Book excerpt: Cornell Belcher's 'A Black Man in the White House'

PHOTO: "A Black Man in the White House: Barack Obama and the Triggering of Americas Racial-Aversion Crisis" by Cornell BelcherPlayWater Street Press
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Excerpted from A BLACK MAN IN THE WHITE HOUSE: Barack Obama and the Triggering of America's Racial-Aversion Crisis by Cornell Belcher. Copyright (c) 2016 by the author.

As I write, in the summer of 2016, the contest to elect the successor to Barack Obama has not yet been decided. The choice between the two candidates is a no-brainer for those of us who count diversity as a blessing, human dignity as a family-of-man value, and world peace as a worthwhile goal. It’s not so much a battle of ideology as it is fundamentally a battle between those wishing to hold on to the old racial ruling order and those seeking a more perfect union. The polls, as of this writing, both provide opportunity and reinforce dismay: while Hillary Clinton has, on average, led in the national polling, her advantage is not substantial as most white voters continue to back Trump even as he has been rejected by much of the Republican establishment, including the party’s last president and presidential nominee. It’s as if much of the Republican establishment bought into the bulls--- it was selling and actually thought they were winning solid majorities of white voters, ever since President Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act, because of the GOP’s policy prescriptions. Racial party re-alignment established upon and because of President Johnson’s signing of Civil Rights legislation remains as durable today as ever; the candidacy of a reality TV star with questionable business practices and zero public policy experience speaks power to that truth. We are bearing witness to the truth of American politics—nothing trumps tribalism. While not the absolute or only variable, race is by and large the great political organizing line in America.

The numbers are striking. In the U.S., by the year 2050, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, Blacks, Asians, Hispanics, Native Americans, and Pacific Islanders will, collectively, make up a larger percentage of the U.S. population than will whites. A shift in the demographics among children under eighteen years old will happen even sooner—the members of these formerly minority groups will outnumber whites by the year 2023. In the years between 2000 and 2007 the “minority” population in the U.S. grew at nearly three times the rate of the total population—from 28.6% of the population in 2000 to over 31%, where it stood in 2014. In Texas and California, the two largest states in the nation, the “minority” population already makes up the majority.

The inevitability of no longer being in the majority has some among that former majority so stressed out that there is even a catch-all term for their condition: white anxiety. White anxiety, as we’ve seen it demonstrated so far, hasn’t taken the form of overt claims of white superiority. Rather, it is manifested through grievance (e.g., Sarah Palin’s admonishment to the President to “stop playing the race card”[1]), victimhood (e.g., Ross Douthat’s claim that institutions of higher learning are discriminating against whites in their admissions policies[2] and Donald Trump’s assertion that a brown-skinned judge couldn’t possibly give him a fair hearing about his fraud charges[3]), and blatant fear mongering (Rush Limbaugh’s assertion that angry blacks are training their children to be future militants[4]). We hear white anxiety in every scream to “take the country back.” From Republican politicians running on a platform of “take back the country”,[5] to right-wing media types holding forth at “Taking Our Country Back” rallies,[6] to country singers composing original ditties on the theme,[7] to rank-and-file “Tea Party Patriots” waving signs bearing the slogan, the sentiment has become ubiquitous in certain quarters. But what do “Tea Party Patriots” mean when they say it? When you get to the heart of it, what—or who—are they taking their country back from?"

“So we see the Founding Fathers were not opposed to taxes, per se. Unlike the modern-day citizens of the U.S., who duly elect representatives to the Congress every two years, what the colonists objected to was having no colonial presence in the British Parliament to speak to a variety of their interests far beyond a little tax. To use Revolutionary War imagery as a metaphor for what the contemporary “Tea Party” insists is its concern about taxes is to have a simplistic understanding of American history, if not a thorough misunderstanding of it.

So is there a more apt historical model for the “Tea Party”?

The Founding Fathers were in the process of building an economy, constructing a new social order, writing a constitution, forming a government, creating a country. One in which all men were created equal. Notably, this equality did not extend, upon the Founders’ inception, beyond white males. Those white males did not include women in the new franchise they were devising, and the majority of them were slaveholders whose vision of parity fell markedly short in matters of race as well. That said, their concept for the new country they were making was radical for the time, a formal if limited throwing off of the social order they knew—the aristocracy, and the monarchy—for a wholly revolutionary experiment with egalitarianism.

In order to arrive at an appropriate model for today’s “Tea Party”, then, we have to think of a time when a group of malcontents sought not to create but to destroy the country. To quash the economy, cling to an outdated social order, circumvent the Constitution, foment hatred of the established government, and tear the nation apart at the seams.

If you thought of the Confederacy, you’re right on target. The similarities between the mindsets of antebellum Southerners and members of the contemporary “Tea Party” are astonishing. They use the same language as a cloak—“states’ rights” as a smokescreen for slavery then and racism now; they have the same commitment to disenfranchisement—think modern-day attempts to limit voting rights; they share a Southern Strategy that uses many of the same tactics.

Think I’m being too hard on the “Tea Party”? Think again. During the Civil War, the South attempted to secede from the Union a duly elected president sought to preserve. Today, according to analysis of the White House’s “We the People” program, 43% of Republican respondents say they would support a modern-day secession movement.[1]”

“Look at the fire we’re studying through this lens: Donald Trump is the embodiment of the racial-power problem, and his campaign paints a clear picture of how our power structure works. Trump’s race-baiting strategy aside for a moment, ask yourself: if Donald Trump where Black could he be where he is now, one of only two people who will in fact be the next president of the United States? Could someone who makes declarations on a regular basis that are patently just not true, who ignores basic norms regarding transparency (he continues to ignore calls from both parties, including the Republican Party’s 2012 nominee Mitt Romney, to release his taxes like every presidential nominee in modern history has done), who 60% of voters think isn’t qualified to be president, who a majority believe doesn’t have the temperament to be president—could a Black person with this resumé come within striking distance of the office of president? Of course not. But Trump doesn’t have to tell the truth, he doesn’t have to have a real grasp of the complex issues, he doesn’t have to have the temperament to be president, all he has to be is the Great White Hope, the great tribal warrior, to garner a majority of white support and run up advantages among non-college whites, and that’s enough to keep him within striking distance of the nuclear codes. And this is why we must wage a battle against racism—as the country continues to change demographically, continued racial animosity undermines our ability as a country to win the future. It puts all that generations of Americans have worked and fought to create in peril. The gust of wind that makes the whole fire roar is, again, a matter of race, the wolf at the door, the country’s changing demographics, the catastrophe of a Black man in the White House which brings it all home and into complete focus. As I’ve said before, the Dixiecrat George Wallace could not have been a major party presidential nominee when he ran in 1968 because, while his extreme politics might have appealed to a certain segment, there was at the time no clear and present danger to his natural constituency that the white majority was losing its dominant status. The contemporary, rapidly changing nature of the United States’ population is what has made our politics so combustible.

The questions now become: Is it possible to put out the fire? Is it possible to douse it before it destroys what too many poor Blacks and poor whites have sweated, bleed, fought, and died to build—the strongest, most powerful, most prosperous nation the world has ever known. Is there a firebreak we can employ to stop the damage?”

Republicans opposed every single idea Obama was for, and this in spite of the fact that many of the ideas were theirs to start with. In fact, there is a term for it: blacksliding. Based on the verb “backslide”, which means to revert to old ways or habits, blacksliding means to oppose a good idea one formerly supported based solely on the fact that Obama thinks it's a good idea, too. For example, Republicans once loved Merrick Garland,1 but now that Obama has nominated him for the Supreme Court they don’t like him at all and are blacksliding. It’s a fine word for the eye-popping hypocrisy with which the right has met the task of governing alongside their first Black Chief Executive, funny and apt at the same time. But don’t laugh too hard—what they have been doing for eight years is irrational and dangerous: starkly, and properly, the right has demonstrated time and time and time again that they’d rather sink the country and see its citizens suffer than do business with a Black man.