Black people have given America’s democracy another lifeline but lifelines aren’t forever

Nii Ntreh Nov 12, 2020 at 04:50pm

November 12, 2020 at 04:50 pm | Opinions & Features

Nii Ntreh

Nii Ntreh | Associate Editor

November 12, 2020 at 04:50 pm | Opinions & Features

Votes from the Detroit metropolis, the city with the largest concentration of Black Americans, turned Michigan for Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden. Photo Credit: Ryan Garza via Detroit Free Press

President Donald Trump continues to refuse to concede defeat in the US presidential election even though major independent media outlets have called the race for Democratic presidential nominee and former vice-president Joe Biden.

Instead, Trump has ranted and raved, in a somewhat predictable fashion, and at one time thrown aspersions on the culture of the American public trusting the media’s tabulations after elections. Mind you, the Associated Press (AP) has been calling elections before the Civil War.

Since it became clear his victory speech a day after November 3 was both severely premature and prophetically-challenged, the president has been raging on about electoral fraud, a charge that is constantly challenged on Jack Dorsey’s Twitter and trashed in America’s courts. So far, Republican attorneys have failed to persuade state justices to treat with seriousness any of the innumerable Hail Mary suits filed to injure the integrity of the election.

At the moment, American institutional democracy is being challenged. But whether or not the system is fortified against a coup d’état is a pronouncement we can make with more confidence after December 14 when all states have ratified their results. For now, we need to caution against alarmism and on the other hand, fight against the well poisoning Trump and his Republican enablers are undertaking.

However, what has become an unfortunate casualty in this political drama is the lack of headlines on how once again, America’s Black people have forced the nation to retake the path to a more perfect union. In the news right now, the dark clouds of a president’s tantrums have overshadowed the meaning of his defeat and the valor of his defeaters.

More than any other racial group, Black people voted overwhelmingly for Biden, a rate that currently stands at more than 87%. From Atlanta to Detroit, historic victories were sealed thanks to mass Black support for the Democratic candidate.

When the dust settles, 2020 will be the biggest utilitarian exercise in American democracy by the number of votes that were cast and by volume of the electorate that participated in the process. We have the president to thank for causing the biggest referendum on an American politician in 120 years. Even though he lost, Trump will have more votes than have ever been cast for an American politician except for Biden.

Across the racial spectrum, there were upticks among all groups as we have never seen before. Soon, we will make a better sense of how things turned out among the racial demographics but we already know that there was a surge in the number from 2016 among Hispanics, who make up 32 million of the US electorate.

The story was no different among Asian-Americans as well as among other minorities including African-Americans. Among white people, the numbers in the south were prominent and as Vox notes, there was an increment from 2016 of white voters in the Rust Belt.

We assume Trump – and we are according to many indications, right – was the reason for the boost in all these demographics. Nevertheless, in analyzing trends, it is better to err on the side of scientific caution. For instance, we are not expected to conflate the value-laden concept of identity and the science of demography.

Identity carries the burdens of values, aspirations and fears while demographics is the statistical distribution of a given population. A change there does not necessarily cause a change here, nor the other way round. Therefore Trump or better still, the facts of his person and presidency, may have driven people to the polls but these voters were voting in their own self-interest.

Hence, the question is necessary: what was on the ballot for these demographics? In the lead up to the election, various surveys proved quite resourceful in this vein but for me, Pew Research’s partisan breakdown of what and how much matters to Americans stands incomparable as a definer of the times Americans live in.

More than the economy, gender politics, climate change and the macabre headache of the coronavirus, opinions on race divided Red and Blue voters than anything else in 2020. To reiterate, while one-in-ten among Trump supporters said Black people have it a “lot more difficult” than whites, about 74% of Biden voters believed that was the case.

We were more likely than in 2016, to predict correctly who an American was voting for if we knew how that American felt on race. All the noise about polarization happens to be true, sadly.

The tendency to pretend that race does not animate political sensibilities has paid off majorly for Republicans and in part for a Democratic establishment that is not interested in muddying the waters. This is not even entirely about tipping hats to overt racism among the white electorate. Democratic Majority Whip and the South Carolina congressman, Jim Clyburn, the man credited with winning the southern Black vote for Biden during the primaries, blamed Democratic losses in Congress on calls to defund the police even though those calls come from a Black Lives Matter movement Clyburn would on any day support.

Clyburn even told CBS News that the late John Lewis had reservations about calls to defund the police because of what it’d cost the fortunes of the Democratic Party.

Far be it from anyone to challenge the commitments of Lewis and Clyburn to social justice but the two men’s position represents a strategy with the feelings of white conservative voters in mind. Somehow, calling for the demilitarization and the de-escalation of overbearing police authority and reinvesting funds into other social goods necessary to racial minorities is a line too far.

The entire plot of American politics is an unfolding Hegelian history of white people’s sentiments on how much economic and political control they are willing to cede to racial minorities. Embedded in every issue and their deliberations are the facts of racial identity. If there is an end to this Hegelian unfolding, people of goodwill can only believe it is the destination of the constitutional ideal of a more perfect union.

The fullness of the American promise is the perfect union. It is a collective must, a goal meaningful for its own sake. Certainly, one’s race should not stand in the way of their participation.

But race matters in the sacred democratic practice of elections. Between the election of 1932 and that of 1980, three elections stood out for their exceptionally high rates of turnout – 1960, 1964 and 1968. It is certainly not coincidental that the 60s was a watershed decade for African-American civil rights amidst wider counterculture politics.

The only other time Americans trooped to the polls in mammoth volumes were the decades following the Civil War fought over the south’s determination to keep slaves. There too, we can theorize a reaction to whatever racial progress had perceivably been made.

The democratic ambition of a more perfect union has always been on the ballot since Black men could vote. Detractors of this ambition have equally been around, planting impediments anywhere they can.

What we witness with Trump is certainly not an American aberration yet he is unique in what Bernie Sanders calls “the most dangerous American president in our lifetime”. Since the turn of the 20th century, no president given more fodder to the detractors of the perfect union.

Thankfully, he can now only unleash two months’ worth of loser’s wrath from the highest office. But it is important to remember that in the last four years, Trump has tested America’s democratic resoluteness with every rally, most tweets and many executive decisions.

When the election came this year, the American president had come to represent a verifiable antithesis of the perfect union. A lifeline was necessary. Something positively different was non-negotiable.

For those who were watching and listening, not because they wanted to “piss off the libs” or hold a middle finger to polite America, Trump left the electorate with no doubt about who he was and no grey patches in his field of black.

It has seemed a trick question for me whenever people have asked if all Trump voters are racists. It is as if one is being dared to see others in the worst light possible. But as journalist Paola Ramos told Christiane Amanpour in the aftermath of the election, 2020 was simply a question of what America chose to be in light of changing demographics.

Biden and Trump, separated only by three years in age, are both white men of when white was unchallenged. But the former was the candidate open to the incoming multicolored American future. He bet on a better for all who do not look like the America in which he grew up.

The US Census Bureau believes in 25 years, non-Hispanic white people will be in the minority in America. This country cannot continue to rely on lifelines and cannot phone a friend.

Whenever Black people have committed to the path of the more perfect union, that is a lifeline for America. But there is no good reason to keep counting on these lifelines. To do so would be out of ingratitude.

In Detroit, Trump’s supporters, mainly white people, descended on ballot-counting centers in the city chanting “Stop the count!” for the very specific reason that the candidate of their choice was on his way out of the White House. Throughout this year, armed militias of white men have brazenly provoked hostilities in support of the man they believe is their savior.

Those are two ways to waste a lifeline but America has been at this in various ways for decades. But could someone remind this beloved country that lifelines are not eternal?

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