We Were Eight Years in Power

by Ta-Nahisi Coates

“ ‘If there was one thing that South Carolina feared more than bad Negro government,’ wrote Du Bois, ‘it was good Negro government.’…But much worse, should they fight effectively–and prove themselves capable of ‘good Negro government’–then the larger war could never be won. The central thread of this book is eight articles written during the eight years of the first black presidency–a period of Good Negro Government. Obama was elected amid widespread panic and, in his eight years, emerged as a caretaker and measured architect. He established the framework of a national healthcare system from a conservative model. He prevented an economic collapse and neglected to prosecute those largely responsible for that collapse. He ended state-sanctioned torture but continued the generational war in the Middle East. His family–the charming and beautiful wife, the lovely daughters, the dogs–seemed pulled from the Brooks Brothers catalog. He was not a revolutionary. He steered clear of major scandal, corruption, and bribery. He was deliberate to a fault, saw himself as the keeper of his country’s sacred legacy, and if he was bothered by his country’s sins, he ultimately believed it to be a force for good in the world. In short, Obama, his family, and his administration were a walking advertisement for the ease with which black people could be fully integrated into the unthreatening mainstream of American culture, politics, and myth. And that was always the problem.”

1. Notes from the First Year.

 

  • “The most precious thing I had then is the most precious thing I have now–my own curiosity. That is the thing I knew, even in the classroom, they could not take from me. That is the thing that buoyed me and eventually plucked me from the sea.” P7

  • “I know now that all people hunger for a noble, unsullied past… I know now that that hunger is a retreat from the knotty present into myth and that what ultimately awaits those who retreat into fairy tales, who seek refuge in the mad pursuit to be made great again, in the image of a greatness that never was, is tragedy.” P10

 

The Audacity of Bill Cosby’s Black Conservatism

 

  • Coates details an excellent history of black leadership: “[Booker T.] Washington married a defense of the white South with a call for black self-reliance and became the most prominent black leader of his day. He argued that southern whites should be given time to adjust to emancipation; in the meantime, blacks should advance themselves not by voting and running for office but by working, and ultimately owning, the land…History ultimately rendered half of Washington’s argument moot. His famous Atlanta Compromise–in which he endorsed segregation as a temporary means of making peace with southerners–was answered by lynchings, land theft, and general racial terrorism. After Washington’s death, in 1915, the black conservative tradition he had fathered found a permanent and natural home in the emerging ideology of Black Nationalism. Marcus Garvey, its patron saint, turned the Atlanta Compromise on its head, implicitly endorsing segregation not as an olive branch to whites but as a statement of black supremacy…Decades later, Malcolm X echoed that sentiment, faulting blacks for failing to take charge of their destinies…Black conservatives like Malcolm X and Louis Farrakhan, the leader of the Nation of Islam, have at times allied themselves with black liberals. But in general, they have upheld a core of beliefs laid out by Garvey almost a century ago: a skepticism of (white) Government as a mediating force in the “Negro problem,” a strong belief in the singular will of black people, and a fixation on the supposedly glorious black past.” P20-21

  • “This is the audience that flocks to Cosby: culturally conservative black Americans who are convinced that integration, and to some extent the entire liberal dream, robbed them of their natural defenses.” P22

  • “The hip-hop argument, again, is particularly creaky. Ronald Ferguson, a Harvard social scientist, has highlighted that an increase in hip-hop’s popularity during the early 1990s corresponded with a declining amount of time spent reading among black kids. Butt gangsta rap can be correlated with other phenomena, too–many of them positive. During the 1990s, as gangsta rap exploded, teen pregnancy and the murder rate among black men declined. Should we give the blue ribbon in citizenship to Dr. Dre?” p27

  • Coates notes that Cosby’s arguments represent a false choice: “But Cosby often pits the rhetoric of personal responsibility against legitimate claims of American citizens for their rights. He chides activists for pushing to reform the criminal-justice system,  despite solid evidence that the criminal justice system needs reform.” P29

  • “Cosby is fond of saying that sacrifices of the ’60s weren’t made so that rappers and young people could repeatedly use the word nigger. But that’s exactly why they were made. After all, chief among all individual rights awarded Americans is the right to be mediocre, crass, and juvenile –in other words, the right to be human.” P31

 

2. Notes from the Second Year.

 

  • “We struggled to avoid our feelings because to actually consider all that was taken, to understand that it was taken systematically, that the taking is essential to America and echoes down through the ages, could make you crazy.” P39

 

American Girl

 

  • “If you’re looking for the heralds of a “post-racial” America, if that adjective is ever to be more than a stupid, unlettered flourish, then look to those, like Michelle Obama, with a sense of security in who they are–those, black or white, who hold blackness as more than the losing end of racism. These heralds offer a deeper understanding of African American life, a greater appreciation of the bourgeois ordinariness of our experience. ‘People have never met in Michelle Obama,’ the soon-to-be first lady said toward the end of our interview. ‘But what they’ll come to learn is that there are thousands and thousands of Michelle and Barack Obamas across America. You just don’t live next door to them, or there isn’t a TV show about them.’ There is now.” P56-57

 

3. Notes from the Third Year.

 

  • “The pageantry, the math, the magazines, the essays heralded and end to the old country with all its divisions. We forgot that there were those who loved that old country as it was, who did not lament the divisions but drew power from them.” P62

  • “Emancipation was embraced. Blacks were recruited and sent into battle. Later they were enfranchised and sent to serve in the halls of government, national and state wide. But… the country returns to its supremacist roots…To see this connection, to see Obama’s election as part of a familiar cycle, you would have had to understand how central the brand of white supremacy was to the country. I did not.” P62-63

  • “If forced I would say I took my tumble with the dark vision of historian Edmund Morgan’s American Slavery, and American Freedom. Certainly slavery was contrary to America’s stated democratic precepts, conceded Morgan, but in fact, it was slavery that allowed American democracy to exist in the first place. It was slavery that gifted much of the South with a working class that lived outside of all protections and could be driven, beaten, and traded into generational perpetuity. Profits pulled from these workers, repression of the normal angst of labor, and the ability to employ this labor on abundant land stolen from Native Americans formed a foundation for democratic equality among a people who came to see skin color and hair textures as defining features. Morgan showed the process in motion through the law–rights gradually awarded to the mass of European poor and oppressed, at precisely the same time they were being stripped from enslaved Africans and their descendants.” P66

  • “By then, I knew. The history books spoke wear tourism could not. The four million enslaved bodies, at the start of the Civil War, represented an inconceivable financial interest–$75 billion in today’s dollars–and the cotton that passed through their hands represented 60 percent of the country’s exports. In 1860, the largest concentration of multimillionaires in the country could be found in the Mississippi River Valley, where the estates of large planters loomed.” P67

  • “America had a biography, and in that biography, the shackling of black people–slaves and free–featured prominently. I could not yet drawl literal connections, though that would come. But what I sensed was a country trying to skip out on a bill, trying to stave off a terrible accounting. I did not yet fully comprehend the contents of the bill or its weight. Nor had I yet conceived of the incredible thing, the radical action it would take to set the account right.” P69

 

Why Do So Few Blacks Study the Civil War?

 

  • “The belief that the Civil War wasn’t for us was the result of the country’s long search for a narrative that could reconcile white people with each other, one that avoided what professional historians now know to be true: that one group of Americans attempted to raise a country wholly premised on property in Negroes, and that another group of Americans, including many Negroes, stopped them.” P73

  • “Having preserved the Union and saved white workers from competing with slave labor, the North could magnanimously acquiesce to such Confederate meretriciousness and the concomitant irrelevance of the country’s blacks. That interpretation served the North too, for it elided uncomfortable questions about the profits reaped by the North from Southern cotton, as well as the North’s long strategy of appeasement and compromise, stretching from the Fugitive Slave Act back to the Constitution itself.” P75

  • “Ken Burns’s is eponymous and epic documentary on the war falsely claims that the slaveholder Robert E. Lee was personally against slavery. True, Lee once asserted in a letter that slavery was a ‘moral & political evil.’ But in that same letter, he argued that there was no sense protesting the peculiar institution and that its demise should be left to ‘a wise Merciful Providence.’” P76

  • “For that particular community, for my community, the message has long been clear: The Civil War is a story for white people–acted out by white people, on white people’s terms–in which blacks feature strictly as stock characters and props. We are invited to listen, but never to truly join the narrative, for to speak as the slave would, to say that we are as happy for the Civil War as most Americans are for the Revolutionary War, is to rupture the narrative.” P76-77

 

4. Notes from the Fourth Year.

 

  • “First conjure the crime–the generational destruction of human bodies–and all of its related offenses –domestic terrorism, poll taxes, mass incarceration. But then try to imagine being an individual born among the remnants of that crime, among the wronged, among the plundered, and feeling the gravity of that crime all around and seeing it in the sideways glances of the perpetrators of that crime and overhearing it in their whispers and watching these people, at best, denying their power to address the crime and, at worst, denying that any crime had occurred at all, even as their entire lives revolve around the fact of a robbery so large that it is written in our very names. This is not a thought experiment. America is literally unimaginable without plundered labor shackled to plundered land, without the organizing principle of whiteness as citizenship, without the culture crafted by the plundered, and without that culture itself being plundered.” 85

  • And I feel it not just because of the black people swept away but because I know that ‘gentrification’ is but a more pleasing name for white supremacy, is the interest on enslavement, the interest on Jim Crow, the interested on redlining, compounding across the years, and these new urbanites living off of that interest are, all of them, exulting in a crime. To speak the word gentrification is to immediately lie.” P86

  • “White people are, in some profound way, trapped; it took generations to make them white, and it will take more to unmake them. And in my gut, in the human part of me, I feel how hard that really must be. What people anywhere on this earth have ever, out of a strong moral feeling, ceded power?” p86

 

5. Notes from the Fifth Year.

 

  • “Nothing in the record of human history argues for divine morality, and a greater deal argues against it. What we know is that good people very often suffer terribly, while the perpetrators of horrific evil backstroke through all the pleasures of the world. There is no evidence that the score is ever evened in this life or any after.” P110

  • Ideas like cosmic justice, collective hope, and national redemption had no meaning for me. The truth was in the everything that came after atheism, after the amorality of the universe is taken not as a problem but as a given. It was then that I was freed from considering my own mortality away from the cosmic and the abstract. Life was short, and death undefeated. So I loved hard, since I would not love for long. So I loved directly and fixed myself to solid things–my wife, my child, my family, health, work, friends.” P111

  • “Failure is the norm for writers–firings and layoffs, rejected pitches, manuscripts tossed into the waste bins, bad reviews, uninterested editors, your own woeful rough drafts, they all form a chorus telling you to quit with whatever dignity you still have intact. And if you are going to write, you must learn to work in defiance of this chorus, in defiance of the unanswered pitches, of the books that find no audience, and most of all, in defiance of the terror radiating from the blank white page…My reasons for writing had to be my own, divorced from expectation. There would be no reward.” P113

  • “It was well and true to say Obama’s words and actions were constricted by a fear of offending white innocence. But Obama was the first black president of a majority-white country: He should’ve feared white innocence.

 

Fear of a Black President

 

  • “But when President Obama addressed the tragedy of Trayvon Martin, he demonstrated integration’s great limitation–that acceptance depends not just on being twice is good but on being half as black.” p124

  • A 1957 speech by William F. Buckley Jr.: “The sobering answer is Yes–the White community is so entitled because, for the time being, it is the advanced race.” “William F. Buckley Jr. Later revised his early positions on race…That a country that once took whiteness as the foundation of citizenship would elect a black president is a victory. But to view this victory as racism’s defeat is to forget the precise terms on which it was secured, and to ignore the quaking ground beneath Obama’s feet.” P130-131

  • “Obama talked less about race than any other Democratic president since 1961. Obama’s racial strategy has been, if anything, the opposite of radical: He declines to use his bully pulpit to address racism, using it instead to engage in the time-honored tradition of black self-hectoring, railing against the perceived failings of black culture.” P135

  • “But then the administration, intimidated by a resurgent right wing specializing in whipping up racial resentment, compelled [Shirley] Sherrod to resign on the basis of the misleading clips. When the full tape emerged, the administration was left looking ridiculous…She [Sherrod] has endured the killing of relatives, the rumination of enterprises, and the defaming of her reputation. Crowley, for his actions, was fêted in the halls of American power, honored by being invited to a ‘beer summit’ with the man he had arrested and the leader of the free world. Shirley Sherrod, unjustly fired and defamed, was treated to a brief phone call from a man whose career, she had made possible.” P143, 145

  • “Any black person who’s worked in the professional world is well acquainted with this trick. But never has it been practiced at such a high level, and never have its limits been so obviously exposed. This need to talk in dulcet tones, to never be angry regardless of the offense, bespeaks a strange and compromised integration indeed, revealing a country so infantile that it can countenance White acceptance of blacks only when they meet an Al Rocher standard.” P147

 

6. Notes from the Sixth Year.

 

  • “But that was the job of the black public intellectual–not to stimulate, not to ask the questions that kept them up at night, not even just to interpret the drums but to interpret them in someway that promised redemption. This was not work for writers and scholars, who thrive in privacy and study, but performance-prophets who live for the roar of the crowd.” P152

  • “… theories of the sociologist William Julius Wilson: that the decline of the kind of the industrial high-paying low-skill jobs that builds America’s white middle class had left large numbers of young black men unemployed, and the government made no real effort to ameliorate this shift. An array of unfortunate consequences issued from this shift–family poverty, violent streets, poor schools…And so it was said that there was an unwillingness to work among black men, a disdain for marriage and black men, an allegiance to gangsta rap among black youth, and that these cultural forces had more explanatory power than racism ever could.” P153-155

  • “To fight, stab, or shoot over respect seemed ridiculous to those who already had the society’s respect. But all the boys and young men of my youth were keenly aware of how little they owned, how little of their lives they actually controlled. And so some of them made their stand on the scuff mark on their suede Pumas, on the trespassing of some corner, on the hard looks of strangers.” P155

  • “In fact, I knew of such a set of interests–one so powerful that it brought on a war that killed more Americans than every other American war combined. And I knew that the war ended in the dissolution of slavery, an institution that had provided the seed money for the country itself. And I knew that the force that reaped all that death did not dissipate into the ether at the end of the war but instead gave birth to a century of outright terrorism against black people. And I knew that slavery and the terrorism that followed were not incidental elements in American history, but at its core.” P156

  • “I read Ira Katznelson’s history of discrimination, When Affirmative Action Was White, which argued that similar exclusions applied to other ‘color-blind’ New Deal programs, such as the beloved GI Bill, social security, and unemployment insurance. I was slowly apprehending that a rising tide, too, could be made to discriminate.” P157

  • “Whites in the middle class often brought with them generational wealth–the home of a deceased parent, a modest inheritance, a gift from a favorite uncle. Blacks in the middle class often brought with them generational debt–an incarcerated father, an evicted nice, a mother forced to take in her sister’s kids…Racism was not a singular one-dimensional vector but a pandemic, afflicting black communities at every level, regardless of what rung they are occupied.” P159

 

The Case for Reparations

 

  • “During this period, according to one estimate, 85 percent of all black home buyers who bought in Chicago bought on contract.” P170

  • “The average per capita income of Chicago’s white neighborhoods is almost three times that of its black neighborhoods.” P173

  • “The Pew Research Center estimates that white households are worth roughly twenty times as much as black households…” p173

  • “The last slaveholder has been dead for a very long time. The last soldier to endure Valley Forge has been dead much longer. To proudly claim the veteran and disown the slaveholder is patriotism à la carte.” P179

  • “The wealth accorded America by slavery was not just in what the slaves pulled from the land but in the slaves themselves. ‘In 1860, slaves as an asset were worth more than all of America’s manufacturing, all of the railroads, all of the productive capacity of the United States put together,’ the Yale historian David W. Blight has noted.” P182

  • “Here we find the roots of American wealth and democracy–in a for-profit destruction of the most important asset available to any people, the family. The destruction was not incidental to America’s rise; it facilitated that rise. By erecting a slave society, America created the economic foundation for its great experiment in democracy.” P184

  • “The New Deal today remembered as a model for what progressive government should do–cast a broad social safety net that protects the poor and the afflicted while building the middle class. When progressives wish to express their disappointment with Barack Obama, they point to the accomplishments of Franklin Roosevelt. But these progressives rarely note that Roosevelt’s New Deal, much like the democracy that produced it, rested on the foundation of Jim Crow.” p186

  • The efforts began in earnest in 1917, when the Chicago Real Estate Board, horrified by the influx of southern blacks, lobbied to zone the entire city by race. But after the Supreme Court ruled against explicit racial zoning that year, the city was forced to pursue its agenda buy more discreet means.” P189

  • “When terrorism ultimately failed, white homeowners simply fled the neighborhood. The traditional terminology, white flight, implies a kind of natural expression of preference. In fact, white flight was a triumph of social engineering, orchestrated by the shared racist presumptions of America’s public and private sectors.” P191

  • “He was not able to be at home to supervise his children or help them with their homework. Money and time that Ross wanted to give his children went instead to enrich white speculators.” P192

  • “From the White House on down, the myth holds that fatherhood is the great antidote to all that ails black people. But Billy Brooks Jr. had a father. Treyvon Marvin had a father. Jordan Davis had a father. Adhering to middle-class norms has never shielded black people from plunder. Adhering to middle-class norms is what made Ethel Weatherspoon a lucrative target for rapacious speculators. Contract sellers did not target the very poor. They targeted black people who had worked hard enough to save a down payment and dreamed of the emblem of American citizenship–homeownership. It was not a tangle of pathology that put a target on Clyde Ross’s back. It was not a culture of poverty that singled out Mattie Lewis for ‘the thrill of the chase and the kill.’ Some black people always will be twice as good. But they generally find white predation to be thrice as fast.” P196

  • “The idea of reparations is frightening not simply because we might lack the ability to pay. The idea of reparations threatens something much deeper–America’s heritage, history, and standing in the world.” P201

  • “An America that asks what it owes its most vulnerable citizens is improved and humane. In America that looks away is ignoring not just the sins of the past but the sins of the present and the certain sins of the future. More important than any single check cut to any African American, the payment of reparations would represent America’s maturation out of the childhood myth of its innocence into a wisdom worthy of its founders.” P207

  • “In 2010, the Justice Department filed a discrimination suit against Wells Fargo alleging that the bank had shunted blacks into predatory loans regardless of their creditworthiness. This was not magic for coincidence or misfortune. It was racism reifying itself…In 2011, Bank of America agreed to pay $355 million to settle charges of discrimination against its Countrywide unit. The following year, Wells Fargo settled its discrimination suit for more than $175 million. But the damage had been done. In 2009, half the properties in Baltimore whose owners had been granted loans by Wells Fargo between 2005 and 2008 where vacant; 71 percent of these properties were in predominately black neighborhoods.” P208

 

7. Notes from the Seventh Year.

 

  • “To be black in America was to be plundered. To be white was to benefit from, and at times directly executed, the plunder. No national conversation, no indications to love, no moral appeals, no pleas for ‘sensitivity’ and ‘diversity,’ no lamenting of ‘race relations’ could make this right. Racism was banditry, pure and simple. And the banditry was not incidental to America, it was essential to it.” P212

  • “The beauty and his [Baldwin] writing wasn’t just style or ornament but an unparalleled ability to see what was before him clearly and then lay that vision, with that same clarity, before the world.” P216

  • “Obama would regularly invite journalists who disagreed with him to the White House to spar. From time to time I found myself among the summoned–usually after I’d written something critical.” P218

  • “Your heroes are not mystics nor sorcerers but humans practiced at the work of typing and revising, and often agonized by it.” P219

 

The Black Family in the Age of Mass Incarceration

 

  • “Running against the tide of optimism around civil rights, ‘The Negro Family’ argued that the federal government was underestimating the damage done to black families by ‘three centuries of sometimes unimaginable mistreatment’ as well as a ‘racist virus in the American blood stream,’…Moynihan Believe that at the core of all these problems lay a black family structure mutated by white oppression.” The report “was a curious government report in that it advocated no specific policies to address the crisis it described. This was intentional.” P226-227

  • “Moynihan himself was partly to blame for this. In its bombastic language, its omission of policy recommendations, its implication that black women were obstacles two black men’s assuming their proper station, and it’s unnecessarily covert handling, the Moynihan Report militated against its authors aims.” P229

  • “From the mid-1970s to the mid-1980s, America’s incarceration rate doubled, from about 150 people per 100,000 to about 300 per 100,000. From the mid-1980s to the mid-1990s, it doubled again. By 2007, it had reached a historic high of 767 people per 100,000, before registering a modest decline to 707 people per 100,000 in 2012. In absolute terms, America’s prison and jail population from 1970 until today has increased sevenfold, from some 300,000 people to 2.2 million. The United States now accounts for less than 5 percent of the world’s inhabitants–and about 25 percent of its incarcerated inhabitants. In 2000, one in 10 black males between the ages of 20 and 40 was incarcerated–10 times the rate of their white peers. In 2010, a third of all black male high-school dropouts between the ages of 20 and 39 were imprisoned, compared with only 13 percent of their white peers.” P230-231

  • “The incarceration rate rose independent of crime–but not of criminal-justice policy.” P232

  • “… a 66 percent increase in the state prison population between 1993 and 2001 had reduced the rate of serious crime by a modest 2 to 5 percent–at a cost to taxpayers of $53 billion.” P234

  • “In 1966, Richard Nixon picked up the charge, linking rising crime rates to Martin Luther King’s campaign of civil disobedience…The cure, as Nixon saw it, was not addressing criminogenic conditions, but locking up more people. ‘Doubling the conviction rate in this country would do far more to cure crime in America than quadrupling the funds for [the] War on Poverty,’ he said in 1968…Then, perhaps talking to himself, he added, ‘Yep, this hits it right on the nose, the thing about this whole teacher–it’s all about law and order and the damn Negro–Puerto Rican groups out there.’ ” p252-253

  • “By the mid-1990s, both political parties had to come to endorse arrest and incarceration as a primary tool of crime-fighting. This conclusion was reached not warily, but lustily.” P257

  • “After folders rejected funding for more prisons, Cuomo pulled the money from the Urban Development Corporation, an agency that was supposed to build public housing for the poor. It did– in prison. Under the avowedly liberal Cuomo, new York added more prison beds than under all his predecessors combined.” P258

  • “The blacks incarcerated in this country are not like the majority of Americans. They do not merely hail from poor communities–they hail from communities that have been imperiled across both the deep and immediate past, and continued to be imperiled today. Peril is generational for black people in America–and incarceration is our current mechanism for ensuring that the peril continues.” P270

  • “The lesson of Minnesota is that the chasm in incarceration rates is deeply tied to the socioeconomic chasm between black and white America. The two are self-reinforcing–impoverished black people are more likely to end up in prison, and that experience breeds impoverishment. An array of laws, differing across the country but all emanating from our tendency toward punitive criminal justice–limiting or banning food stamps for drug felons; prohibiting ex-offenders from obtaining public housing–ensure this. So does the rampant discrimination against ex-offenders and black men in general. This, too, is self-reinforcing. The American population most discriminated against is also its most incarcerated–and the incarceration of so many African Americans, the mark of criminality, justifies everything they under after.” P279

 

8. Notes from the Eighth Year.

 

  • “I believed that the answer to the question of the color line was right in front of us. Rob a people generationally and there will be affects. I also understood why that answer, barring extreme external events, would never be accepted and reckoned with. It simply broke too much of America’s sense of its own identity.” P289

 

My President was Black

 

  • “When some of the activists affiliated with Black Lives Matter refused to attend, Obama began calling them out in speeches. ‘You can’t refuse to meet because that might compromise the purity of your position,’ he said. ‘The value of social movements and activism is to get you at the table, get you in the room, and then the start trying to figure out how is this problem going to be solved. You then have a responsibility to prepare an agenda that is achievable–that can institutionalize the changes you seek–and to engage the other side.’ ” p320

  • “Obama’s accomplishments were real: a $1 billion settlement on behalf of black farmers, a Justice Department that exposed Ferguson’s municipal plunder, the increased availability of Pell Grants (and their availability to some prisoners), and the slashing of the crack/cocaine disparity in sentencing guidelines, to name just a few. Obama was also the first sitting president to visit a federal prison.” P324

  • “That movement came into full bloom the summer of 2015, with the candidacy of Donald Trump, a man who’d risen to political prominence by peddling the racist myth that the president was not American. It was birtherism–not trade, not jobs, not isolationism–that launched Trump’s foray into electoral politics. Having risen unexpectedly on this basis into the stratosphere of Republican politics, Trump spent the campaign freely and liberally trafficking in misogyny, Islamophobia, and xenophobia. And on November 8, 2016, he won election to the presidency.” P332

 

Epilogue.

 

The First White President

 

  • “But Donald Trump arrived in the wake of something more potent–an entire nigger presidency with nigger health care, nigger climate accords, nigger justice reform, that could be targeted for destruction, that could be targeted for redemption, thus reifying the idea of being white. Trump truly is something new–the first white president whose entire political existence hinges on the fact of a black president. And so it will not suffice to say Trump is a white man like all the others who rose to become president. He must be called by his correct name and rightful honorific–America’s first white president.” P344

  • “Trump’s dominance among whites the cross class lines is of a piece with his larger dominance across nearly every white demographic. Trunk won white women (+9) and white men (+31). He won white people with college degrees (+3) and white people without them (+37). He won young whites, age 18 to 29 (+4), adult whites age 30 to 44 (+17), middle-age whites, age 45 to 64 (+28), and senior whites, age 65 and older (+19).” P346

  • “But when white workers suffer, something in nature has gone awry. And so an opioid epidemic is greeted with a call for treatment in sympathy, as all epidemics should be, while a crack epidemic is greeted with a call for mandatory minimums and scorn.” P350

  • “This rendition– raceless anti-racism–marks the modern left, from New Democrat Bill Clinton to socialist Bernie Sanders. With few exceptions, there is little recognition among national liberal politicians that there is something systemic and particular in the relationship between black people and their country that might require specific policy solutions.” P355

  • “Moreover, a narrative of long-neglected working-class black voters, injured by globalization and the financial crisis, forsaken by out-of-touch politicians, and rightfully suspicious of a return of Clintonism, does not serve to cleanse the conscience of white people having elected Donald Trump. Long-suffering working class whites do. And though much has been written about the distance between elites and ‘Real America,’ the existence of a trans-class, mutually dependent tribe of white people is evident.” P356

  • “Every Trump voter is most certainly not a white supremacist, just as every white person in the Jim Crow South was not a white supremacist. But every Trump voter felt it acceptable to hand the fate of the country over to one.” P358

  • “The history of slavery is also about the growth of international capitalism, the history of lynching must be seen in the light of anxiety over the growing independence of women, and the civil rights movement can’t be disentangled from the Cold War. Thus, to say that the rise of Donald Trump is about more than race is to make an empty statement–one that is small comfort to those who live under its boot.” P361

  • “The maintenance of white honor and whiteness remains at the core of liberal American thinking. Left politics are not exempt…This presented the country’s thinking class with a dilemma. It simply could not be that Hillary Clinton was correct when she asserted that a large group of Americans was endorsing a present because of bigotry. The implications–that systemic bigotry is still central to our politics, that the country is susceptible to that bigotry, that the salt-of-the-earth Americans whom we lionize in our culture and politics are not so different from those same Americans who grin back at us in lynching photos, that Calhoun’s aim of a pan-Caucasian embrace between workers and capitalists still endures–are just too dark. Leftists would have to cope with the failure–yet again–of class unity in the face of racism.” P362

  • “When Barack Obama came in 2009, he believed that he could work with ‘sensible’ conservatives by embracing aspects of their policy as his own. Instead he found that his very imprimatur made that impossible. Mitch McConnell announced that the GOP’s primary goal was not to find common ground but to make Obama a ‘one-term president.’ A healthcare plan derived from a Republican governor and pioneered by a conservative think tank was suddenly rendered as socialism and, not coincidentally, a form of reparations when proposed by Obama. The first black president found that he was personally toxic to the GOP base. An entire political party was organized around the explicit aim of negating Obama. It was thought by Obama and others that this toxicity was the result of a relentless assault waged by Fox News and right-wing talk radio. Trump’s genius was understanding that it was something more, that it was a hunger for revanche so strong that a political novice and accused rapist could topple the leadership of one major party and throttle the presumed favorite of another.” P364

  • “And so the most powerful country in the world has handed over all of its affairs–the prosperity of an entire economy, the security of some 300 million citizens, the purity of its water, the viability of its air, the safety of its food, the future of its vast system of education, the soundness of its national highways, airways, and railways, the apocalyptic potential of its nuclear arsenal–to a carnival barker who introduced the phrase ‘grab ‘em by the pussy’ into the national lexicon.” P365

  • “In recent times, whiteness as an overt political tactic has been restrained by a kind of cordiality that held that its overt invocation would scare off ‘moderate’ whites. This has proved to be only half-true at best. Trump’s legacy will be exposing the patina of decency for what it is and revealing just how much a demagogue can get away with. It does not take much to imagine another politician, wiser in the ways of Washington, schooled in the methodology of governance, now liberated from the pretense of anti-racist civility, doing a much more effective job then Trump.” P365

  • “When Du Bois claims that slavery was ‘singularly disastrous for modern civilization’ or Baldwin claims that whites ‘have brought humanity to the edge of oblivion…because they think they are white,’ the instinct is to claim exaggeration. But there really is no other way to read the presidency of Donald Trump. The first white president in American history is also its most dangerous president–and made more dangerous still by the fact that those charged with analyzing him cannot name his essential nature, because they too are implicated in it.” P366

  • “There is something terrible in being able to imagine oneself as the plunderer, something discomforting in knowing that moral high ground is neither biological nor divine.” P366

Think for Yourself. Dissolve your Allegiances.