Jones: Election showed us bigotry is alive and well in America
Now the real work begins. After a hate-filled presidential campaign ripped the scab from the wound of American bigotry, we stand as an injured nation. The losers of this election will spend the next few months pouring salt into that already infected sore. Then they will spend years pretending not to know how it came to this.
Now the real work begins.
After a hate-filled presidential campaign ripped the scab from the wound of American bigotry, we stand as an injured nation. The losers of this election will spend the next few months pouring salt into that already infected sore. Then they will spend years pretending not to know how it came to this.
In this, the first presidential election since the U.S. Supreme Court cynically scuttled the Voting Rights Act and allowed states with histories of racism to again enact new voting laws without federal preapproval, we've learned many lessons. Among them is this one: Chief Justice John Roberts was wrong when he reasoned that racism was far less prevalent now than it was in the past.
"Our country has changed," Roberts wrote in the 2013 majority opinion that declared a portion of the Voting Rights Act unconstitutional. "While any racial discrimination in voting is too much, Congress must ensure that the legislation it passes to remedy that problem speaks to current conditions."
Too bad Roberts wrote that opinion before he had a chance to see this election. If he had waited, he would know that current conditions are much like past conditions. Racism persists. Bigotry is rampant, and millions of Americans remain fiercely attached to the notion that blacks are inherently inferior, innately criminal, and unworthy of having free and fair access to voting.
I believe that attitude has always been present in America, lying dormant like kindling awaiting a match. In 2008, it was ignited by the election of the first black president. It smoldered during his eight years in office, and it grew to a roaring fire when the bigoted rhetoric of Donald Trump tore through the presidential campaign.
We saw it when Trump encouraged his followers to beat protesters who dared to utter the words "Black Lives Matter" during his rallies.
We saw it when Trump spent most of his campaign holding onto the racist lie that President Obama was a Muslim born in Kenya.
We saw it when Trump told blacks that we should vote for him because we live in hellish environments, do not have jobs, go to bad schools, and dodge bullets when we leave our homes.
But the cartoonish, stereotypical, and racist notions that Trump advanced about blacks during this campaign were not the worst of his utterances. Trump's intimation that blacks in cities such as Philadelphia were preparing to steal the election through massive voter fraud was, in my view, the most damaging thing he said.
The accusations began in August, when Trump addressed a largely white crowd in Altoona, Pa., telling the people he'd "heard some stories about certain parts of the state, and we have to be very careful."
"Maybe you should go down and volunteer or do something," Trump said while complaining about the absence of a voter ID law in Pennsylvania.
"We have a lot of law-enforcement people working that day," he said. "We're hiring a lot of people. We're putting a lot of law enforcement - we're going to watch Pennsylvania, go down to certain areas and watch and study, and make sure other people don't come in and vote five times."
That day, Trump pitted American voters against one another. He divided us by region and by race, by party and by politics, by skin color and by culture.
We saw the affects of those divisions on Election Day, as black voters went to the polls in Philadelphia with an angry resolve, determined that we would not be disenfranchised again. We saw the tension as white poll watchers came into our communities - not with a roar, as many had predicted, but with a whimper. We saw the bitterness of Trump voters who wanted desperately to return us to a time when minority groups had fewer rights.
In short, we saw an election that ripped our country apart. Not only because Trump told us that undocumented Mexican immigrants are criminals and rapists, that Muslims should be banned from entering the country, that refugees are would-be terrorists and that bragging of sexual assault is locker-room talk. No, our country was ripped apart because in this election, we watched Trump's example. As a result, too many of us came to believe ours was the only viewpoint that mattered.
If we are to come together in the wake of this mess, we must reach the point where every party can be heard, where every viewpoint can be weighed and where every decision is made for the good of all of us.
Our new president-elect will have to make that happen.
That's the hard part. And today, it begins.
Solomon Jones is the author of 10 books. Listen to him mornings from 7 to 10 on WURD (900-AM).