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Reggie Jackson: What the election says about who we are

“Michael Phelps sets record in 100m butterfly and receives second place medal.”

“Cleveland Indians outscored 8 to 7 in game seven of 2016 World Series, win first World Championship since 1948.”

“Simone Biles dominates the field at 2016 all-around final, receives silver medal.”

“Golden State Warriors blow 3-1 series lead against Cleveland Cavaliers, losing final game 93-89, win back-to-back championship.”

These headlines are all obviously fake and absurd. No one who wins actually loses. But for the fourth time in US history the winner of the popular vote in the presidential election has lost. None of the fictitious sports headlines would be acceptable or tolerated by the American public. Yet we collectively sit back and accept that the person who received fewer votes will become the next President of the most powerful nation in the world on January 20, 2017.

The public has yet again been reminded about the quirky Electoral College system, created by the Founding Fathers, and how it determines who wins our presidential elections. I will not rehash the details of that here. The system is what it is, and there is little to no chance that a Constitutional Amendment will be adopted to change it. When Al Gore lost the 2000 election after receiving more votes than George W. Bush he did not complain about the outcome or the Electoral College system. Hillary Clinton has not complained after her defeat on November 8th.

What do those facts tell us about our electoral system? Is it broken? Is it fair? Is it antiquated? Opinions vary. What is clear is that a 17 year-old running for prom queen would not suffer a defeat like Hillary Clinton did if she had more votes. Why do we accept the outcome of this election? Although many have protested around the country, their protests are not directed at the Electoral College. They simply disapprove of Donald Trump being president.

Pundits have evaluated what the election of Donald Trump means for the past two weeks. Votes are still being counted. Hillary Clinton has clearly won over a million more votes up to this point and some estimate that the difference will be as high as 2 million by the end. Of all four persons who have come in second after winning the popular vote, this will be the biggest margin by far. No hanging chads to confuse us. The numbers are clear this time. No need for any recounts. The winner should be obvious. In any other competitive endeavor the person who outscores their opponent always wins.

Donald Trump has been elected. No doubt about this. He will be inaugurated in January. Some of his supporters are celebrating by harassing people of color and Muslim Americans around the country. We have heard the alarms ringing that this election portends the end of our democracy. We have been warned that this election proves the misogynists, and the racists, and anti-immigrant voices have won over all others. The fact that he won proves it, but that is not really the whole story.

Hillary Clinton, who was as surprised as anyone at the election results, actually received more votes. Lets not get confused about this. Despite the flawed system we use, more Americans wanted her to be their president. What would the political analysts be saying had she actually won? The conversation would be different. The evidence would show that those who supported Trump were in the minority, barely, but still in the minority. Over 120 million people voted. Over a million votes separated the candidates. It was a fairly close election. However, the Electoral College shows Trump winning 306 to 232. That is not very close. The margins were razor thin in many states. The Electoral College system, which President-Elect Trump is now praising, gave him every vote in those states.

Many have criticized people who did not vote. Despite the fact that African Americans voted in smaller numbers this election, they made up 12% of the votes cast in 2016. In 2012 and 2008 they made up 13% of the voters. Not a huge drop-off. Everyone in Wisconsin who voted for Clinton or Gary Johnson or Jill Stein, will have his or her elector vote for Donald Trump. How then can people honestly be told that their vote really counted? I know the arguments already. If you don’t vote you can’t complain. If more people had gotten out and voted Trump may have not won Wisconsin.

The bottom line is that many people could not vote. Whether they are convicted felons, currently incarcerated persons, those without proper ID, those who liked neither candidate, those who lived in places where polling locations were moved or eliminated. Over 6 million Americans cannot vote due to a felon disenfranchisement law in their state. One in seven African American adults are barred from voting because of these laws that were first created in the late 1800’s to find creative ways of eliminating the black vote. In the states of Florida (23%), Kentucky (22%), and Virginia (20%), more than one in five African Americans is disenfranchised. Trump won both Kentucky and Florida. One in every fifty non-black Americans cannot legally vote.

There are many reasons being given for Trump’s success. A lackluster message by Hillary, which did not excite as many voters as Barack Obama did in 2008 and 2012, was one explanation. Many people, including her team, assumed Hillary would win Wisconsin. She never campaigned in the state after the primary in April, which Bernie Sanders won by a huge margin. Trump’s appeal to the white-working class voter was another. For that group, he succeeded in areas that have seen manufacturing jobs disappear in the last twenty years, especially in Wisconsin and Michigan. Trump’s appeal to racists, which was confirmed by the Ku Klux Klan endorsement, has also been used to explain his win.

There was a continuum of supporters for both candidates. Anti-establishment voters saw Clinton as too closely aligned to the old guard in Washington DC and Trump being the ultimate anti-establishment candidate. Clinton won only 54% of the female vote and 59% of the total vote in large cities with a population over 50,000. Clinton won 78% of the LGBT community votes. Clinton was only able to convince 16% of the white evangelical and born-again Christians to vote for her.

Those opposed to immigration from Mexico and Central America supported Trump. Looking at county level data Trump was very successful with white voters in areas with a large growth in Latino populations since 2000. Despite his consistently misogynistic statements, several racist remarks about Mexicans, hyperbolic claims about Muslims, and outrageous mocking of those with disabilities, he won wide support. His base, according to exit poll results, was primarily whites without a college degree. He won 67% of those voters. Mitt Romney won 61% of that demographic in 2012, and John McCain got 58% of their votes in 2008. Trump won 62% of the rural vote and 61% of the military votes.

His support was not wide enough to win a majority of the votes though. So what does that really mean? Are we at that place where we, as a nation, are primarily in favor of Trump and those who follow his bad example? Do we celebrate those who spend time enraging the masses for their own benefit? Some have compared his tactics and success to Аdоlph Hіtlеr. Despite Nаzі storm troopers unleashing a campaign of violence just six days before the 1933 election, Hitler’s party only won 43.9% of the vote. It was far from a majority in democratic Germany.

Washington is far away, but decisions made there directly impact Milwaukee. As a community, we must wake up and see what this election says about us as Americans. And using our brains will be required. Most people voted against Trump. That says he does not have a mandate from the American public, despite the Electoral College results. We can accept his win as proof that we are going backwards in our progress towards social justice, or realize that we have not gone as forward in reality as we felt in perception. The Republican candidate has won over 52% of the white vote in 10 of the past 12 presidential elections. Nixon in 1972 and Reagan in 1984 won 66% and 64% respectively.

This is a crisis of conscious for our nation. Racism, xenophobia, and misogynist views have reared their ugly heads in a strong way. That cannot be disputed. These issues are not new. We have never had a woman president for a reason. Any time our economy is doing poorly there are calls to cut off immigration. Barriers to curtail or eliminate the votes of people of color have been consistent since the 1860’s.

Just as Ronald Reagan used a motto of “making America great again” in 1980, Trump has driven a wedge using race as a tool. His appointment of Jeff Sessions, who lost a federal judgeship after allegations of making racist statements in the 1980’s, sends a clear message about his presidential direction. Appointing Steve Bаnnоn of the alt-right movement as a top White House counselor sends the same signal.

The Republican party has used the race card to scare whites into believing they have lost ground to people of color unfairly. Changing demographics is a clearer indicator of those gains. Blacks, Latinos, and Asians combined made up 27% of the voters in this presidential election, which is their highest percentage ever. Whites made up only 70% of those who voted in this election. That is the lowest percentage ever. It was as high as 90% in 1976, 87% in 1992 and 81% in 2000.

The less white the electorate becomes, the easier it is to convince whites that their way of life is endangered. This is what Republicans banked on in the late 1960’s using Nixon’s “Southern Strategy” as well as Reagan in 1980. As a result of redistricting, Republicans have made significant gains in state legislatures as well as the House of Representatives. These results are not accidental. They’ve been planned out methodically. Five of the last eight men to be elected as president have been Republicans.

I have been saddened by the response to the election results. Far too many are surprised by what took place. We have been leaning this direction during the entire election cycle. Trump has been expressing outrageous opinions openly and without any desire to temper them for well over a year. We saw the Trump campaign rallies on television. We heard our neighbors loud and clear in their support of Donald Trump. Let us not now act as if this was unthinkable. We saw it coming.

We will now be forced to deal with the absurdity of another man serving as president who lost the popular vote. The Senate, the House of Representatives, and nearly forty governorships are now in the hands of Republicans. That means the message and techniques they used have been more effective than the Democrats.

Wake up America. It is a new day that is very much like an old day.

© Image

Sketch by A.W. M’Callum Significant election scene at Washington, June 3, 1867 Library of Congress

About The Author

Reggie Jackson

As the Community Relations Writer for the Milwaukee Independent, Reggie Jackson covers a range of African American issues. He is also a former Board Chairman of the Dr. James Cameron Legacy Foundation, which is the parent organization of America’s Black Holocaust Museum (ABHM), and currently serves as the museum’s Head Griot (docent).

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