Two events in the 21st century invigorated racial politics in the United States. First, the election of Barack Obama as the first black president was believed to have signaled the end of racial animosities, the acceptance of “political correctness” in regard to race, and a symbol of the United States evolving into a “post-racial” society. The second event was the propulsion of billionaire businessman Donald Trump to the Presidency of the United States. As the gravity of the first event was internalized, racial tensions that had simmered just below the surface for more than 50 years, since the Civil Rights movement, began bubbling open publicly. When all the numbers were in, it seemed in reality that a great revolution in the racial thinking of whites actually had not occurred. Only 43 percent or less than half of the white population had voted for Obama in 2008; and even less, only 39% in 2012. White beliefs and feelings about the “place” of blacks in American society had not changed
The second event, the candidacy of Donald Trump, exposed the depths of the lingering and pervasive racism still felt by a significant proportion of the white population of the United States. Feelings festering for years in private now surfaced. Overt racism became popular again and, if not politically correct, at least outspoken, as white Americans of all social classes, but especially working class and poor whites, were given permission to openly express their rabid discontent with the “takeover” of their white republic by blacks and browns. Trump’s success legitimized the white supremacy ideology and signaled that the United States is truly a “white” country.
During the campaign, liberals and progressives labeled Trump as a racist, a demagogue and even a fascist. What they failed to recognize and acknowledge, however, was that his message resonated through a wide swath of their countrymen who wanted a return to the good ole days of white supremacy, when blacks and browns knew and stayed in their place. The ascendency of a black man to the highest office in the land was abhorrent and intolerable. Trump’s election was a victory of all the people who had to suppress their racial hatred during Obama’s presidency. Trump’s candidacy exposed the core fears of these white Americans, that they are becoming a minority in their white country; that they are losing their identity; and most of all, their” place” in the racial hierarchy of American society. Trump’s supporters are feeling a deep sense of disempowerment in a country in which all power is supposed to belong to those with white skin. Trump supporters are naturally and understandably angry with what they see as blacks in particular, claiming their spaces, jobs, and positions. The descendants of the enslaved, those who were declared by religion, history, social science, and America’s greatest leaders to be inferior to the white man, have forgotten their place. The greatest insult for those who believe “place and space” is determined by skin color was the election of a black man to the highest office in the United States and the most powerful position in the world. How can this be? How could this unnatural thing happen?
While some Americans patted themselves on their backs, congratulated themselves on being colorblind, and raved about the tremendous progress the nation had made in race relations, anger and discontent spewed from the lips of the newly “disenfranchised.” For eight years, they grumbled, cursed, insulted the President, and began grassroots efforts to dismiss him. It was Trump who gave them the courage to speak their convictions, to become mainstream, not a fringe movement. It was no longer politically incorrect for whites to declare that they “wanted their country back” and to advocate for white supremacy.
Trump’s victory might actually have a positive unintentional outcome. The United States is now facing a moment of truth. As painful and embarrassing as it might seem, the United States remains a country where a large percentage of the populace believes in and supports the ideology of white supremacy, despite protestations to the contrary. What now for the United States? What now for President Trump whose words gave permission to openly support white supremacy? How can the new President and his party address the racism that has been uprooted and unleashed? What does this moment hold for the United States? Will the internal threat of a divided nation and the cancer of racism finally be addressed? Or will external enemies like ISIS be its single focus? How will the way in which President Trump and political leaders in the United States face and deal with the crisis of American racism impact its standing in the world community?