Although he began the presidential election season as a source of entertainment and the fodder for political humor, Donald Trump has emerged as the front-runner in the Republican race for the White House. While much attention has been focused on which of the two Democratic presidential candidates is better for Black America, only now are some beginning to focus attention on the implications and consequences of a Trump victory.
Actress Susan Sarandon drew criticism when she suggested that a Trump victory would bring about a revolution in the U.S.
“Some people feel that Donald Trump will bring the revolution immediately if he gets in, things will really explode,” Sarandon told MSNBC host Chris Hayes on March 25.
Tef Poe — a Ferguson, Missouri activist and rapper who accompanied the parents of slain teen Michael Brown to Geneva, Switzerland in 2014 to testify before the United Nations Human Rights Council — was even more blunt: “Dear white people if Trump wins young niggas such as myself are fully hell bent on inciting riots everywhere we go. Just so you know,” Poe tweeted.
This, as celebrities such as Samuel L. Jackson, Whoopi Goldberg, Omari Hardwick, Raven-Symoné and Eddie Griffin have vowed they would leave the country if Trump is elected.
“If Donald Trump is the nominee … I’m also reserving my ticket to get out of here if he wins. Only because he’d probably have me deported anyhow,” said Rev. Al Sharpton at a Center for American Progress Action Fund event in February, as he was met with laughs and applause, according to The Huffington Post.
Dr. Jason M. Williams, assistant professor at Fairleigh Dickinson University and Criminal Justice Chair of the Hampton Institute, views a Trump victory as a major setback.
“A Trump presidency would be a massive loss to racial, gender, class and overall social equality. While the U.S. still has ways to go regarding the issues mentioned above, a Trump presidency would severely hinder our ability to move forward in unison,” Williams, author of “A Critical Analysis of Race and the Administration of Justice,” told Atlanta Black Star.
“Trump, during his campaign, has often appealed to the fears of disregarded Whites, mostly from the poor and working classes. He has empowered them in the worst kinds of ways, depending entirely on their insecurity to gain their votes,” Williams offered. “Trump has led the parade on the reemergence of the anti-immigrant narrative which seeks to blame immigrants for all of the sudden losses of Whites. Trump has blamed immigrants for lost wages for Americans (mainly Whites), crime and lack of border security, and the so-called dwindling of American exceptionalism. His presidency would bring America back to a pre-’60s atmosphere in a time when America is at its most diverse, and the mythological belief of post-racialism will undoubtedly be exposed for the lie that it is.”
Vinay Harpalani, an associate professor of law at Savannah Law School, said he is more troubled by what Trump says and represents for white America than any specific policies the man would promote as president.
“My main concern about Donald Trump is not even about him: It is about how his incendiary rhetoric and extreme positions promote expressions of racism and embolden latent racism that exists in our society today. The progress we have made in the past half-century has not been about eradicating racism as much as it has about pushing it underground,” Harpalani, whose scholarship focuses on race and racial identity, education and constitutional law, told Atlanta Black Star.
“While much more work needs to be done, at least we live in a society now where Black people and other people of color can openly advance to leadership and other prominent positions more than they ever could have in the past. President Obama is, of course, the hallmark example of this,” Harpalani added. “But of course, this type of progress does not mean that racism and racist attitudes are gone, or that we live in a ‘post-racial society.’ Donald Trump and his supporters are showing us very vividly that racist rhetoric still flames the passions of many Americans — and particularly working-class White Americans who have been marginalized by the elite but are still more apt to blame people of color for this marginalization.”
Harpalani believes that Trump’s potential to empower angry white men would exceed the dangers of his White House agenda.
“My fear of Trump is not as much of his policy: I believe he would have to compromise on his extreme positions, and while the results may not be good, they won’t be as extreme as his current rhetoric. What I fear more is that his election would send a message that it is OK to engage in incendiary racist rhetoric against people of color and that White males may even be rewarded for doing so,” Harpalani argued.
The law professor added that while he is not as concerned today about the prospect of a Trump victory — as he believes the candidate’s chances of winning are slipping — such a scenario would be fraught with danger for African-Americans.
“And while a Trump presidency might galvanize Black activism, this would not be a safe environment for people of color to live and thrive in, and to continue our advances in the context of American society. Black people, and people of color more generally, have reason and incentive to mobilize right now; the #BlackLivesMatter movement has shown us this. A Trump presidency may give more reason, but I do not believe it would be worth the costs to the everyday lives and dignity of people of color.”
The specter of recent racial violence against Black protesters at Donald Trump’s campaign rallies — incited by the candidate himself and reminiscent of the 1968 presidential campaign of George Wallace — supports both Harapalani’s and Williams’ concerns. Trump enjoys support from white supremacist groups such as the Ku Klux Klan. Further, as the New York Daily News reported, the name “Trump” has become a code word for derogatory and racist statements. Trump’s racist rhetoric has spread to high school sports games, with students shouting racial slurs and chants such as “Donald Trump, build that wall” to predominantly Black and Latino opposing teams.
Tim Wise, an anti-racist essayist and educator, agrees that a Trump White House would be catastrophic from a public policy perspective, and would exhibit hostility toward people of color, including Latinos and the #BlackLivesMatter movement for police accountability. However, Wise — the author of “Under the Affluence: Shaming the Poor, Praising the Rich and Sacrificing the Future of America”— dismisses as “historic nonsense” any notion that Trump would bring on the revolution. Rather, he concludes that the result would be uprising, but no substantial change.
“There’s a lot of romanticizing of revolution by people who have never been in a revolution and have never studied a revolution,” Wise said to Atlanta Black Star. “From the perspective of what counteraction it would provoke, I have no doubt it would create counter-protests. But too many on the Left romanticize about what that would be,” he said of a Trump electoral win. “We think things have to get bad before they get better. Not once did things get bad and a revolution happened. All revolutions succeed not when things get worse but when they get better, at times of moderate reform,” Wise added.
Noting that “almost by definition the election of Donald Trump signifies that America would be willing to unleash all kinds of horror on Black and Brown people,” Wise argues that a President Trump “would respond the way fascists do. Most of the American public will respond favorably to the beating up of protesters. They will side with the state in cracking down on protesters.”
As opposed to consummate politicians such as Hillary Clinton who are pliable by social protest movements, Trump is unmovable, Wise believes.
“L.B.J. bent because of the Civil Rights Movement,” said Wise. “Donald Trump is a narcissistic authoritarian who believes himself to be right at all times, and he will not change his direction, regardless how many people are in the streets. I believe he would have his goons, of which there are many. He would bring in the National Guard,” Wise said.
“The good news about the current people of color-led movement is, I don’t see them letting up in the face of a Hillary Clinton administration. If she wins, these movements would be in the streets,” Wise offered. “My guess is Trump is simply beyond the reach of protest movements. Unless you are rolling up the revolution — with the guillotine — there is no degree of revolutionary action that will make a difference” with Trump, he said.
Like Wise, Dr. Ron Daniels will not entertain the notion of a Trump presidency as a means of bringing about revolution.
“I’m not with this notion of Trump should win, the old-line Leftist notion that if disaster strikes, it’s good because people will organize better, and all that,” said Daniels, who is president of the Institute of the Black World 21st Century and Distinguished Lecturer at York College of the City University of New York.
“I’ve never been a part of that….I don’t advocate suffering. In fact, it’s the other way around. People tend to be much more engaged when there’s hope and when they have possibilities, not when they’re being brutalized but they’ve lost, you know,” he added.
Daniels told Atlanta Black Star he does not believe Trump will win the general election.
“But the best-case scenario for me is actually that Trump will win the [Republican] nomination, and that Bernie Sanders wins the Democratic nomination, which is also hypothetical at this point. Simply because what that would mean is that we would really have a serious shot at a Democratic Socialist winning the presidency of the United States. Bernie Sanders would actually defeat Trump, and I think I see that from the vantage point of the progressives as a huge step forward,” Daniels said. “Because the kind of vision that Sanders is articulating — a bold vision in terms of policy prescriptions which I think we have needed for some time — it would be a good thing because it would advance a progressive agenda in a way that I think has been needed for a long time.”
“As a practical matter, it seems to me what is what is going to happen is that the Republican Party has been singed by the fire that it unleashed, because it’s been tolerating this kind of right-wing extremism in all of its different forms — some of which are quite malignant — for quite some time,” Daniels suggested, noting that Trump and Ted Cruz are damaging the Republican brand.
Daniels also pointed back to Reagan’s appeal to racists up to the present-day Republican party’s anti-immigration posture. Ultimately, he believes the “incremental, practical Democratic Leadership Centrist politics” of Clinton will prevail, which in his opinion “will not be as bold a step forward as we would have hoped.” Daniels also believes the “culture of rights” has been seriously eroded with the assault of the right wing, “but with the capitulation of the Democrats and to some degree aided and abetted by the Clintons.”
Meanwhile, Chairman Omali Yeshitela of the Africa People’s Socialist Party takes a somewhat different approach. The founder of the Uhuru Movement — an African Internationalist organization based in St. Petersburg, Florida — Yeshitela is against Trump but does not single out Trump as a special threat to Black people. Further, Yeshitela takes issue with those who call Trump a proto-fascist and say that fascism is right around the corner. Rather, he says that people of color are fighting against colonialism, whether of a fascist or non-fascist variety.
“Usually — not usually, all the time — when we hear this thing about ‘fight against fascism,’ what we’re hearing is, fight against a problem that white people have, as opposed to the ingrained, fundamental, historical, unrelenting contradiction that Black people have suffered from fascist and non-fascist colonialists alike,” Yeshitela told Atlanta Black Star. “The fact is that all of Europe, this country right now that we live in, has concentration camps. Some are called Indian reservations. Some are called prisons and housing projects that nonwhite people are in, and I’m supposed to be frightened by this phenomenon that they call fascism that attacks white people?”
“It was not a fascist that killed Lumumba. It was Lyndon Baines Johnson that overthrew Kwame Nkrumah. It was Kennedy and Eisenhower, a Republican and a Democrat that conspired with the Belgians to kill Lumumba. And we’re supposed to be afraid of fascists when the non-fascist and fascist white people are slaughtering us all around the world?” he asks.
Yeshitela concludes that Trump is a reflection of a “crisis of imperialism” in America and elsewhere, in which an economic crisis has led to a political crisis. People have come to the realization, he said, that the system cannot solve their problems.
“Trump and Sanders have thrown monkey wrenches in the system because it’s been a tightly controlled, well-organized system that is rigged” through the Electoral College and rules that favor “a narrow group of people” who must follow the “script that has been created by the system,” he said.
“Then you have a cat like Trump who is not hired, doesn’t have all the paid guys, is not working according to the scripts they have generally created, and is challenging many of the economic ventures,” Yeshitela added. “For example, Trump is something to the left of even everyone in the Democratic Party when it comes to foreign policy, war and stuff like that.”
Further, he argues that the policies Trump advocates — such as the torture of Muslims and a border wall — are already in practice.
“Obama has kicked out more immigrants, more Mexicans than any president in history. But Trump is the one who’s saying it, and he doesn’t participate — like the rest of the bourgeoisie in the system requires — in saying one thing and then doing something else.”
Further, Yeshitela offers that the billionaire is not following the rules, and is “challenging the economic resources of a host of sectors of the bourgeoisie. And they are troubled in both the Democratic and the Republican Party — all of them at this moment are working against Trump.”
“What Trump has done is he has gone outside the parameters of how this thing should be done,” he said.
“Both Sanders and Trump have overlapping support among masses of white people…They have been able to mobilize thousands of white people who might ordinarily not even be involved in the political arena: People who are tired of the Clintons, people who are tired of the establishment and who have concluded that the social system does not solve their problems, doesn’t speak to them,” said Yeshitela. “They’re energized now because there is a Trump and a Sanders who have gone outside and directly to them, but particularly about Trump. Trump is really the one that really threatens the setup as it is right now.”
Ultimately, Yeshitela believes the problem for Black people is that they do not have a politics of self-determination, but rather “chain politics” that have replaced the politics of protest.
“The reason we find ourselves in this trap is because Malcolm was murdered, King was murdered, the Black Panther Party destroyed. Revolutionary forces throughout this country and around the world….Where Malcolm was saying ‘the ballot or the bullet;’ where the Panthers were saying ‘political power comes from the barrel of a gun;’ where SNCC was saying ‘Black Power,’ now we hear stuff like ‘Black Lives Matter,’ ‘Feel the Bern’ and ‘Ready for Hillary.’ What kind of politics is that coming from?”
ATLANTA BLACK STAR