I feel fairly confident in this moment stating that I know white people better than they know themselves.
That’s the only conclusion I can logically come to now that all those predictions of white Trump voters abandoning Donald Trump have turned out to be as wrong as I predicted. After four years of lily-white newsrooms cranking out “Trump Supporters Steadfastly Supporting Trump” articles, the media ignored its own findings, and instead came up with a new reason to lavish attention on white Trump voters—an imagined #Whexit, wherein white voters would finally suddenly see the err of their ways and abandon Trump in droves. That, of course, did not happen. And anyone paying attention to history, even for just the last 200 some odd weeks, should have recognized it as a fantasy.
There will be more of the same kind of pie-in-the-sky political fantasies accompanying the build-up to a “Biden restoration” from the “Trump interregnum,” but the basics remain the same. Four years ago, the majority of white voters, imagining the first black presidency was an omen of waning white heteropatriarchal power, ignored the fact that Trump was an incompetent liar and a sexual predator who did things like talk about the size of his penis during debates because they liked his racism. Now, after four years of watching the Trump administration dismantle the rights of Black folks and other nonwhite people—putting brown kids in cages, reinstating a federal death penalty that disproportionately kills black folks, repealing an anti-segregation housing rule, stripping Native people of their lands—they’ve voted for him again for the same reason.
The idea that massive numbers of white folks would abandon Trump on some moral grounds, when abandoning him would have meant turning their backs on the leader most vocally committed to putting white supremacy at the top of his agenda, was never a possibility. The policy these folks care most about is the endurance of white power. Joe Biden should support Medicare for All, sure, but it wouldn’t have won over voters who still support a president whose inaction helped kill more than 230,000 people, who is even now—in the middle of this pandemic—waging a court battle to take away healthcare from millions of people.
White men, as expected, voted for Trump, and while exit polling is notoriously flawed—the numbers aren’t precise but they do offer insights—it seems that white women went for Trump in numbers that exceed 2016. Young white voters between the ages of 18 and 29 gave Trump 45 percent of their votes, a margin just large enough to prove racism will not die off with old white people. After a summer in which, following the police murder of George Floyd, we were constantly told that white people were reading and movie-watching their way to a colorblind future, it turns out racism is still as popular in 2020 as it was in 2016. Trumpism is looking at the candidate who opposed busing and helped draft a crime bill that jailed Black folks in staggering numbers and still needing a more racist option. That’s where we are.
And yes, I am aware that nonwhite and LGBT voters chose Trump in higher numbers than they did in 2016. There will always be people taken in by belligerent, egomaniacal white male wealth and power; who imagine that by voting for it, they might acquire the same in the future. That’s also a fantasy, but in a country full of millionaires-in-waiting, it’s not surprising. What’s more, considering that huge turnout by Black folks in Milwaukee, Detroit, and Atlanta may have won this thing for Biden—and that a majority of all nonwhite voting groups cast ballots against Trump—any blame game that places a Trump second term at the feet of Black voters is just an effort to look away from white American investment in white supremacy. Black folks have spent the entirety of their time in this country resisting corrupt white power and attempting to make America live up to its democratic ideals. This election was just another instance of that.
For those who expected a total repudiation of Trump by white voters and are now surprised by the votes white supremacy garnered—I’m mostly looking at you, white liberals—it’s time to stop engaging in the delusion that Trump is an anomaly, instead of the manifestation of the same white identity politics that have always defined power in this country.
This kind of willful denial goes hand in hand with the idea that “this is not who we are,” uttered ad nauseum whenever evidence of white America’s deeply held racism becomes unignorable for white liberals. If this is “not the America that you know,” you are very poorly acquainted with this country, and stubbornly unwilling to believe Black folks when they talk about the pervasiveness of white folks’ racism.
Reckoning with institutional racism starts with dealing with the reality that this is, in fact, who we have always been and remain. Trump losing in a contest that came down to the wire, under a system devised by enslavers to tilt the odds in their favor, doesn’t mean anti-Black racism has been defeated. And yet, I expect the pundit class to offer some twisted version of that argument in the coming weeks. So will an awful lot of white liberals, who will drop all the #resistance language, along with their pink pussy hats, now that Trump is ousted, as if complacency isn’t what got us here in the first place.
If you’ve read this far, I’m guessing you, too, are hoping for a Biden victory. The good news is, that seems increasingly likely. But no matter what happens, never forget how selfish white voters were willing to destroy America’s highly imperfect version of democracy to hang on to white power. Trump may leave office, but his supporters—the people who stood outside of counting centers and demanded that their will be done, who threatened civil war if this president wasn’t allowed to steal the election in plain sight—will still be here, gearing up for another white backlash. And the fire next time will only be more dangerous.