If Donald Trump speaks for disenfranchised whites, Hillary Clinton speaks mostly to blacks who feel the same.
But the differences in how people, left and right, perceive the world’s injustices — and the various approaches today’s presidential front-runners are bringing to Super Tuesday — suggest that we dwell in worlds apart. Black and white, as ever before.
On the Democratic side, leading up to the South Carolina primary, Clinton kept a breathlessly demanding schedule in the state, shuttling between cocktail parties and black churches, but spending most of her time trying to remind African Americans that she’s always been there for them. (Unspoken: Even though they ditched her for Barack Obama.)
Thursday, she had at least four events in different towns and cities, including Florence, where she met mostly black voters in an African American Methodist church. For backup, she brought along New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, who, it turns out, is no one’s backup. He’s a front-loaded, earth-moving machine of passion and compassion. As Clinton’s introducer, he provided all the bona fides she would ever need in any black community.
Booker shook the rafters and mesmerized the pews with personal stories of his boyhood. “Don’t you ever forget where you came from,” his mother always said. His soulful soliloquy ebbed and flowed in Faulknerian sentences barely interrupted by commas. He told of trying to wash blood from his hands after a failed attempt to save a young shooting victim. Of another victim’s mother comforting him as they hugged and he wept, and how she kept rubbing his back and repeating two words, and how those two words got him from the housing projects of Newark to the U.S. Senate.
“Stay faithful, stay faithful, stay faithful.”
Clinton has stayed faithful to them, he said. “She was here when she wasn’t running for president.”
It is little wonder that Bernie Sanders, who spent relatively scant time in South Carolina, decided his energies were best expended elsewhere. Plus, as Booker reminded everyone, Sanders voted five times against the Brady bill.
When Clinton finally got the microphone, she said what everyone was thinking: “Wow. I’m speechless.”
Soon enough, she found her wind and sailed through a raft of issues and obstacles she wants to change into opportunities. She touched on prison reform, gun violence, voter registration, student debt. She promised to bring manufacturing jobs back to South Carolina and even talked about climate change and solar power, which, it must be said, failed to bestir.
Clinton also mentioned white privilege and the necessity for whites to try harder to hear clearly when blacks speak of problems unique to their community. Around here, we just call that empathy.
Meanwhile, in a galaxy far, far away, the least empathic human to gaze across the Rio Grande, Donald Trump, continued preaching his own liturgy, lately distilled to a few repeat-after-me slogans. Like some rock-star hybrid of Liberace and Chris Christie, the latest to endorse the billionaire, Trump invited his fans to sing along.
“What are we going to build?”
“Who’s going to pay for it?”
“What are we going to do?”
“Make America Great Again!!!”
Trump doesn’t even have to perform his own shtick anymore; his fans do it for him. Perhaps this explains his pouty debate performance Thursday night. It just wasn’t fun. The only people talking back to him were the “liar” and the “choker,” the mogul’s nicknames for Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, respectively.
When you scan Trump’s majority-white crowds and listen to his isolationist, nativist message, it isn’t hard to imagine “segregationist” on the list of apt adjectives. Ironically, if we have any appreciation left for the notion, Trump is the furthest removed of any candidate from the everyday people he enlists to make America great again, a broad enough theme to cover whatever one thinks is missing or wrong. The man is, if nothing else, a marketing genius.
Every politician says what he or she believes an audience wants to hear, obviously. But when one candidate appeals to inclusion and removing obstacles — and the other to exclusion and building obstacles — one needn’t be a partisan to appreciate the higher road.
Though our politics have divided us, most of our issues and our lives are not so black-and-white. Those who play to such divisions while knowing better — mining anger and resentment instead of appealing to our better angels — have made a Faustian bargain for which there should be no forgiveness.
Nor, needless to say, votes.
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