The Atlantic published a new essay by Ta-Nehisi Coates today on Donald Trump, Barack Obama, and white supremacy. I’d file this one under essential reading.
For Trump, it almost seems that the fact of Obama, the fact of a black president, insulted him personally. The insult intensified when Obama and Seth Meyers publicly humiliated him at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner in 2011. But the bloody heirloom ensures the last laugh. Replacing Obama is not enough – Trump has made the negation of Obama’s legacy the foundation of his own. And this too is whiteness.
He explains the importance “the passive power of whiteness – that bloody heirloom which cannot ensure mastery of all events but can conjure a tailwind for most of them.” His metaphor of the “bloody heirloom” recurs throughout the essay in explaining the rise of Trump, and his acceptance by white voters.
“It is often said that Trump has no real ideology, which is not true – his ideology is white supremacy, in all its truculent and sanctimonious power,” Coates writes. “Trump truly is something new – the first president whose entire political existence hinges on the fact of a black president. And so it will not suffice to say that Trump is a white man like all the others who rose to become president. He must be called by his rightful honorific – America’s first white president.”
The mind seizes trying to imagine a black man extolling the virtues of sexual assault on tape (“When you’re a star, they let you do it”), fending off multiple accusations of such assaults, immersed in multiple lawsuits for allegedly fraudulent business dealings, exhorting his followers to violence, and then strolling into the White House. But that is the point of white supremacy – to ensure that that which all others achieve with maximal effort, white people (particularly white men) achieve with minimal qualification. Barack Obama delivered to black people the hoary message that if they work twice as hard as white people, anything is possible. But Trump’s counter is persuasive: Work half as hard as black people, and even more is possible.
“The First White President” isn’t just an indictment of Trump. Coates argues that while men like Trump have and always will exist, it took the racism of (mostly white) voters to make him the POTUS.
Certainly not every Trump voter is a white supremacist, just as not every white person in the Jim Crow South was a white supremacist. But every Trump voter felt it acceptable to hand the fate of the country over to one.
Coates also traces the false assumptions and tone-deafness of modern Democratic politicians, including Sanders and Clinton, as well as journalists like Nicholas Kristof and Mark Lilla, on the question of white supremacy and its aftershocks. He also argues against the narrative that Trump was elected by white working class voters alone – noting that white people of all classes, all ages, and all sexes supported this presidency (Trump won white women (+9) and white men (+31). He won white people with college degrees (+3) and white people without them (+37). He won whites ages 18–29 (+4), 30–44 (+17), 45–64 (+28), and 65 and older (+19). Trump won whites in midwestern Illinois (+11), whites in mid-Atlantic New Jersey (+12), and whites in the Sun Belt’s New Mexico (+5).).
To this day, we are still the only demographic group in which his approval rating is not overwhelmingly negative.
This line really says it all and sums up the great divide I see between the standards thrust upon our last administration and the expectations of today:
That is the point of white supremacy – to ensure that that which all others achieve with maximal effort, white people (particularly white men) achieve with minimal qualification.
I could pull-quote the entire article really. Just take some time to read “The First White President.” And/or Listen to the audio version of the article: