To mark the end of 2018, we asked writers to revisit some of the year’s most noteworthy (for good or evil) events, people and ideas. See the other entries here between now and the new year.
In November, Mia Love, the first Black Republican woman ever elected to Congress, lost her congressional seat. Her defeat wasn’t exactly a surprise. The former congresswoman from Utah was swept up in the blue wave that ousted more than 40 House Republicans.
On her way out, Love warned her party about its relationship to Americans who are not white. She urged her fellow Republicans to give up a culture that was “transactional, not personal” toward them. The party, she said, was a reflection of President Donald Trump, whose shallow approach to governing was rooted in “no real relationships, just convenient transactions.”
Love’s parting shots were spot on. The GOP is the party of white people. In 2016, that demographic made up 86 percent of its voters, and President Trump openly courts racists with anti-Muslim/anti-immigrant dogwhistles.
Every Republican in the party might not be racist, but the racists believe they’re racist. That’s all that really matters.
While Black conservatives like Rep. Love and Candace Owens try to make a case for increased diversity within the GOP, 2018 proved how intractable its racial politics are. Again and again, the Republican Party makes it clear that it’s exactly what it wants to be: the party that remains dedicated to protecting the interests of wealthy straight white men.
The Republican Party is not serious about tackling racism because racism is an effective tool in their electoral politics. The path to Republican victory requires exploiting stereotypes and prejudices like painting Muslims and immigrants as enemies to American safety and prosperity.
Worse yet, MAGA’s narrative of white male victimhood is aided by Black conservative mouthpieces. During Kanye West’s brief stint as a conservative activist, he sat in the Oval Office and parroted a longstanding right-wing talking point: “Welfare is the reason a lot of Black people end up being Democrat,” he told President Trump and the press. Of course, that’s not true. Gallup polling from November 2018 showed healthcare, the economy and immigration are the most important issues for Black voters.
But it’s much easier for Kanye and Owens, the woman he lifted to prominence, to gain favor by relying on stereotypes.
Both Kanye and Owens claimed Black people are too scared to think for ourselves and consider voting for Republicans. In reality, Black people are unwilling to accept the racism that has been central to Donald Trump’s political rise. Owens’ crusade to spread Conservatism in Black America has stalled.
Her Blexit campaign to encourage a mass Black exodus from the Democratic Party quickly came and went. And as soon as her partnership with West imploded, Tomi Lahren, another young right-wing commentator, pounced.
Lahren tweeted, “Identity politics do NOT work.The fact some in the Conservative movement are trying to weaponize race & gender is truly disappointing. It’s about economic & personal freedom.” Most Republicans agree with Lahren unless it’s time to find a Black person to disparage President Obama; however, Owens soldiers on in the face of that reality, and her prospects look dim.
The problem is not a lack of diverse political opinion within Black communities. The party and the person Owens would like Black people to move behind have earned a terrible reputation and have not earned the respect and loyalty of Black constituents.
What Owens and others have yet to address is the overwhelming perception among Black Americans that Donald Trump is racist. Without a comprehensive racial justice platform and a willingness to rebuke racism in all its forms, there is no celebrity endorsement that will mend Donald Trump’s relationship to Black people. This failure in forethought exposes the truth. Owens might be a rising Conservative star, but she’ll remain a marginal figure in Black politics because the people she claims to represent aren’t taking the bait.
Republicans prioritize winning, not justice. And that frequently puts Black Republicans in difficult positions.
Even if Never Trumpers like Love came out with a multipoint anti-racism platform tomorrow, they’d still have to contend with the millions of voters who endorse Trumpism. This lies at the heart of the disconnect between “moderate” Republicans and their most enthusiastic voting bloc. White people with less education make up a growing share of the GOP’s voters. They’re also the group most likely to hold racist attitudes.
And while it’s easy to point the finger at less-educated, lower-income voters, racism isn’t new to the GOP. This is, after all, the party of the Southern Strategy. That backdrop didn’t dissuade Love from running as a Republican in her district. Not until Trump’s comments about deterring immigrants from “shithole” countries from entering the U.S. did I see Love, the daughter of Haitian immigrants, come out forcefully against bigotry. When Trump mocked her impending loss after the midterm elections, the scene was cringeworthy, but it seemed inevitable.
Republicans prioritize winning, not justice. And that frequently puts Black Republicans in difficult positions. The tension between what they want the GOP to be and what it is has become increasingly apparent. In 2018, Republicans who cozied up to Donald Trump and made racist comments won their elections. That’s the party they’re fighting for.
That’s not to say the Democratic Party is without fault. The establishment left has failed time after time to adequately support Black candidates and constituents, but the difference in their platforms and most vocal supporters is stark.
Democrats advocate for expanding voting rights, offering poor people and people of color broader legal protections and widening the social safety net. These are things that Black Americans need and will continue to vote for.
Black Republicans can choose to stay in the party and fight, but unless they are willing to stage an insurrection, there is little hope for a change. To paraphrase Andrew Gillum, every Republican in the party might not be racist, but the racists believe they’re racist. That’s all that really matters.
Kimberly Foster is a cultural critic and editor-in-chief of For Harriet, a digital community for black women.