The unthinkable has happened: The same country that elected Barack Obama twice is about to put Donald Trump in the White House.
Except, it’s not unthinkable at all. America is a racist country, founded on land and labor stolen from people of color. America, like much of the rest of the world, treats women like second-class citizens, and reserves special animosity for strong female leaders. Donald Trump categorized all Mexican immigrants as rapists in the same speech in which he announced his campaign. He advocated banning Muslim immigrants from the country, and he was caught on tape bragging about sexual assault, among countless other serious transgressions.
But he didn’t win despite these things. He won because of them.
Political scientists will parse this election many ways, but it ultimately comes down to a simple math: America is a majority white country. How did we follow eight years of Obama with four years of Trump? Obama inspired a coalition of young and minority voters to come out in large numbers with a vision of a better America; Trump inspired a monolith of white voters desperately clinging to their position as the dominant group in the country.
We can talk about lesser turnout among the groups that powered Obama to victories in 2008 and 2012—and yes, it seems that, had they voted in the same numbers they did in those years we might be looking at a different scenario this morning. But in the end, this is about white America’s sickness, one that it has suffered from since its inception, and one that shows no sign of fading. In the past month, more than 54 million people voted for a white nationalist with a history of serially demeaning women, many of them doing so contrary to their own economic self-interest. The prospects for rational government and civil discourse would be radically different had only, say, 52 million people voted for Trump (or 55 million for Clinton), but the current of hate running through America—running through white America—would be no less real.
In 1959, Mike Wallace produced a documentary on the Nation of Islam called The Hate That Hate Produced that traced the black nationalist movement of Malcolm X and others to the climate of racism in Jim Crow America. The country has made great strides since then—in the past 10 years alone we’ve seen the election of a black president and the legalization of gay marriage, and last night we saw the election of the first Somali-American woman to state office. Make no mistake: The wave that has swept Donald Trump to the presidency is a reaction to those accomplishments. It is a vote for hate in response to the positive, if incomplete change that this country has experienced.
There will be talk in the coming days about the need to understand the frustrations of the people who voted for Trump. They may have some legitimate concerns, but Trump, and many of his supporters, have voiced those concerns in a way that is unequivocally deplorable. The sentiment behind that voice must be fought at every opportunity. We will never be OK with the hate that Donald Trump represents.