In a concession speech that was exceptionally gracious, given the behavior of her political opponent throughout this abysmal and subsequently catastrophic election season, Hillary Clinton declared, “Donald Trump is going to be our president. We owe him an open mind and the chance to lead.”
Clinton is a consummate professional, and though she deserved a far better end to her 40 years of public service than to lose her lifelong dream to an unqualified buffoon who went into politics as a newfound hobby, it makes sense for her to make such a statement. However, for the rest of us who are not politicians and did not campaign against Trump for the presidency, we don’t need to express such sentiments. We do not owe an audacious bigot anything.
Yet the sentiment that Trump deserves a chance has since been echoed by New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof. In his column, Kristof asserts: “Yet, like it or not, we Americans have a new president-elect, and it’s time to buck up. I’ve seen past elections that were regarded as the end of the world—including, in many Democratic circles, the Reagan triumph of 1980—and the republic survived. This time as well, our institutions are stronger than any one man.”
America came to be at the expense of its original inhabitants and was subsequently built on the backs of African slaves. This country’s inception was rooted in thievery and bolstered by racism, so the notion that the republic will survive the election of a demagogue is a moot point. Of course America will survive in the wake of a win for bigotry; bigotry is what birthed and has long nurtured her.
As for Reagan, for all the damage he did during his time as president, black people suffered the most. And black people knew what was to come with him before he took office. The same can be said of Donald J. Trump, the man who described Mexicans as rapists, proposed bans on Muslims for no other reason than that their religion gives him the heebie-jeebies, and has already threatened to curtail the reproductive rights of women and punish those who dare break his command of their bodies—plus who has a long-standing history of treating black people terribly. We know what is to come.
Still, Kristof writes: “It was disgraceful that many Republicans eight years ago tried to make President Obama fail. That’s not the path to emulate. Today, having lost, we owe it to our nation to grit our teeth and give President-elect Trump a chance.”
Au contraire, white man. My black ass doesn’t owe Trump a damn thing. The same goes for anyone else in this country who is not white, straight and male—or, you know, a white woman who supported Trump and cares far more about preserving the privileges of being white than about any of her autonomy being stripped because of gender. Like many pundits who have been wrong this entire time, Kristof cites Trump’s lack of knowledge and experience as reasons to question the sincerity and likelihood of his building that wall he speaks of, bringing law and order to the nation (its blacks), and fulfilling other campaign promises that pleasured white nationalists in their most private places.
Trump has no ideology, but he campaigned on bigotry and has a strong record on it. Trump also has the support of Republicans in Congress, who are very much aware that their newfound control of every branch of government has a lot to do with his success. Paul Ryan has already confirmed that. They owe Trump, and he knows it.
Whoever is willing to take the risk that Trump will fail to deliver on his promises is someone who can afford to take that risk and give him the benefit of the doubt. For the rest of us, all we see is prejudice being handed power with a strong mandate.
And in unsurprising fashion, Kristof goes on to let out this naivete molded and shaped by an inexpert understanding of racism: “Democrats are too quick to caricature Trump supporters as deplorables. Sure, some are racists or misogynists, but many are good people who had voted for Obama in the past. My rural hometown, Yamhill, Ore., is pro-Trump, and I can tell you: The voters there are not all bigoted monsters, but well-meaning people upended by economic changes such as the disappearance of good manufacturing jobs.”
That’s a charming bedtime story, but the reality is, to vote for Barack Obama does not mean you cannot be racist. Racists have lain down with those they hate, and the second they pull their pants up, they’re right back to putting those they view as less than back in their place. A vote is nothing.
If you voted for a racist candidate, you are either an unabashed racist or you are complicit in racism. The latter makes you racist—just at a different level. Clinton was not wrong to refer to select Trump supporters as “baskets of deplorables.” If anything, she underestimated how many of them there were—notably those just like him.
Trump is a racist. His supporters are racists. White people can “give Trump a chance” if they see fit, but those who know who he is and what he and the Grand Old Party are capable of, based on their words and on precedent, have every right to refuse to give him the benefit of the doubt.
We owe Donald Trump as much regard with respect to his presidency as he’s handed us to earn it: nothing.
Michael Arceneaux hails from Houston, lives in Harlem and praises Beyoncé’s name wherever he goes. Follow him on Twitter.