State of Disunion

Are White Voters Ready for Impeachment?

Trump demonstrated in every possible way that he was unfit for office. Yet white citizens not only voted for him, but have supported him through every scandal. Is treason the line in the sand?

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During his 2016 campaign, Donald Trump demonstrated in nearly every conceivable way that he was unequal to the task of serving as President of the United States. But white people voted for him anyway. From the moment he took the oath of office, Donald Trump has violated it through personal corruption, gross negligence of American citizens, and refusing to defend the Constitution from enemies; yet white voters have supported him. Scandal after scandal, confession after confession, white voters have been the bulwark against any kind of accountability for Trump and his administration.

It has taken almost three years into Trump’s term to build up the political will to challenge the legitimacy of his authority because of the ambivalence and aggression of white voters. Initially, this took the form of electing a GOP Congress to serve with a GOP president, essentially neutralizing any efforts to interrogate how Donald Trump came to power. Then the white electorate remained largely apathetic as crises and abuses piled up, split relatively evenly on whether action should be taken to fix the problems, let alone setting a course for it. Even in the matter of the Ukrainian blackmail, with a public confession, a self-prepared written record, and an expanding list of witnesses and accomplices, it is possible that Democrats are taking a risk that attempting to hold Trump accountable could backfire and punish them come election time in 2020.

From the moment Trump began his campaign in 2015, we have watched white voters rationalize, minimize, normalize, and embrace his malevolence. We have watched as they ignore evidence, reject facts, and entertain exculpatory narratives about the violence he incites, the crimes he commits, the hatred he foments. From Hillary Clinton to John Lewis to Maxine Waters to Rashida Tlaib, white Americans have largely dismissed the accurate descriptions of Trump’s malfeasance or expressions of the desire to hold him accountable as products of fevered “identity politics” or mere partisan squabbling. We have gotten endless profiles of white voters standing firmly behind Donald Trump no matter how badly he treats them, from soybean farmers damaged in his trade war to disaster victims waiting weeks for aid. We have watched white anchors invite known liars on air to manipulate the facts for the benefit of their white audience.

It would be a sort of madness to believe that this effort to contort and disregard reality for the sake of white people’s feelings is happening entirely by accident. Yet we hear over and over again in various takes, panels, and segments that white voters simply don’t have enough information to make these decisions, that they are hurting and anxious, that they cannot clearly see the pattern. This is a paradigm in which the Mueller Report and dozens of indictments were too complicated for the public to understand when the same public was deeply concerned about an email “scandal” that came with no discernible harm, let alone a single-sentence explanation. Thus, it is rarely suggested that white voters are making a choice to protect themselves at any cost; let me fix that.

White voters are not confused or ignorant. They are as capable of understanding race in this country as any of the people oppressed by it. They are aware of the racial hierarchy in this country, how it apportions resources and what it would mean to sacrifice it. When Donald Trump articulates white supremacy, in his words and his actions, white voters are not accidentally supporting it; they are consciously enabling it.

It is the legacy of white suffrage to ensure its own primacy, even—or especially—at the expense of representative government itself. For years, a country that dared premise itself on human freedom accommodated the enslavement of millions because it valued the benefits of the exploitation more than the principle of equality. This fetid hypocrisy would live at the core of multiple crises—the Nullification Crisis, Bleeding Kansas, Harpers Ferry—until temporarily dislodged in a protracted and bloody war. But even after they fed 300,000 Union sons into the maw of racial supremacy, white Americans could not bring themselves to eradicate the philosophy and structures that perpetuate it. When there is a choice for justice, white people choose themselves.

Like the Red Summer, the Brown v. Board of Ed. decision, and the election of Barack Obama before it, the impeachment of Donald Trump will offer white voters an opportunity: embrace a pluralistic republic, or destroy it. To destroy it is to align with those who cruised Black neighborhoods to initiate beatdowns, or who terrorized children and rearranged admissions qualifications in acts of massive resistance, or who screamed about how badly they wanted “their country” back while waving a caricature of the President of the United States as a witch doctor. It will mean letting Donald Trump continue to dismantle everything worth defending in representative democracy and to weaponize further all that must be removed from it.

To embrace a pluralistic republic is to not only cast aside the violence of racial supremacy and the suffering it inspires, but to abandon the idea and substance of a world in which it is possible. It would mean a world where Democratic legislators wouldn’t worry about punishment but expect rewards for holding a corrupt President accountable, and Republican legislators would pay a steep price for accommodating him. It would mean that the offenses against Americans for their creed or color would be treated as violations of our human rights, and not mere rhetoric. Successfully impeaching Donald Trump would mean that white voters accept the illegitimacy of white supremacy as a governing philosophy. Because their rejection of equality is the only protection Trump has.

On September 24, Nancy Pelosi called for a formal impeachment inquiry. Two days later, Donald Trump called for violence. The fate of the former relies on whether white voters sanctify or deny the latter. It is not on Democrats to convert the fanatic, but to renounce them. It is not on the rest of the country to soothe and stabilize, but to discount and discredit their ideology, their agents, their process, and in so doing, ratify a new vision of the country. After impeachment, America will exist for all—or for none.

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