One of Bill Clinton’s unofficial campaign slogans during his successful 1992 campaign for president was “It’s the economy, stupid.” Since then, that slogan has become a kind of political folk wisdom in American, particularly Democratic, campaigns. However, those who want a deeper understanding of American politics, and America more generally, would be better off reminding themselves “It’s the racism, stupid.” Again and again, year after year, we see that while racism may change form and vernacular, American politics always comes back to racism, always.
The current political environment has made this truism once again relevant and apparent. The Covid-19 is now hitting African Americans more than almost any other group in the US. While this has been devastating and painful for many African Americans, it has also made it possible for many white Americans to downplay the impact of the pandemic. In the minds of white racists, the Covid-19 virus is killing other people, not them so they don’t really need to worry about it or show much concern. For many white Americans, the question of reopening America pits non-white lives against conveniences for white people. When faced with that choice, white America has always chosen the latter.
Again and again, year after year, we see that while racism may change form and vernacular, American politics always comes back to racism, always
This racial reality has made worse by a white supremacist presidential administration. When Donald Trump implored people to take up arms to protest social distancing and other related policies, he was calling on white people to protest, with an implicit threat of violence, the decisions of politicians, like Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer, whose election victories relied heavily on African American support. Moreover, by urging his white supporters to use weapons in this fashion, Trump was reminding America that at the end of the day the Second Amendment, that so many conservatives treasure, applies only to white people.
The proof of this is around us all the time, but in case you missed it, George Floyd was, unarmed when he was choked to death by a policeman. In 2018 Stephon Clark was shot and killed by police in Sacramento because he was holding a cell phone, which looked to them like a gun. Anybody who does not understand that African Americans behaving like the white demonstrators in Michigan and elsewhere recently would be treated very differently, does not understand America. White people can dress up and play soldier with powerful weapons, African Americans put their lives at risk when they use a cell phone in public-but actually Clark wasn’t even in public; he was at his grandmother’s home.
The killing of George Floyd is yet another reminder that while the US may think of itself as a country governed by the rule of law for millions of African American and Latino people the daily reality is that the policeman on the street still has license to act as judge, jury, and in far too many cases, executioner as well. Some might look at the reaction by African Americans taking too the streets in Minneapolis and other cities and ask why, but a more grounded and relevant question would be to ask why we don’t see more of this.
For African Americans in the metaphorical crosshairs of the pandemic, and too frequently the literal crosshairs of a police firearms, this is a dire and critical moment. While it is easy to shake one’s finger and say that violence is never the answer, the violence here starts with police murders and mass incarceration, not with the rebellion in Minneapolis. Moreover, while voting is important and can help solve these problems, for African Americans access to the franchise is again something that is threatened by white political forces afraid of losing power.
The killing of George Floyd is yet another reminder that while the US may think of itself as a country governed by the rule of law for millions of African American and Latino people the daily reality is that the policeman on the street still has license to act as judge, jury, and in far too many cases, executioner as well
Donald Trump’s response to this has been to threaten violence against the looters. This is an extraordinary foolish thing to do for several reasons. First, nobody is scared of Donald Trump. Trump’s life is littered with failed lawsuits, empty threats and proposed policies that came to nothing, so by making this threat he is essentially encouraging more anger while failing to deescalate the situation. Second, this threat feeds the deep racism, and in some race war fantasies, that lie at the deepest core of his political base and appeal, thus further dividing a reeling and divided country.
There is a lot going on in the US as the summer of 2020 approaches. The economy is in terrible shape. The Covid-19 pandemic is not as bad as it was a few months ago, but it is still very far from over with the possibility of an increase in deaths as people continue to relax their guard. Major cities are experiencing rebellions and demonstrations and there is an election in which in a very real way democracy itself is on the ballot. The common threads that run through all of this are both the deep legacy of racism and the effort by white supremacists, led by the president himself, to preserve the racist structures.
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