Parental discretion is advised, but imagine this a few months from now: the pained looks of fake composure and shock as the first black president, along with his illustrious first lady, stomach an inaugural ceremony for a guy who erected his white nationalist political empire on the false claim that said black president was born halfway around the world.
Bad enough that black America will be in a deep fit of mourning. We claimed eight years of beloved Obamas who tried—the Affordable Care Act, stimulus, grown kids, on-duty grandmom, Bo, glitterati gatherings and all. But on this maybe Inauguration Day, it will evaporate like burning photo albums in a house fire. There will be lucid how-dare-America rage breaking everything from workplaces to the internet. Some will trek out to Capitol Hill that frigid January day shouting profanities and throwing rocks at newly minted President Donald Trump.
And some of the loudest folks in every black living room, church, barbershop and hair salon will be the ones who either didn’t vote or threw it away on a fantasy third-party pick who could barely spit a policy brief, much less run a superpower.
It’s the biggest “fate of the republic” election in modern U.S. history. Many folks must temporarily table fake shock over leaked emails, wipe the Bernie-loss tears and suck it up so we can do this thing like that time the Rebel Alliance blew up the Death Star.
Yet, logic-defying numbers of black folks—many in millennial-age range (6 percent)—say they “don’t plan to vote," according to the Joint Center (pdf). They think it’s pretty smart to sit this particular one out. To have 12 percent of overall black voters say “not sure,” as the Joint Center details, along with 19 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds and 14 percent of those ages 30-39, is a percentage too many. Some, being clever for friends, split the difference with dazzling flimflam: "I’m just voting down-ballot, son."
Others, including some prominent thought leaders mad at President Obama, suggest it’s strategic to nonstrategically waste a vote on unqualified third-party candidates who offer nothing more than giving Trump a slim margin advantage should the race get tight. Nothing could be as dopey and politically ill-advised. But there’s that irritating cloud of uncertainty floating over the black vote. Dispatches from crucial states like Florida, North Carolina, Ohio and Pennsylvania tell a tale of uninspired voters, many young, overdosing on an endless social media feed of killings by police, most griping, “What’s in it for me?”
Here are four easy answers to that question—and why some of you are loosely playing with lit matches by asking it.
You’re not off the hook just because you saw a week-old ABC poll showing Hillary Clinton 12 points ahead. That same daily tracking poll now has her ahead by just 1 point, despite the corrupt clown she’s up against. And the recent revival of that insanely daffy email “scandal” may have made it worse. The RealClearPolitics average had Clinton up by 4.4 points in the middle of last week (down from 7.1 a week before that), but now she’s a dismal 2.9 points ahead. Her recent Lunchtime Politics average lead is 4.4 points. Some websites still give her a 9-point lead, but then she’s all iffy in places like Florida (just 3 points), North Carolina (3 points) and Pennsylvania (5 points). We’re not even counting margin of error.
Don’t believe the hype, and don’t rely on famous white people’s goodwill just because you see them poking fun at Trump on late-night comedy shows. Narratives of a Clinton win were sloppily premature, especially when you add suppression trickery at the polls, white voters who are quietly gunning for Trump … and knuckleheads who don’t want to vote or refuse to vote practically. Not voting altogether not only closes the distance between Clinton and Trump, thereby bringing him closer to a win, but also gifts Republicans steady control of Congress, as well as the Supreme Court, and creates a Godzilla-size rubber stamp for potentially destructive Trump-administration proposals.
We’re not appreciated enough, it’s true, but black voters are the nation’s last sane line of defense against disaster. We stand between relative stability (for what it’s worth, because why would anyone want to make it worse?) and something like a Purge sequel if we install a fascist in the White House (see Matthew Gault’s checklist), along with conservative majorities locked in the House, Senate and Supreme Court. But no: Like nosy cats in the grocery store line tripping over tabloid covers, cousins spill milk over gossipy, nothing-special emails you can find in any campaign inbox.
Apparently, that gives a polling leg up to the dude who not only evaded federal taxes and boasted about sexually assaulting women but also set up a Ponzi scheme, for-profit college and foundation, financed New York crime families and systematically kicked black tenants out of his apartments. Feeling like the “lesser of two evils” argument is kind of weak and played out? We get it. Still, it’s better dealing with the devil you do know (even kicked it with occasionally) than with the unpredictable devil none of us know because he’s double-speaking as fast as the con man swindling folks with three-card monte at the subway station. It’s impossible keeping up because all we can go by are reality-show reruns, random interviews and Howard Stern Show segments.
We might not agree with Clinton on everything, but we’ve got a fairly rotund library of 30-plus-year policy work to sift through in the process.
Folks who want to get cute this election cycle are acting as if the black electorate had reached the apex of political maturity and exhausted every conceivable leveraging tool at its disposal. The defeatist, almost Trumpian impression given is, “Well, not like this voting thing worked for us before; what makes this time any better?” Yet that’s the problem: The argument assumes that voting is all you’re supposed to do, when it’s not. So rather than tell people not to vote or to waste a vote, why not give them an intelligent primer on how all of it really works?
When you actively call for mass black disengagement from any stage of the political process, you’re permitting that process to ignore black issues and concerns. Should Trump win, not only will he have zero obligation to respond adequately to the “black agenda,” but he and congressional Republicans in the post-Obama era can unapologetically stomp all over it. Democrats will not only blame the black voting bloc for not stepping up, but they’ll also have even greater liberty to dismiss black concerns, since many didn’t turn out anyway. Should Clinton win but results are too close to call because of signs of flat black turnout, that sets a problematic tone for the new administration.
Simply put: Certain bigoted political interests who could never tolerate you on the court are more than happy to have you throw the game. That’s why, in states like Texas and North Carolina, they’re still activating voter-ID schemes in cold defiance of federal court orders. It’s why Trump himself openly recruits “poll watchers” to target and intimidate black voters in key states like Pennsylvania. And it’s why Republican state legislatures tirelessly rigged it for this very moment: the first election in 50 years lacking complete protection from the Voting Rights Act. Stay out or not step up? Not the sort of thing you want fiddling with your conscience or to stake your kids’ future on.
Charles D. Ellison is a veteran political strategist and a contributing editor at The Root. He is also Washington correspondent for the Philadelphia Tribune, a frequent contributor to The Hill, the weekly Washington insider for WDAS-FM in Philadelphia and host of The Ellison Report, a weekly public-affairs magazine broadcast and podcast on WEAA 88.9 FM Baltimore. Follow him on Twitter.