I forget sometimes that Donald Trump is president.
I’ve tried to convince myself that this is intentional; a willful misremembering of reality necessary to process his span in office. There’d be a nobility there, I think, as this would suggest I’m so empathetic, so down, so woke, that I can’t even sleep without tricking myself into amnesia.
But nah. That would give him (and me) too much credit. I forget sometimes for the same reason I forgot this month that the second Tuesday is street cleaning day in my neighborhood. The same reason I went to bed last night without flossing. There are just too many things to think and feel and do during the day to remember them all. Sometimes, I even forget he’s president while I’m remembering, processing, and reacting to a thing he just did. Which reminds me, in a way, of how a Nexium pill each morning is a part of my daily routine, but I rarely think of the acid reflux it’s prescribed to prevent.
An efficient way of lifting me out of this fog is TV. I don’t watch cable news much, but the impeachment proceedings have glued me to the screen this week, reminding me of his presence in a visceral way his tweets can’t capture. His voice. His face. His words. And then, I am reminded that this guy—the casino guy, the Central Park Five full-page-ad guy, the Birther guy, the “grab them by the” you-know-what guy—was elected president. President. This is the man 60 million Americans voted for. Donald Trump? Him?
When this happens, I’m reminded, again, of exactly who elected him, exactly why he was elected, exactly who still supports him, and exactly who I hold responsible for this happening. And I’m reminded, again, that I’ll never forgive white people for doing this.
I’m aware that this feeling transmutes white Americans into a collective, distilling a demographic of hundreds of millions down to its least desirable parts. While “not all white people” has become the canonical clichéd reply to this sort of charge, it is also not false. Not all white people voted for Trump. Not all white people support Trump. And sometimes it feels wildly unfair to lump all in with the undesirables. But being fair to white people feels, well, irrational today. It feels dumb to offer a benefit of the doubt while knowing that 54 percent of whites either voted for a racist specifically because he’s racist or didn’t believe racism mattered enough to lose a vote. It feels stupid when realizing that this majority isn’t just the frothing seas of MAGA, but also the white people who seem to be otherwise…decent. A morning shift barista at your favorite neighborhood coffee shop. A co-worker you share silly memes and quiche recipes with. A small forward on your rec league basketball team.
Of course, the sort of negotiation necessary to exist while black in America demands both an awareness of the ubiquity of racism and an evolving calculus where we decide how we wish to proceed with that information. We know that the plumber we recently hired or the human resources manager we had coffee with yesterday morning might also be a racist, so if they’re discovered to be one it’s not quite the end of the world. Just “Well, that sucks. But did you fix my bathroom sink leak yet?” While also explosive and violent and deadly and essential to our country’s foundation, racism is mostly just rote as fuck. It’s America’s paint primer.
But what distinguishes support of Trump is scale. They knew that he’s a cheater, a charlatan, a chickenhawk, and a scammer—and also that they’d likely be grifted by him, too—but they just didn’t care. His commitment to preserving whiteness’ status superseded all else, including their own livelihoods. I—and I’ll admit to my own naïveté here—underestimated that appeal. I knew they were willing to sacrifice us to retain America’s racial hierarchy. I didn’t realize they were willing to sacrifice themselves and the rest of the world, too. Cut off a nose to spite a race.
What urges me sometimes to consider being more forgiving is critical race theory, which argues that race is a social construct and that racism is the father of race, not the child. If racism is America’s most essential element—the fulcrum everything from our livelihoods to our legal system hinges upon—then maybe it’s unreasonable to expect individual whites to possess enough willpower to resist the sway of a 400-year-old behemoth. This theory even helps explain the behavior of presumably well-meaning white people, such as the New York Times’ David Leonhardt, who in “No, It Wasn’t Just Racism” suggested that racial and economic fears had equal resonance with Trump voters; anxieties working together like flour and eggs to bake a cake. While it’s true, as he argued, that these forces are symbiotic, their impacts are disproportionate. I mean, both Kawhi Leonard and Jeremy Lin won a championship with the Toronto Raptors last year, but only one was Finals MVP.
I’ve long been fascinated with how people like him can stare at the sun—so bright, so blinding, so there—and just see smog. What’s wrong with your eyes, man? How can you not see what’s so obvious? But this sort of learned astigmatism is what existing while American in America demands of you. It doesn’t allow you to accept that the innermost core of our national zeitgeist is racism. That’s too indicting, too damning, too gargantuan, too easy. Is it Leonhardt’s fault that he has blind spots? And that this vision gap flattens black working-class anxiety while giving the white working-class complex origin stories and relatable pathoses like they’re Marvel Avengers? And that this flattening alone is proof of racism’s disproportionate impact on America’s behavior? Maybe. I don’t know.
I just know that, when I turn on the TV and see Trump’s face, I’m immediately reminded of why he is president. I’m immediately cognizant of the psychic and physical impacts of his presidency, and the joy he seems to derive from cruelty. I’m immediately mindful of how his presence is perpetually exacerbating, providing racists and misogynists an unambiguous spiritual co-signature.
And I find myself in less of a forgiving mood. Sometimes I wonder if I ever even wanted to attempt forgiveness; if trying to forgive white people for this is a lie I told myself to make me feel better about myself. And, well, I guess we each have stories we tell ourselves to live.