Joe Biden
Joe Biden, President-Elect of the US Image Credit: AFP

If the US presidential election was a test, some people have earned a grade of “C.” As a group, their patriotism is fair. Their civic virtues need improvement. Donald Trump scored especially well with White people without college degrees, earning votes from 67 per cent of men and 60 per cent of women in this group. Trump was weakest with White college graduates — but he still won about half of the votes in this category.

In contrast, the majority of every non-White group cast their ballots against Trump. Joe Biden received 87 per cent of the votes of African Americans, 66 per cent of the votes of Latinx people and 63 per cent of the votes of Asian Americans. While Trump picked up votes from Black men and Latinx communities compared with 2016, this shift was not nearly enough to upend Biden’s supermajority among African Americans, and his winning approximately two-thirds of the Hispanic vote. (I acknowledge that exit polls are not precise and are subject to revision.)

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It’s a commonplace that the category “people of colour” is somewhat incoherent, because there is so much diversity among those lumped together. But one thing that unites this group is an apparent revulsion to Trump. The most interesting — and terrifying — question is why nearly 6 in 10 White people don’t share this antipathy.

Trump’s response, or lack thereof, to the coronavirus pandemic contributed to the deaths of thousands of Americans. His placing of his political interests above the nation’s led to his impeachment.

This is about a ceaseless sense of vulnerability among people of colour that turns out to be entirely warranted. How is it that many Americans prefer a leader who calls the disease that has killed more than 237,000 people in this country the “Chinese virus.”

Run-up to the 2020 election

Last week I binge-watched “Lovecraft Country,” a science fiction series set in the 1950s where the Black characters confront supernatural monsters and ordinary White people, with equally harrowing consequences. It was the perfect run-up to the 2020 election.

President-elect Biden is far, far preferable to Trump. But it is important to recognise that he has rarely been a leader on race, most times a dutiful follower. Still, despite Biden’s studied lack of wokeness, African Americans have richly rewarded him. One made Biden his vice president. Others handed him the Democratic nomination. This week their votes made him the next president of the United States.

Their calculus was that Biden’s moderation, including his temperance on race, is what made him electable. That turned out to be right. “Electable” is a fraught concept for people of colour. It seems to mean they must, in a White majority country, submerge some of their perceived interests to form coalitions with the minority of White people who are not opposed to voting with them.

The result is that highly qualified presidential candidates of colour, including Sens. Kamala Harris and Cory Booker, entrepreneur Andrew Yang, and former housing and urban development secretary Julin Castro were discounted by people of colour this election because the candidates themselves were people of colour, and thus perceived to be less capable of defeating Trump. This was probably a smart strategy. Part of the sickness of this country is that minorities have to play along with white supremacy to keep a bigot out of the White House.

Saving democracy

On the campaign trail, Biden often stated that the election was about the soul of the country. He was right. But no one should imagine that his mere victory is enough to save the country’s soul. It’s encouraging that the president-elect, in a national address while the votes were being counted, recognised “a mandate for action on covid, the economy, climate change, systemic racism.” He must lead understanding that the latter is as threatening to our safety and our democracy as the first three — and in some ways, harder to cure.

Previously I wrote about the idea among activists that Trump’s presidency might spark a “productive apocalypse,” in which the continuing existence of White privilege would finally be plain to all Americans.

Nearly four years later, we have witnessed more apocalypse than productivity. For all of the attention to the national reckoning on race, it does not appear that some folks learnt much. Trump appears to have received virtually the same percentage of the White vote in 2020 that he did in 2016.

After Inauguration Day, Trump might recede but Trumpism will never be satisfied. A majority of African Americans, Latin and Asian Americans, along with a minority of White people, elected Biden to put the monster down.

Respectfully, Mr. President-elect, do your job.

Paul Butler is a professor at Georgetown University Law Center. He is the author of “Chokehold: Policing Black Men.”

Washington Post