Hillary Clinton was the Black candidate

Hillary Clinton was the Black candidate

CW / Kylie Cowden

In the wake of the seemingly infinite post-mortem analyses of the 2016 presidential election, false conventional wisdom has emerged that Hillary Clinton was ineffective at turning out minority voters. As I’m sure you have heard over and over again by now, Clinton likely received more votes than any presidential candidate in the history of this country – with the notable exception of Barack Obama. While lower than expected black turnout can explain her loss in Michigan (a state which her campaign spent relatively little time in), there are nowhere near enough minority voters in Iowa and Wisconsin to explain the shifts from 2012 to 2016. This leaves a fact we as Democrats have to reckon with: white people who voted for Barack Obama also voted for Donald Trump.

Pundits on the right have seized this opportunity to refute liberal claims that Trump supporters are racist. In context, though, the notion that someone who voted for Obama cannot have racist views and tendencies is extremely misguided. Trump at least put on a very poor facade of caring for African-Americans, but his open disparagement of Mexicans and Arabs could have resonated much more with white rural voters, especially with the high Muslim population in the upper-Midwest. If you vote for a Black man for President but wonder whether a Latino construction worker is undocumented or tense up when a woman wearing a hijab steps onto your flight, you are still a racist.

But the reason a racist could vote for Barack Obama is more nuanced than that. In his 2004 DNC speech that inspired me to start following politics as an eight-year-old, then-State Senator Obama proclaimed that there is no White America or Black America; there is only the United States of America. That was a lie then and it’s a lie now, even if it was a lie the nation needed to hear at the time. Secretary Clinton did not tell that lie. Her campaign embraced difficult truths about white privilege – about police brutality and poverty and racial disparities in the criminal justice system – and made the charge that white people (including herself and her husband) were complicit in those wrongs. Just as racists right now are reeling and preparing poorly-formulated arguments to post in this column’s comments section, rural White America reeled from any suggestion that it may be guilty of at minimum condoning white supremacy and responded in kind at the polls. Being for black people is more dangerous electorally than being a black candidate. The irony of this is that they furthered the arguments they rebelled against by electing the candidate of white supremacists, who has chosen for his Chief Strategist a noted anti-semite who peddles in all kinds of racial hatred.

Many media personalities still insist that while rural white voters may have overlooked his racism (as if that weren’t enough to make one a racist), their real reason for voting for President-elect Trump was economic anxiety. This is a poor excuse for several reasons, not only because the economy is performing better than it has in a decade and incomes rose across the board in 2015, but especially because voters in the lowest income quintile overwhelmingly favored Clinton. The people struggling to buy food aren’t the ones buying spray paint to graffiti swastikas on churches. I’ve had racial slurs screamed at me from the windows of old pickup trucks and Range Rovers alike. Racial anxiety was powerful enough to convince poor white Southerners to support a system of slavery that was extremely detrimental to them economically, and it is powerful enough to elect Donald Trump in 2016.

Where we as Democrats go from here is a difficult question to answer. There is a powerful branch of the old guard (including President Obama) that wants a renewed 50 state strategy – one that centers on economic messaging that could appeal to the white working class voters that Trump won over. Others want to double down on the cultural messaging Democrats have championed in recent years, noting that formerly solid red states like Arizona and Texas are only going to get more blue as minority populations grow. Still others want a combination of the two, combined with the left-wing populism championed by the pro-Sanders elements of the party. Regardless of what we decide, the way forward will have to contend with the fact that white nationalists have elected their president, and we can never let this happen again. 

Kyle Campbell is a senior majoring in political science. He is the Opinions Editor of The Crimson White.

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