Racism has been present in the political system of the United States from the very beginning. Its meaning grew abruptly in the 1960s when affirmative action, “positive discrimination,” began to replace a centuries old practice of institutional racism, manifesting as an advantage for Black Americans during the college admissions process or in seeking employment, for example. The Democrats actively support such politics, while Republicans actively opposed it in equal numbers.
In the 2016 presidential election, 8% of the vote for Donald Trump came from African Americans, whereas African Americans made up 88% of the votes for Hillary Clinton. The typical Trump supporter in that election was a white man, 45 or older, with technical training, and married, either Protestant or Catholic, with an annual income between $50,000-$100,000.
The increase in the U.S. gross domestic product between 2017-2019 led to an increase in income for core groups of economically active populations and unprecedented low levels of unemployment. Such growth facilitated substantial growth in voter support for Trump until the spring of 2020, including in sections of the African American community that had also been affected by such growth.
On the eve of this presidential election, the goal of the Republican and DemocratIc campaign strategies seems simple: Save one’s own voter base and attract some of the opposition’s voters to the party. One of the most well-known slogans from leaders of the Democratic Party in the 2020 election campaign has been simply, “Trump is a racist.”
The first thing one has to do in advancing a slogan like this is to make use of information technology. For example, if one searches on Twitter for “racist,” one may end up on President Trump’s official homepage. Social media, and other outlets actively push and circulate this image, which is covered by CNN and The New York Times.
The second thing one has to do in advancing this slogan is to create racially motivated disorder, something which has only grown in the last year in order to achieve campaign goals. The starting point of the current wave of disorder is considered to have begun with the bloody clashes between part of a march by the far-right organization “Unite the Right” and its opponents, including many African Americans, in Charlottesville, Virginia, on Aug. 12, 2017. At the time, troops had to be brought in, and the racist image of Trump, which condemned the disorder but not the far-right radicals who had provoked it, grew even stronger.
The racially motivated conflict in the U.S. reached its peak in the summer of 2020 after the death of George Floyd, a Black American man at the hands of white police officer Derek Chauvin during an arrest in an incident which ultimately led to growing social attention for the Black Lives Matter movement. Riots in recent months which embraced all of the U.S., led to the looting of shops and banks and the destruction of monuments to historical figures.
The need to react to the impunity of some of the Black Lives Matter followers divided those who govern American cities and states into two factions. Republican supporters saw in the death of George Floyd only the abuse of police power and hoped it would be handled in ordinary court proceedings. But in this tragedy, Democrats found an opportunity to mobilize African Americans and radicals from a number of different groups against a “racist Trump,” including radical left-leaning members of the largely online antifa movement.*
Both parties made mistakes, mainly because they did not take the pandemic into consideration.
The Republicans did not foresee the pandemic’s catastrophic consequences for the U.S. The paradox is that the most influential power in the contemporary world found that it had the highest amount of damage from COVID-19. Currently, more than 6 million people are infected, approximately 190,000 people are dead, and 40 million are unemployed. The pandemic has highlighted the inequalities of the health care system and social safety net in the U.S. In a recent study carried out at the request of The Washington Post, it was shown that, in districts with predominantly Black populations, the number of coronavirus cases is three times higher than in districts that are predominantly white, and the number of deaths from COVID-19 is six times higher. Black Americans, many who work in low wage service jobs, were the first to find themselves unemployed, and unable to work remotely given that they were in professions that did not permit working from home. As a result, Trump’s support from African Americans began to disappear.
The Democrats, for their part, clearly overdid it in favoring the Black Lives Matter movement, and when the ultimate demands of its leaders and the violent actions of the crowd began to threaten national security, they did not turn to criticizing that behavior in time.
American voters who condemn racism still demand order in the streets and safety for their families from the government. In these matter, the racism factor disappears, and all major demographic groups call for law and order. From the perspective of ordinary Americans, police are called on to defend private property, this being the cornerstone of the American system and the basis of the American dream. If Democratic Party leaders forget this, then minority voters will remember in the election in November.
*Editor’s note: Antifa is shorthand for anti-fascists, an umbrella description of the far-left-leaning militant groups that resist neo-Nazis and white supremacists at demonstrations and other events.
Stansilav Tkachenko is an expert with the Russian think tank, the Valdai Discussion Club, professor at St. Petersburg State University, and a professor researcher at Liaoning University in China.