, Miss. This, of course, is in keeping with the racist violence that has permeated the Trump campaign. In March of this year, a black woman was assaulted by Trump supporters at a rally in Kentucky; also in March, a black man was punched by a Trump supporter at a rally in North Carolina.
Trump supporters are either frenzied with rage and bigotry or rationalizing rage and bigotry; there is no in-between. Yet there are still some Democrats asking, "How can we bring Trump supporters under the tent?" as if we should actually care about their future. As if white supremacist capitalist patriarchy ever works against its own best interests.
In a recent New York Times column, Jonathan Martin and Amy Chozick explained how the Democratic Party was pushing to “dissuade disaffected voters from backing third-party candidates, and pouring more energy” into persuading Trump supporters that Clinton is the best choice.
Notice where and how their “energy” is being expended.
Despite the false narrative that Clinton is in trouble because of black voters, Trump has almost 0 percent black support. The majority of black voters still overwhelmingly support the Democratic Party, even the black millennials that "get off my lawn and go vote" Democrats love to chastise along with "Cousin Pookie."
I have no doubt that this appeasement of Trump supporters is considered effective campaign strategy, but nicely appealing to the moral bankruptcy of white supremacists has changed nothing in this country, and it never will. And if mainstream media and liberal politicians can talk about the "legitimate" anger and disillusionment that Trump has tapped into for many white Americans, there is no justifiable reason why legitimate criticisms from the left are being suppressed.
If liberals can talk about the need for America to come together, including with Trump supporters, there is no justifiable reason why the people who have faced extreme institutional and economic violence shouldn't be heard and treated with the same respect.
Don't let them fool you. The Democratic Party knows that increased interest in third parties—or people saying they won't vote at all—isn't some vain search for ideological purity or the miseducation of millennials. They know that the Republican Party has moved so far to the right that moderates in both parties are forming their own coalition—one that leaves the most vulnerable communities of color out in the cold.
They know that the Movement for Black Lives is a global movement that seeks justice across nationalist borders. They know that there are people who are tired of having blood on their hands; tired of forced complicity in the occupation and massacre of the Palestinian people. They know that both Clinton's pathetic response (and Trump's silence) to the desecration of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe's ancestral lands via the Dakota Access Pipeline—and the relentless violence that water protectors have endured—matters.
They know that the war on drugs, which has always been a war against the most targeted black and Latinx communities, is a special and urgent concern, as are the night raids and deportations that have many immigrants living in fear.
They know that murderous police departments are snuffing out black, Latinx and indigenous lives with impunity under a Democratic president, and there is little reason to trust that a Clinton presidency will be any different.
Still, gas-lighting has become a 2016 campaign strategy. Black, Latinx and indigenous voters who aren’t convinced that the Democratic Party is the truth and light are routinely mocked and dismissed. Making Trump supporters feel safe under a Clinton presidency has been prioritized. To that end, let's all gather ’round and do the difficult labor of understanding their racist tantrums because Klanspeople—they’re just like us.
Something is wrong with this picture—very, very wrong.
This privileging of racists and bigots and their pathology does not occur in a vacuum; that is the American way. Empathizing with them in the meager hope that reciprocity will occur has always been violent.
It is the same violence that tells us to pull up our pants and not wear hoodies so maybe we can make it home alive. It is the same violence that demands that we code-switch because AAVE is viewed by white people as a sign of ignorance. It is the same violence that frames state-sanctioned murder as a mutual problem for which black people hold some responsibility, in the same way that a woman wearing a short skirt is responsible for being raped. It is the same violence that tells black women they are traitors to feminism if they dare to voice even a scintilla of criticism about Hillary Clinton.
It is the same violence that has us bent over at the waist trying to wipe our children’s blood off the streets, while privileged white liberals still try to put the country on our backs.
Be clear: If dismantling white supremacy hinged upon the long-suffering docility and generosity of black folks, we would all be free by now.
Perhaps the Democratic Party has calculated that criticisms flimsily based on misogyny, WikiLeaks and those "damn emails" are easier to dismiss than having the hard discussions that the left demands—and they would be absolutely right. It is much easier. If this country were genuinely committed to the difficult work of destroying interlocking systems of oppression—in which both white conservatives and liberals benefit—then they would no longer exist.
Instead of disingenuously attacking people on the left who will likely not vote for Clinton—and reducing their values and concerns down to a "wasted vote"—Democrats might as well own this transparent strategy. And whether Clinton or Trump wins the election on Nov. 8, they must also own the ramifications when it ultimately fails.
Unless, of course, their true goal is to fake left and continue moving right, as many progressives believe. In that case, the party will probably consider pushing so-called radicals out in order to create space for more Republicans a success.