MAENNER: Trump won election due to racial privilege
Opinions Column: Maenner's Musings
Following the white nationalist rally in Charlottesville just one month ago and the unnerving response made by President Donald J. Trump in its aftermath, the question of race and the role of identity politics has been at the forefront of American political discourse in the weeks that have followed, culminating in the charge from ESPN personality Jemele Hill calling Trump a “white supremacist.” I find this argument ultimately futile because of the seemingly endless nature of the contention, and more importantly, the fact that it takes away from the more important discussion about what Trump represents, rather than what he personally believes. What is meant by this distinction is that no matter what Trump believes in his head, it does not change the fact that Trump is the living embodiment of the power of whiteness and the inherent advantages that come with that within American society.
In his latest piece for The Atlantic titled “The First White President,” author Ta-Nehisi Coates outlines the case for Trump only being president because of the color of his skin. Explaining his rationale for this notion, Coates states that “Trump’s predecessors made their way to high office through the passive power of whiteness,” using their historical advantages prevalent since the settling of this land at the expense of those native to it as a catalyst, not a crutch. “Their individual triumphs,” Coates continues, “made this exclusive party seem above America’s founding sins.” But Trump’s ascension to the Oval Office has completely lacked in this ability to make us overlook our racial past, because the vulgar and crass behavior that has propelled him to the White House is contingent upon the fact that he is white.
Looking back on the road to the presidency taken by former president Barack Obama shows the much different tone needed by a black person running for higher office. As a result of the color of his skin, Obama was forced to prove that he was born in the U.S. and eligible to run for president, forced to defend the fact that he was Christian and not Muslim and forced to denounce the words of his pastor, Jeremiah Wright, whose sermons against racism included anti-government language. Now contrast Obama’s experiences with Trump’s and we have a very interesting dichotomy to explain. While Obama had to release his birth certificate to the public to prove his legitimacy as president, Trump did not even have to release his tax returns to prove his claims about his wealth and business integrity. On the topic of faith, even as religious conservatives doubted the Christianity of the modest and humble Obama, they had no problem with the Christian values of the man who enjoys going to church to drink his “little wine” and eat his “little cracker,” and who has also expressed that he enjoys groping women because they let him, despite the fact that at the time of those comments he was married. And while Obama was constantly hammered on the comments made by his pastor to the point where he gave a speech denouncing them, Trump has largely been allowed to refrain from condemning white nationalists in Charlottesville, and in general. In fact, following the Charlottesville protest Trump said that there were “very fine” people on the side of the white supremacists and also lobbed criticism at the “pretty bad dudes on the other side.” You know, the side that was against the white nationalists and neo-Nazis.
While rational people can have a discussion that lasts for days over how Trump was able to find a way to win the 2016 presidential election, there is no larger over-arching reason than the fact that he is white. Show me a minority individual who could win election to the presidency while doing any of the things Trump did during the campaign — let alone all of them — and I’ll hand you his tax returns on a golden platter paid for by the “small loan of a million dollars” that his father gave to him. When comparing the journeys to the Oval Office of both Obama and Trump, it is evident that Trump’s rise to the highest office in the land shows, in all of its perverted and corrupt glory, the inverse relationship our society has between one’s inherent advantages and the concentration of melanin found in one’s skin. Had Obama agreed with Howard Stern on the radio that his own daughter was a nice “piece of ass,” or said that he walked into the dressing room of unsuspecting Miss Universe pageant contestants, he would not have survived the news cycle. Of course, Obama lacked the Trump card of whiteness, and all of the advantages Trump has illustrated comes with it.
Hunter Maenner is a School of Arts and Sciences junior majoring in criminal justice and political science. His column, "Maenner's Musings" runs on alternate Mondays.
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