Donald Trump is a Symptom of a Pre-existing Condition

Who would have thought that the improbable election of a real estate developer turned reality television personality would inspire a resistance movement across racial, gender, and cultural lines? Donald Trump’s election catalyzed the 2017 Women’s March and numerous mass demonstrations around the globe, which are credited with the Democratic takeover of the House of Representatives.

We must ask ourselves what exactly is being resisted in this current moment. The most common answers range from Trump’s racism and xenophobic views, to his erratic and questionable behavior, to the corruption of his administration to his overall incompetence. The latter has raised questions among his staff on whether the 25th Amendment should be used to remove him from office. But if racism is among the many concerns regarding this president, we must also ask why it took so long for so many impassioned activists to join in on “The Resistance.”

One would think that many progressives were oblivious to the realities of racism and white supremacy in America. Trump’s election was a wake-up call. Structural racism, bigotry, and xenophobia are alive and well in America; this fact is not new to African Americans who are resisting the “new norm.”

From their arrival, African Americans have always challenged racism and discrimination in every facet of American life. While "The Resistance" is now a ubiquitous term for any anti-Trump activity, emotion, or intention, it ignores a tradition of Black protest that preceded it. Ironically, many new resisters are content to avoid, ignore, excuse, or justify the social ills of state-sanctioned violence by police, legalized lynchings of unarmed Blacks, and gross disparities in the criminal justice system for most of their adult lives prior to Trump’s election.

Over the past generation, far too many were uninterested in resisting when George H.W. Bush pushed a racist war on drugs. Resistance was nonexistent when Bill Clinton championed welfare reform legislation that removed thousands of Black children from the welfare rolls, thus endangering them. Little resistance was offered when the Clinton crime bill cemented the rise of the privatized prison industrial complex through the mass incarceration of Black bodies.

So many anti-Trump resisters were content to sit on the sidelines and observe the creation of a hashtag generation: #TrayvonMartin, #MichaelBrown, #EricGarner, #SandraBland, #RekiaBoyd, and so many others, which sparked the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement and a new generation of Black activists.

What was so magical about Trump’s racism that ignited the fire of activism under the backsides of so many white folks who sat comfortably on the loveseat of complacency and the lazy boy of apathy for years before the orange commander-in-chief took the reins of government?

Perhaps it’s his in-your-face confrontational style or his brash political rhetoric that caused such consternation. Or, maybe it’s because he’s a crass bully who has a penchant for the inappropriate that caused them to be incredulous over the Oval Office being occupied by a man so unworthy to hold the office of president. Whatever it was, it created the delusion that the climate of racial division in America and the incivility in our public discourse is a phenomenon brought about by Trump’s rise to power. However, as former President Barack Obama stated at a speech at the University of Illinois, Donald Trump “is a symptom, not the cause” of political unrest and discrimination.

While Trump’s behavior and rhetoric are crude and disgusting, his policies differ little from past presidents. Trump’s presidency is not the root cause of America’s racial crisis. It is the culmination of centuries of structural racism.

There is nothing that antagonizes us about Trump that we haven’t seen before. He colluded with Russia; perhaps, but Reagan colluded with Iran. Trump wants to mass deport immigrants, and he separates children from their parents at the border. True, but Clinton deported 12 million, Bush 10 million, and Obama 5 million. Albeit in smaller numbers, separating children from their parents started under the Obama administration.

Trump coddles racists, called Nazis “very fine people,” African nations “s—holes,” and Black athletes “sons of bitches.” True again, but Reagan referred to Black women as Cadillac driving “welfare queens” and Black men as “strapping bucks” buying T-bone steaks with food stamps.

Trump is an obscene, obnoxious, racist liar. However, we cannot allow his tone and style to dupe us into losing focus on the fact that racism is an American problem much older and more complex than the Trump presidency. We must challenge our newfound allies to work collaboratively with us on the difficult long-term goal of eradicating racism from the American body politic — not just on the short-term objective of challenging the presidency of Donald Trump. He is, after all, only a symptom of a pre-existing condition.

About the Author

Bishop Talbert Swan is an activist, cultural critic, writer, and senior pastor of the Spring of Hope Church of God in Christ in Springfield, Mass. Bishop Swan preaches a Liberation theology that calls attention to the problems of racial injustice and economic inequality. He is well respected for his social justice advocacy and organizing, and is in high demand as a preacher, teacher, and presenter across the nation.