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Wilson: What white America was really saying in the 2020 election

Donald Trump’s presidency declared open season on Black people, and 57% of white voters didn’t care. That’s the fundamental message one could glean from the election demographics if so inclined.  

The data is clear: Racists felt emboldened under Trump and acted accordingly. In fact, an unprecedented 54 court cases cite Trump as the inspiration for an act of violence, with Barack Obama and George W. Bush having no such incidents attributed to them. 

Even with Trump winning an increased margin of Black voters in 2020, the fear is palpable in our community.  It still took an overwhelming Black voter turnout in key battleground states to win the election for Joe Biden and Kamala Harris. 

Theo Wilson

Admittedly, this is a sharply reductionist view of nearly 74 million people’s decision to support a second term for the first reality TV star to have nuclear launch codes. Most Trump voters would likely mention economic concerns, distrust in the Democrats or the general nihilism that most Americans feel about the overall corruption of the system.  

Yet, I can’t get past the fact that Obama wouldn’t have been able to get away with an iota of Trump’s dysfunction. The fact that his sheer incompetence, dangerous narcissism, racist dog whistles and denial of the threat of COVID-19 wasn’t enough to turn off every voter in America is baffling.

I can only wonder if on some level, Obama was “too good” of a president for white America to accept.  He’s an embodiment of what my mother calls “The Black Tax.” This means that African-Americans have to be twice as good to get just as much, and the 44th president knew exactly what was at stake for him. 

Ta-Nehisi Coates’ book, “We Were Eight Years In Power,” states that the only thing whites feared worse than bad Black governance … was good Black governance. The fact that a Black person would be competent at such an important job flies in the face of the very notion of white supremacy.  

Trump’s presidency will be inextricably tied to Obama’s in the eyes of history. I believe future scholars will see only one major factor at the root of what caused the Trump era, and that’s white America’s violently adverse reaction to the first Black president.  

It’s not like Obama was the first Black man qualified to be president. He does not mark an advancement in Black America in terms of the quality of leaders we produce. Rather, Obama marks white America’s progress through the wall of its own collective insanity.  

Let’s call it what it is: Racism is mass mental illness. The thought that our melanin prohibited us from any human capacity is literally crazy. But, socially reinforced hysteria is as dangerous as any force of nature. By the very nature of it being social, each human being under that hysteria’s influence provides a checkpoint for the delusion. Therefore, an alternate reality is created within the agreements of shared hallucination.  

At the time of my writing this, Trump has not conceded the election to Joe Biden. MAGA supporters flooded the streets of the capital, claiming to protest a supposedly stolen election.  Even with Trump’s own election-security officials saying this was the most secure election in history, they refuse to quit the narrative.  

Clashes with counterprotesters followed as visions of Charlottesville haunt onlookers, globally.  The delusion indeed threatens the very foundation of the country, and a peaceful transition of power grows more dubious by the day.  

This dangerous situation is fueled by right-wing media, relentlessly parroting Trump’s baseless narrative of election fraud.  

If someone is injured or killed in the coming weeks, some of that blood is on their hands. The propaganda that drove the protesters into the streets was propagated by them, and it will have consequences. 

The cognitive dissonance from Trump supporters reminds me of the dissonance faced by the Little Rock Nine in the civil rights movement. Angry white mobs violently rebelling against objective reality caused Carlotta Walls LaNier and her friends to need National Guard troops to protect them in class.  

Think about that for a minute. Mobs were basically fighting against … proximity to human pigment, and the meanings they assigned to it. They actually  thought they were on the right side of history, and were willing to be photographed in acts of bigotry, frozen for all posterity.  

As an African-American looking at this through the lens of history, it’s especially disheartening.  My literal safety in this country partially relies on white people overcoming this particular delusion. However, it seems they’re locked onto it like a pitbull to a bone, and 57% voted to at least passively keep the insanity going.

It reminds me of that infamous moment when Charlton Heston spoke before the NRA. Rifle in hand, he screamed to the liberals who opposed the gun lobbyists: “From my cold dead hands.”  

This phallic symbol of manhood was the difference in dispossessing Native Americans from their land, enslaving Africans and dominating the world, militarily.  

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That’s an all-in commitment that unless you’ve taken a human life, you simply don’t grasp.  This commitment is ingrained in a culture of people who’ve inherited the spoils of these conquests for generations on end.  

When the right evokes Americanism in their rhetoric, I believe this cultural commitment is what they’re referring to, and MAGA is its latest rallying cry.   

Alas, objective reality asserts itself in time. Seeing the impending doom of this movement is like watching a slow-motion car crash; somebody’s gonna get hurt. With the amount of combustible material onboard, the blast radius is going to be huge. Let’s just hope our democracy can survive the wreckage. 


Theo Wilson of Denver is a poet, speaker, author and activist. 



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