Ta-Nehisi Coates wrote a piece for the October issue of the Atlantic: “The First White President: The foundation of Donald Trump’s presidency is the negation of Barack Obama’s legacy.”
I enjoyed reading the article, as I generally enjoy Coates’ writing. He is sharp and brings a much needed voice to modern sociopolitical discourse. Here is my assessment of this particular writing.
Coates’ initial presuppositions about Donald Trump are for the most part true. It is not in the realm of fantasy to look back at Trumps history with Blacks as a group to see instances of bigotry, prejudice and outright racism towards Blacks. We of course have the luxury of looking back and Sunday morning quarterbacking, however in doing that it becomes clear that during the last 4 years of Obama’s presidency, Trump began to cater to a White Nationalist demographic. With his birth certificate and college transcript conspiracy theories he spoke to the Tea Party movement who gravitated to that message and simultaneously he tapped into the more underground Alt Right, White Nationalist movement that had been growing in Europe and the United States since the late 90s at the least. So, I would agree with Coates, that many White supremacists see one of their own in Trump.
From my own research regarding race and White supremacy historically and in modern American society I have seen that White supremacists and nationalists have utilized much of the same imagery and rhetoric that Trump used during his campaign and in his presidency regarding minorities and immigrants. This is not as blatant as the cross burning of the past, to the alt right those people are anachronisms, too stupid and ignorant to fight the “good fight” in a modern way. For example, not calling Blacks “ni&&##$” but utilizing “thugs” as replacements, so they can always feign their statements are not racial. This type of thing is how Trump communicates to his demographic. Also, his slow response to in denouncing people like David Duke play to them as well. For a presidential candidate to initially state that he didn’t know who Duke was either showed him to be unbelievably uninformed or incredibly deceitful. His insistence of there being “two sides” regarding the Confederate / Nazi rally in Charlottesville, is pure misdirection, trying to make the discussion about lawless protesters v other lawless protesters of the right / left dichotomy; while willfully ignoring the dichotomy of those who support and are Nazis and Confederates v those of us who find both anti-American.
“Before Barack Obama, niggers could be manufactured out of Sister Souljahs, Willie Hortons, and Dusky Sallys. But Donald Trump arrived in the wake of something more potent—an entire nigger presidency with nigger health care, nigger climate accords, and nigger justice reform, all of which could be targeted for destruction or redemption, thus reifying the idea of being white.”
On this point I am inclined to agree with Coates to a certain degree. I would posit that many of Trump’s supporters look at White progressivism with as much or more disdain regarding the issues of health care (possibly becoming single payer), climate control (that could cost them jobs) or justice reform (which seems ridiculous to people who say simply, “don’t commit a crime” or to people who see crime rates in urban / Black areas skyrocketing in news headlines every day). This is where Coates begins to play the familiar tune of “it is all about race” which misses many of the nuances that led to a Trump presidency. He confounds this by his casual dismissal of the economics that were also a primary agitating factor in Trump winning the election. He writes:
“Democrats and liberals have married a condescending elitist affect that sneers at blue-collar culture and mocks the white man as history’s greatest monster and prime-time television’s biggest doofus. In this rendition, Donald Trump is not the product of white supremacy so much as the product of a backlash against contempt for white working-class people.”
Of course, to suggest race and White supremacy were not an agitating factor would be beyond naïve, it is akin to denying water is wet. However, to continue to dismiss the other pink elephant in the room, the economics, will help maintain this radical right-wing movement in the United States. This is not just a presidency, but a Senate, a House of Representatives, the 34-governor’s mansion currently held by Republicans and the 32 Republican controlled state houses.
Coates’ continues in the article to attack the idea that economics of the White working class is essential to this discussion. Continues to minimize that actuality in favor of the ‘it is all about race” narrative that many liberals want to hold on to. He dismisses the scholarship and research regarding the sociopolitics and socioeconomics of the White working class nonchalantly, and this has been a real danger to the left in the United States and has cost the left, this is quantifiably true. Coates does rightfully state:
“Part of Trump’s dominance among whites resulted from his running as a Republican, the party that has long cultivated white voters.”
However; at the same time mitigates the underlying economic and cultural message that the Republicans have utilized since the end of the Civil Rights movement to help achieve that end. Again, to forward the single race narrative. Coates undermines his own argument by stating:
“The idea of acceptance frustrates the left. The left would much rather have a discussion about class struggles, which might entice the white working masses, instead of about the racist struggles that those same masses have historically been the agents and beneficiaries of.”
To not discuss class, particularly the working class regardless of color, gender, sexual orientation, religion or sexual identity is the actual problem. To not speak to the common thread of the attack on workers and consumer regardless of their differences has been what has ultimately brought us to this point. Coates insisting otherwise is truly problematic. Because until the party that traditionally has been aligned with labor wakes up to this reality, it is going to be a long road back. And while people focus on race, their eyes are not on the fact that we have a new supreme court justice; who intends to outdo the late Justice Scalia in rolling back rights for workers and consumers. The cases that soon will go before the Supreme Court regarding worker rights and consumer rights will affect all workers and consumers regardless color, gender, sexual orientation, religion or sexual identity.
 Ta-Nehisi Coates, “The First White President: The foundation of Donald Trump’s presidency is the negation of Barack Obama’s legacy.” The Atlantic, October, 2017,( accessed September 17, 2017), https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2017/10/the-first-white-president-ta-nehisi-coates/537909/