After the pollsters, pundits, the media and other predictors erred deplorably on the presidential election outcome, now they are trying to figure out how they flubbed the call. Were there things they failed to calculate? Was there a gremlin in the mix, something so nuanced they didn’t see it? Or were they right all along and the election was stolen?
For all the speculation about the why and wherefore of Donald Trump’s defeat of Hillary Clinton—although she won the popular vote and lost the electoral count, which is another factor we need to examine—there is the race question. And race becomes an important determinant no matter which of the above possibilities can be blamed for Clinton coming up short in the electoral vote. Professor Nell Irvin Painter in an op-ed column in Sunday’s New York Times gives us a good place to start in our probe of why Trump came out on top. From the beginning of his campaign, Painter noted, Trump’s slogan was “Make America Great Again,” which in her estimation and the estimation of many other Black Americans was really a call to make America “white” again. In other words, she added, “a return to the times when white people ruled.”
Painter is mainly concerned with identity, indicating how the Trump era has made it explicitly clear there are white preferences in life and politics. By appealing to people’s base
instincts on race or racial resentment, Trump tapped into an impulse that is elemental to the nation’s DNA. He chose to articulate some of the feelings and hostility, some of the disgust they had with Washington (symbolized by President Obama).
To some degree the race factor can be discerned in the exit polls, in which four out of 10 voters felt that change was the most important factor, with 83 percent of them voting for Trump as the “change” candidate and only 14 percent for Clinton, who they deemed as more of the same, or a continuation of the Obama administration. The question here, however, is what is meant by change? Is it changing the party in power or changing the race of the president? Here is where race and politics conflate, although it was no surprise for many African-Americans who know that race trumps politics, both literally and figuratively in this instance.
Musician John Legend, during a recent appearance on Bill Maher’s television show, took exception to political commentator David Axelrod’s suggestion that Trump is not a racist but an “opportunist” who took advantage of racism. Legend, setting aside any notion of political correctness, said Trump in office “is about people’s lives and about them being in danger because we have a racist running the country.”
Racism in the guise of the “white lash” is how Van Jones put it as a panelist on CNN. In his opening monologue on “Saturday Night Live” last week, comedian Dave Chappelle said, “We’ve actually elected an internet troll as our president.”
Beyond the opinions and emotional cache of certain Black Americans, there is the issue of voter suppression and how it was decisive in key battleground states, turning the tide for Trump.
Three years ago when the Supreme Court gutted the provisions of pre-clearance in the regions with history of discrimination against minorities, the heart of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, Black voters experienced the first salvo of suppression.
When Trump was bellyaching about the election being “rigged,” he was not talking about how minorities were being excluded, many of them illegally removed from the voting rolls. But as renowned investigative reporter Greg Palast has disclosed, the GOP and “Trump operatives” fixed the election long before the first votes were cast.
According to Palast, the Trump operatives created a system to purge 1.1 million Americans of color from the voter rolls in Republican-controlled states. The system was called Crosscheck, which Palast detailed in his Rolling Stone report a few months ago.
He offers three examples of Crosscheck at work: Trump won Michigan by 13,107 votes. In this critical state, Crosscheck purged nearly a half million from the rolls. In Arizona, Trump’s margin of victory was 85,257. More than a quarter million were purged by Crosscheck. And in the battleground state, North Carolina, Trump won by 177,008 votes. Nearly 600,000 minority voters were purged.
So, how were the purges conducted? Palast explained the process at the end of his article, noting, “This country is violently divided, but in the end, there simply aren’t enough white guys to elect Trump nor a Republican Senate. The only way they could win was to eliminate the votes of nonwhite guys—and they did so by tossing Black provisional ballots into the dumpster, ID laws that turn away students—the list goes on. It’s a web of complex obstacles to voting by citizens of color topped by that lying spider, Crosscheck.”
Further evidence of the race factor in the election comes from Gallup senior economist Jonathan Rothwell, who concluded that those who “view Trump favorably are disproportionately living in racially and culturally isolated ZIP codes and commuting zones. Holding other factors, constant support for Trump is highly elevated in areas with few college graduates, far from the Mexican border and in neighborhoods that stand out within the commuting zone for being white, segregated enclaves, with little exposure to Blacks, Asians, and Hispanics.”
What is evident from this development is that Trump played the race card, hoodwinked the media and bamboozled millions of voters. It was a combination of mass hypnosis, snake oil salesmanship and an awareness that you can never underestimate the culpability of the American electorate to vote against its self-interest. And they will be the first to reap the whirlwind when his promises become realities. Those realities are already taking shape as Trump assembles his toxic team, led by Steve Bannon, the former head of the reactionary Breitbart News.
Hold on because the pundits are predicting a rough ride, and maybe this time they won’t be wrong.