As his electoral defeat becomes more and more likely, Trump intensifies his inflammatory rhetoric. Generating chaos and doubts about the vote count is his main strategy. The most hopeful thing he’s been heard to say in the campaign was that if he loses, he might leave the US. But if he somehow retains power, the local and international consequences of an openly repressive and racist regime can be fatal.
NEW YORK – The virulence of America’s 2020 presidential election is not because of Donald Trump himself, but because of what he represents: racist power structures that have existed for centuries, even though they have sometimes changed shape. The long history of institutionalized American racism will not survive the next generation; that’s why Trump is so shockingly reactionary in his attempts to prolong it. But if he were to win a second term, his white nationalism streak could still do a lot of damage to the United States and the world; hence this election is by far the most important in the modern history of the country.
Racism was built into the United States since the founding of the colonies, with its economies based on the enslavement of Africans and the killing and looting of native peoples. Slavery became so integrated into American society that only a bloody civil war could end it; not like in most other countries, where the African slave trade and possession ended peacefully.
After the civil war, there was a brief period of emancipation for the African American population during the Reconstruction era (1865-76) which was soon replaced by a renewed system of racist repression, so comprehensive and systematic that in practice it was an American version. apartheid. The legalized segregationism of the southern United States is well known, but no less damaging were the repression and segregation in the north and west, with practices such as segregated access to housing, obvious employment discrimination, faulty or non-existent schooling. and systemic malfunction of justice.
In his brilliant and eloquent book The Color of Law, Richard Rothstein examines how federal, state and local governments, in collaboration with the violence of white vigilantism, created and perpetuated African-American ghettos across the country, while supporting and promoting the appearance of segregated white housing estates. Many overtly racist laws ended up being repealed by Congress or overturned by federal courts in the late 1960s. But racism continued, as evidenced by police brutality, the mass incarceration of young black men beginning in the 1970s, the permanent suppression of the black vote, and widespread employment discrimination. And most of the developments mentioned remained almost exclusively white.
The civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s produced profound and lasting changes. But it also prompted a political counter-reaction from white conservatism, especially in the South and the Midwest. White working-class and evangelical voters who had always been part of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal coalition turned to the Republican Party, which vowed to resist future attempts at desegregation and to support the policies of social conservatism. This “southern strategy” contributed to the electoral victories of Richard Nixon in 1968 and Ronald Reagan in 1980. And that same rural and suburban base, white and evangelical, facilitated the triumphs of George Bush father and son and Trump.
But today, young Americans are much more racially diverse (and racially diverse). They are also more educated: College campuses, by bringing together Americans of many diverse backgrounds, foster an environment of real diversity that contributes to greater racial tolerance.
According to a recent opinion poll by Pew Research, voters aged 18-29 split 59% for Joe Biden and 29% for Trump, who also doesn’t get much support from college students. Among undergraduate voters, Biden beats Trump 57% to 37%. And among graduates, the margin is even higher: 68% to 28%. Trump’s electoral base is concentrated on older, white, less educated, Protestant voters, many of whom moved to segregated housing estates decades ago precisely to avoid integration.
In 2016, the voters who changed the outcome of the election were white workers from the Midwest who had lost their jobs to automation and international trade (many of whom previously voted Democrats). Trump seduced them with a promise to stop immigrants and minorities from competing with them for housing and jobs, and he was going to relocate numerous industrial jobs with a firm stance on China. It was an effective message.
But this year, the “hinge vote” is likely to favor Biden. Trump’s disinterest in public health allowed Covid-19 to wreak havoc. Add to that a weak economy, the fact that jobs that went to China did not return, the general rise in factory unemployment since the start of the Trump presidency, and Biden’s compelling proposals to create millions of jobs. By investing in green and clean infrastructure, it turns out that Trump’s message is no longer attractive to many of those voters.
As demographic makeup and cultural attitudes in America are changing, older segregationist white voters may find that this election is their last chance. Trump’s remaining ploy is voter suppression, with sinister threats that his defeat will unleash vigilante violence. Time and again he refused to promise a peaceful handover of power, and his ominous call on white supremacist groups to “back off and wait” for election results still resonates.
As his electoral defeat becomes more and more likely, Trump intensifies his inflammatory rhetoric. Generating chaos by sowing unfounded doubts about the vote count is his main strategy to retain power. The most hopeful thing he was heard to say throughout the campaign was that if he loses, he might leave the country. But after a lifetime of tax avoidance and financial fraud, justice will catch up with him sooner or later.
If Trump somehow retains power, the local and international consequences of an openly repressive and racist regime in the United States can be fatal. Inside the country, unleashed and unhinged white supremacist groups could fuel an outright spiral of violence. And on the international level, Trump’s evangelical base is burning with desire for a cold war with China, in keeping with the xenophobia, anti-Chinese racism and the historical ignorance of these voters.
In short, the coming weeks will be dangerous times. America and the world will not be safe until Trump is gone.
Jeffrey D. Sachs, Professor of Sustainable Development and Professor of Health Policy and Management at Columbia University, is Director of the Columbia Center for Sustainable Development and the United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Network. He has served as a special advisor to three UN Secretary Generals. His books include The End of Poverty, Common Wealth, The Age of Sustainable Development, Building the New American Economy, and most recently, A New Foreign Policy: Beyond American Exceptionalism.
Translation: Esteban Flamini
Copyright: Project Syndicate, 2020.