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The other day I was listening to an episode of NPR’s Code Switch podcast titled “Is Trump Really That Racist?” which compared the words and political actions of Donald Trump with American presidents throughout history.
The show’s hosts did not mince words (or examples) when speaking about Trump’s undeniable racist and xenophobic moments since being elected, or about the wave of white nationalism he rode into the Oval Office.
They also were very honest about the systemic racism Trump inherited when he became the nation’s 45th commander in chief. As much as Trump is considered the poster boy for racist American leadership, this country was initially governed by enslavers who were succeeded by several men who upheld the bedrock of white supremacy/patriarchy that this nation was founded on at the expense of all its non-white male citizens.
We cannot even honestly talk about the first Black president of the United States without acknowledging his contribution to the upkeep of these presidential norms, on account of the vast number of immigrants he deported.
Trump stepped into the hegemony of American governance that was already rooted in inequity and outright disdain for anyone who did not identify as a wealthy, land-owning, Christian, heterosexual white man. He took the toxicity he was sworn into and made a poisonous system of governance that is much more dangerous.
He does not need to be voted out of office because he is the originator of American classism or racism or sexism or xenophobia. He needs to be voted out of office because he has weaponized the worst of America’s cultural identity as a means of acquiring power. In doing so has intentionally placed an innumerable number of American citizens in harm’s way.
“It’s ALIVE!”: The Republican Party as Dr. Frankenstein Who Created Trump
In the classic story of “Frankenstein,” novelist Mary Shelley wrote the fictional tale of a scientist named Dr. Victor Frankenstein who succeeds in giving life to a being of his creation. The creature that arose from his laboratory, however, was not what he intended to create, but rather a monster that terrorized everyone that came across its path.
When most people think of the story of “Frankenstein,” they think of the monster as the namesake, but it was the name of the scientist that made him. The current Republican Party has become synonymous with Trump and Trumpism. There are members of the Republican Party that reject his political ideologies, but the party in general has moved in step with his agenda and is ultimately culpable for building their own Frankenstein.
The GOP began tinkering with the monster that would morph into Trump while Barack Obama was still in office. Conservative backlash to the Obama administration led to the formation of the Tea Party, a fringe faction of the Republican Party hell-bent on obstructing any of Obama’s signature policies. The evolution of Tea Party supporters into Trump supporters is documented.
According to a survey conducted by the Pew Research Center, the same people who supported the Tea Party were also the most supportive of Trump in his 2016 presidential campaign. What was not taken into consideration was the degree to which militant, right-wing blatant white supremacists joined the Trump movement.
Trump was able to galvanize the fringe underbelly of American whiteness en route to being elected. By tapping into the fears, anxieties and anger of the “silent majority” and emboldening a legion of race soldiers, Trump lent credibility and re-normalized white supremacy as a political agenda.
He announced his candidacy using overtones of xenophobia. He derided political opponents on account of race and gender. He amplified what was once racist dog-whistling by the Republican Party into a raucous siren that led to Charlottesville in 2017 and the terrorist plot to kidnap Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer.
The monster consumed the White House and trampled political normalcy. His reign of terror is a design of his creators.
He Was Just the WHITE Person to Come After Obama
In his critical and compelling 2017 essay for The Atlantic titled “The First White President,” author Ta-Nehisi Coates wrote about Trump’s ascendance to the presidency being the product of a consortium of whiteness. There is often the stereotype of the white Trump supporter as a blue-collar, minimally educated, MAGA hat-wearing white male. In his essay, Coates dives into the wide swath of white voters who supported Trump over his 2016 opponent, Hilary Clinton.
It can be reasoned that many of those 2016 voters of higher socioeconomic or educational status bore some degree of shame to publicly admit they were supporting Trump. But the statistical breakdown of the white voting percentage Trump received versus what Clinton received tells a tale of those voters getting behind closed curtains and voting for unabashed whiteness, and a return to the kind of nationalism lost during the Obama era.
For all of the deficiencies of the Obama administration with regards to leveling the playing field for disenfranchised Americans, the one thing it exemplified was the prospect of inclusion and championing of intellectual curiosity.
A lot of white Americans were simply unable to accept a Black man presiding over the nation for eight years, no matter the merit of the job he was doing. They wore that angst to the polls in 2016 to aid in the election of a woefully unqualified candidate over one that had a robust amount of political experience.
This is not to say that a Clinton administration would have been the bridge to an equitable and fair America. What is evident is that the same driving factor for many of Trump’s white supporters in 2016 is the same for Trump’s white supporters in 2020, which is the ideology of white supremacy and an unwavering belief in whiteness being synonymous with prosperity, despite evidence to the contrary.
A Snake Oil Salesman Cons a Nation
The Trump presidency has been a case study in what it means to fall for the “okie doke” to his supporters. He has lost a considerable amount of support from voters who believed his leadership would bring about a more bountiful life for themselves and their families. Trump may not have been in any real danger of being able to replicate the same amount of support had it not been for his abhorrent mishandling of the coronavirus pandemic. Even many of his most fervent supporters cannot justify voting him back into the office after burying loved ones who died as a result of his COVID-19 negligence. His racism, misogyny, xenophobia, and reckless temperament was not as much of a deal-breaker for them, but his willingness to let their family members die was.
There is also the matter of an unstable economy that has caused many of his former supporters to reverse course. What many of them saw in 2016 was an extreme capitalist, notorious for muscling his way to an amassed wealth and assumed that his leadership would increase their harvest. What they got was a president who sought to provide tax breaks to the wealthiest Americans and openly negotiate deals that would serve in the best interest of his family and associates.
It’s as if they were unfamiliar with his unscrupulous business history and were all blinded by one-percenter aspirations.
Trump Vs. Everybody
There is an incredibly short list of people Trump has not offended during his time in the White House. He has spewed venom at Black Americans, immigrants, American women, disabled Americans, and those living in poverty, with little to no deference to his tone, messaging, or consideration of apologizing to anyone injured by his words.
If Trump was merely still living as a wealthy, opinionated citizen without the executive power to try to act on his worst impulses, his words, though harmful, would not be as detrimental as his attempted actions.
Trump does not favor anyone who is not a wealthy white man. He is at best tolerant of people who do not identify as wealthy white men and will use his relationships with non-wealthy white men as evidence that he is not racist, classist, sexist or xenophobic.
In his American dream, he governs a land of affluent white men and everyone else is their subordinates. He wants non-wealthy white men to grovel and plead for equity, justice, and their humanity to be valued. And after they grovel and plead for their humanity to be actualized, he might occasionally do what is fair.
Again, he is not the first American president to create quality of life barriers for non-wealthy white men. He is perhaps the most adamant about letting it be known that it is his agenda.
The Other Side of the Aisle; Biden as Damage Control
If Joe Biden is elected, his presidency will not spark the deconstruction of white nationalism among American presidents. To assume otherwise is to take a dangerously naive position.
Out of the vast number of Democratic candidates who ran against him in the primaries, he was arguably the least progressive option, and the championing of Biden as a symbol of decency is not consistent with his history. What a Biden and Kamala Harris administration can offer is the political version of emergency triage. Trump has left multiple gaping wounds in this democracy that need to be tended to by someone who is not as willfully maniacal.
In a fair democracy, American voters would be given the option to take in the platforms of those who run for office outside the binary of two-party systems. The reality is candidates who run outside of the Democratic or Republican Party do not get the airtime or even the consideration as those at the top of major party tickets.
It is not that Biden is an ideal choice or even a slightly preferred choice. He is a reprieve from an unprecedented layer of hell, even if he is at best a return to a familiar one.
Evict Trump First. Then Build a Better Foundation
America is on the precipice of destruction this election season. The nation has been under the siege of COVID-19 for ten months and infection rates and death tolls keep rising. Millions of American citizens are unemployed and the whole world has bore witness to some of the most horrendous acts of racial violence enacted on American citizens by American law enforcement.
Donald Trump has not only done anything to mitigate the harm and injury of this moment in history, but he has also reveled in it and used it as a tool to exacerbate the fracture of an already broken country. His presidency is literally of no benefit to anyone who does not classify as both wealthy and immoral. His time in office is proof positive of the long-standing conflict between the ideals of democracy and capitalism.
He is currently governing a nation at war with itself and is purposefully choosing to fight on behalf of oppressive systems.
There is no mystery to what he has shown us time and time again. He needs to leave office if this country has any chance of beginning to repair itself.
A Bigger Freedom Dream
The two-party system of American politics has never been truly equitable to Black and Brown Americans, and if we are to forge a path to a better future, we must honestly reckon with this truth. Yes, we have had political representation. Yes, we have experienced moments of incremental gains. But ultimately, the structure of the two-party system was not designed in the interest of our personhood.
America is a relatively young nation in comparison to the rest of the developed world. It is a nation that grew rapidly and also severely abused an exorbitant amount of its citizens en route to becoming a global superpower.
The 2016 election of Donald Trump was an amalgamation of America’s worst ideals and a tipping point for how far this country is willing to go to exist as its lowest self.
We do not have to settle for this abuse any longer. We know what the furthest reaches of catastrophe looks like. It is in our collective best interest that Trump goes and that we aggressively begin building a system of governance beyond the scope of binary politics.
There is no more time for either/or leadership because when the pendulum swings in the wrong direction, it can cause the downfall of the entire nation.
We have watched this play out in real-time. It’s up to us to make our next move our best move.
About the Author
Donney Rose is a poet, essayist, Kennedy Center Citizen Artist Fellow, advocate and Chief Content Editor at The North Star. He believes in telling how it is and how it should be.