The US is not a post-racial society

Race was undeniably a factor in this US election.

A demonstrator yells during a march by various groups, including "Black Lives Matter" and "Shut Down Trump and the RNC", ahead of the Republican National Convention in Cleveland
Trump will be a president who lies daily and attacks his enemies real and imagined in the most acerbic way, writes Isabel [Reuters]

Donald Trump, the preening peacock of American bigotry, has ascended to the highest perch in the land of Eleanor Roosevelt, Martin Luther King and Abraham Lincoln.

And down whatever path this late night Twitter poster takes the world during his presidency, one thing is clear: he has made racism acceptable again outside the family dinner table, Ku Klux Klan cross burnings and whites-only clubs.

For many around the world, his ascendancy shocks as much as the venom he has spewed over a year and half. For more than 54 million American voters, he is a saviour. 

But a saviour from what and from whom? From the fears of decline as a world military power, from the fears of terrorism, from the fears of continued economic decline and fears of the loss of a white majority that the US Census projects will occur in 2044 (PDF).

Fear triumphed

Whites put Trump into office, whites who disagreed with his horrid characterisations of women, whites who thought him boorish and puerile, whites who fear that he will engage the world’s largest military with a frequency that would make the Bush neocons seem like pacifists. Those folks elected him nonetheless.

But many more thought of Trump just as he defined himself, as the last line of defence against the marching onslaught of coloureds – from Latin America, South Asia, the Middle East and China, whose sheer numbers will change the US forever, unless immigration can be stemmed.

Trump’s zany promotion of a wall on the Mexican border, of a ban on Muslims and of a shutdown of refugee programmes found a home with whites fearful of the loss of their status, which has always been one of inherited supremacy.

So what comes next under President Trump? If he governs as he has run his campaign, the US will have a president who doesn't offer to heal, but who promises more police as a cure to police violence.


This election was about many things – a rebellion against Washington elites, a rebellion against the two primary parties, a rebellion against big media. But race was an undeniable factor.

So now the undercurrent of American racism, so carefully camouflaged and relentlessly denied, is about to be deposited again on Pennsylvania Avenue.

It is an address that has housed men with racial animus before: from Richard Nixon’s taped slurs, to Woodrow Wilson’s endorsement of the racist American film Birth of a Nation, to James Polk advocacy of “Manifest Destiny”, the genocidal policy of taking land from native Americans – they headline the list of presidential bigots.

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But this is 2016, eight years after the election of the country’s first black president, Barack Obama induced some giddy Americans to declare that this was a “post-racial society”.

That claim is empty, even sad now. Trump breathed fire into the cauldron of American racial animus. His supporters physically attacked minorities and he embraced the alt-right movement, the latest of a long line of groups spewing racial hatred furiously on the Internet.

Who Trump really is

So once again the country will have a bigot in the White House. His history is ugly. The very first mention of Trump in the news was in the early 1970s when the federal government sued him and his father for taking public money to build housing and then illegally refusing to rent to blacks.

He took out a full-page ad calling for the death penalty for young black men, eventually found to be innocent, after they were accused of a highly publicised brutal rape of a Central Park jogger.

What comes next? We have to take Trump at his word. He will attempt to build a wall to stop migrants from coming from Latin America. He will try to ban refugees from Muslim countries, if not all Muslims. He will continue to drive a wedge between whites and all others. It is who he is.

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This is the question of the day: Is this what the United States really is? With this election can there be any doubt? Obama was an anomaly, at least until and if the population reaches what is projected.

Blacks have long known that any advance towards racial justice is hit with a backlash, starting with the Reconstruction era after the Civil War when blacks first had the vote and for a short period held the highest offices in Southern states. That’s what launched the Klan.


Then, with the increase in the numbers and influence of black voters in the election of John F Kennedy, voter suppression efforts were revived fiercely and the effort to limit black votes continues to this day.

So what comes next under President Trump? If he governs as he has run his campaign, the US will have a president who doesn’t offer to heal, but who promises more police as a cure to police violence.

Trump will be a president who has a domestic axis of evil, many of them people of colour.

Trump will be a president who lies daily and attacks his enemies, real and imagined, in the most acerbic way.

He will be a president who works to close the US off from migrants and refugees. And he will be the cheerleader in chief for bigotry.

Lonnie Isabel is a reporter, editor and journalism instructor who has covered US politics and foreign affairs for three decades.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.