Column: If Trump Was Black
From the start of his campaign to his inauguration, President Trump has presented himself as the champion of the “forgotten Americans.” The billionaire promised to save the White working class voters who were supposedly left behind by the Obama administration, voters who in turn delivered him the Presidency.
Since his election there have been no shortage of pieces speculating how identity politics and the Democratic Party’s decision to advocate for the causes of people of color cost them White voters who were unfairly forgotten. Many conservatives and even some on the left have come to admit that White working class frustrations are legitimate and even if Trump is a flawed savior, he is right to recognize their plight. The prejudices of some of his voters are overlooked: after all, they are the “silent majority” who were left behind in pursuit of social justice causes like marriage equality or criminal justice reform that were championed by a black President. However, in championing the cause of working class whites, many have extended Trump a grace that would not be extended to other races.
What if he was the champion of a different race? What if Donald Trump was Black?
Imagine a Black man, perhaps a Black Muslim, running for President in the manner Trump pursued the office. In his announcement speech, he cites White school shootings, cocaine use, sexual assaults, and White on White violence, saying “Whites bring crime, they bring drugs, they’re rapists, though some I assume are good people.” As a reaction to the Charleston shooting by a White supremacist, he calls for White Christians to enter a registry, White Christian immigrants to face ‘extreme vetting,’ and for White evangelical churches to be put under surveillance. The candidate tells his predominantly Black crowds that the system is rigged against them, that they are the “real Americans” and encourages them to assault a White protester in the crowd. Such a candidate would be called a violent radical, would be described as more extreme than Louis Farrakhan, would be denounced by both parties and would likely not receive more than a small percentage of the vote. If President Obama was labeled racially divisive by the right merely by recognizing that racial challenges persist and calling for racial reconciliation, it is unimaginable what sort of accusations would be leveled if a Black candidate campaigned in the manner that Trump did.
And what would people say of his patriotism, were Trump Black? Obama’s liberal internationalism earned him charges of possessing a “Kenyan, anti-colonial worldview” by Newt Gingrich, not loving America according to Rudy Giuliani and wanting to weaken America according to Marco Rubio. What if a Black candidate praised foreign espionage, denigrated the military and Gold Star families and said Bush was responsible for 9/11, what then would be said of his loyalty? Obama politely bowing to a Saudi Prince was compared to bowing to tyranny by his critics; what would they say if a Black man from Africa praised dictators like Saddam, Assad and Putin?
All the character defects that conservative voters were willing to overlook in Trump would be fatal for him if he were Black. His crude speech would be derided as “ghetto.” His lack of basic understanding of issues would reinforce all the ugliest prejudices towards Black intelligence. His bankruptcies would earn him a nickname like the “unemployment insurance President,” like Newt Gingrich’s “food stamp President” sobriquet he reserved for Obama. His three marriages would earn unflattering comparisons to NBA stars and even his mention of sexual exploits —let alone boasts of sexual assault— would end his candidacy as White families across the country shield their children’s ears, turn off their televisions and lament the state of morals in the country. All one must do is look at the Central Park Five, Tiger Woods, Kobe Bryant or Clarence Thomas and we know how this story would end.
This is not to suggest that those who voted for Trump voted out of racial prejudice. On the contrary, while racial fears and anxieties may play a role in an election, voters did not vote for Trump strictly because he was White.
However, this does suggest that Trump is subject to a different standard than a Black man would experience. Donald Trump could never be elected President were he Black. The phrase “White privilege” is bandied about often, but it is at times appropriate. That there could be a President with as grievous of flaws as Trump is perhaps the greatest manifestation of that privilege, which extends to voters as well.
When White voters experienced economic anxiety, voting for a dangerous candidate like Trump was viewed as understandable. However, if Black voters – who faced systemic oppression in the United States, and are more likely to face economic hardship, social disadvantage, or criminal injustice than Whites – were to respond by electing a Black man as flawed as Trump, they would likely be derided as militants flirting with Black Panther style politics. When Whites face economic anxiety both sides of the aisle, Republicans and Democrats alike, instantly agreed that more must be done to reach out to Whites – even that entire trade deals be torn up. If Blacks complain of injustice, however, they are often told just to pull themselves up by their bootstraps and work harder.
But Trump is not Black. He is White, and he was elected by one of the largest margins of White voters in history. After a campaign where people of color and immigrants were scapegoated for the nation’s ills, we found a way to blame Whites electing Donald Trump on people of color. With old racial wounds and tensions resurfacing in America after our first Black President left office, America has much to consider about where we are in terms of racial progress. A Black man can become President; that is still a remarkable achievement for our country. However, it will be quite some time before America will be able to elect its first unqualified Black President. That is a privilege reserved only for Whites.