What a Trump Presidency Means to Civil Rights

Donald Trump     
Donald Trump

Last night, America's "silent majority" defied political scientists, expert pollsters and what many would regard as common decency in electing Donald Trump president. When faced with a choice between arguably the most qualified presidential candidate we've seen in the modern era of electoral politics and … well, a bigot, America felt safer with the latter. Indeed, white male privilege remains alive and well.


But what does that mean for communities of color in the arena of civil rights? Under a Trump presidency, the Supreme Court will almost undoubtedly shift toward an über-conservative tilt; and with a Republican-led Congress, many institutions, like affirmative action and equal voting rights, are likely to move from their last legs to a death knell. If Trump's stump speeches are even half of his real blueprint for his administration, here are a few predictions for what we are likely up against in key areas of importance:


Perhaps the single largest concern for a Trump presidency rests in the area of immigration. Many of us are skeptical about Trump's ability to "build that wall." Alas, many of us were equally skeptical about his ability to win an election. Unsavory deportation policies and practices may very well be on the horizon. To combat this, we need to keep the path to citizenship as clear and accessible as possible. This may mean volunteering to help those seeking citizenship to prepare for the test, or considering sponsoring an undocumented person to assist in the already exorbitant costs associated with becoming a naturalized citizen.

Equally disconcerting is the metaphorical wall Trump has already built against immigrants using xenophobia and toxic rhetoric. This requires us to remain vocal and vigilant in speaking out in the presence of attitudes that reflect an unwelcomeness of others within a nation ironically "founded" and made great by immigrants themselves.

Criminal Justice

Trump prided himself on being the "law and order" candidate. His level of understanding regarding race relations during the election cycle led him to insult the black electorate by painting a more than dismal picture of American life for blacks that is wrought with violence, poverty and overall despair. His solution? Stop and frisk. Based on his statements about Muslims, we know that Trump has little to no aversion to profiling. We can expect the rhetoric regarding criminal justice to resemble the "tough on crime" code speak used to justify harsher policing in urban communities, with draconian sentences for minor offenses.

Our solution to this must be multifaceted and will require a combination of accountability from local law enforcement and elected district attorneys, and the increased use of citizen journalists to help tell accurate stories as they happen and to control narratives in a fair and honest way. Social media is a weapon that we have in our arsenal, and our proper wielding of that weapon will be a key element in ensuring that an inevitable wave of over-policing does not result in widespread unchecked abuses by law enforcement. Finally, in this vein, we must fulfill our civic responsibility to perform jury duty in record numbers to serve as a backstop to a system that has historically never been kind to our kind and only threatens to get worse.

Voting Rights

This was the first presidential election since the gutting of the Voting Rights Act, and it showed. Since the Shelby v. Holder ruling in 2013, 868 polling places that served mostly communities of color were closed in that time. Early voting—a practice that is particularly popular among African Americans—was curtailed across the country. And although some of the stricter voter-ID laws in states like North Carolina and Wisconsin were defanged by the courts, signs of voter suppression were extremely high.


This situation is unlikely to improve under a Trump presidency and a Republican-controlled House and Senate. In fact, based on Trump’s speeches in which he called on his supporters to “watch” the polling sites in communities of color, don’t be surprised if policies are proposed calling for even more restrictions on voting rights. It’s going to be even more critical that organizations and activists that fought strict voter-ID laws become even more vigilant in combating these restrictions as they come up.

Women’s Rights

This is obviously an area for grave concern with a president-"Grab ’em by the you-know-what"-elect. But the concern may be more about principle than about practicality or policy. We must be on guard against Trump’s use of his bully pulpit to (not so subtly) promote or condone rape culture in ways that threaten to make America not so great again for women. The push for equal pay may very well be on hold, since it doesn’t seem to be anywhere on the radar.


The solution here is that we must publicly speak with our dollars by refusing to support businesses and other institutions that refuse to promote or support the protection, inclusion and fair treatment of all women. Realistically, we cannot depend on a GOP-led government to do it, so there must be a deliberate effort from all of us to wield our collective economic power to the furthest extent possible. This cannot be a discussion simply about equal pay but must extend to maintaining women's reproductive rights and other areas where women, despite being a majority, remain a vulnerable demographic. Especially black women.

We must face the reality that the results of this election could have a peculiar effect on our rights and civil liberties while disparately affecting already marginalized groups to a frightening degree. We must also understand that, now more than ever, intersectionalism is a nonnegotiable imperative and that all of our allies need to be represented at the table.


There is still a light at the end of this tunnel. The network of organizations that has been established through the Movement for Black Lives and other groups has already built the infrastructure needed to weather any storm that might result from a Trump presidency. However, the effectiveness of these organizations will depend on our level of support and engagement. Trump's presumptive victory is a deeply unfortunate affirmation of myriad oppressive systems: racism, white supremacy, patriarchy and xenophobia, to name just a few. Withstanding any attempts to "take America back" with respect to our civil rights will require a grassroots, strategic and continuous effort from all of us.

We may not have won this battle, but our struggle rages onward.

Charles F. Coleman Jr. is a civil rights trial attorney, legal analyst and former Brooklyn, N.Y., prosecutor. He is also a professor of criminal justice at Berkeley College in New York. Follow him on Twitter