Updated: Jan 7, 2021
We hadn’t seen each other in months and to say things were a bit strained would be putting a “nice” face on it. We were good friends from two different worlds. To say it, you would think we lived on two different planets and I admit there were times it felt that way.
We were casualties of a national divide. A world where ideologies became fact. Cable news capitalized on the disparities, and social media algorithms cultivated a 21st century segregation. We, like many Americans, had become partakers in a new normal. An information and news system designed to cater to our own personal worldview.
Still…we determined to remain friends and be bigger than the unseen forces tearing us apart. At least that’s what we said. But I know there were times when we looked at each other’s posts on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram and thought it would be easier to hit the “unfriend” or “block” button in disgust at the others perceived lunacy.
She stood with me through a painful divorce. I was by her side during her battle with breast cancer. Surely we could survive Trump, right? She is a Republican and I am a Democrat. We were friends before Trump and we would be friends afterward, I convinced myself of it. But as I combed my hair and thoughts of…’how could she support a man who demeaned others for sport’ ran through my mind, doubt creeped in. But still, I continued getting dressed to meet her in the park, a safe space, due to the Corona Virus that was now making its 9 month 2020 victory lap.
After the niceties and polite laughter on the subjects on which we held common ground, she paused, and I kinda knew what was coming. “I want you to consider voting for Trump”.
My eyes rolled to the back of my head. Was she for real right now?
“Wait hear me out!” she said. I began to shake my head. “It’s best we don’t talk politics”, I said, dying to change the subject. “I know you hate Trump”, she said.
“I don’t hate him; I hate what he’s done to our country. I honestly believe the man needs therapy! He’s clearly a product of childhood trauma leading to narcissistic personality disorder”, I replied. This time it was her turn to roll her eyes.
“Are you gonna give me five minutes or what?”
I sighed deep and nodded, “On one condition. We both state our case, and in the end simply respect where the other stands. Agreed?”
“Agreed”, she said.
She began with the beloved republican talking point that they are the party of Lincoln. A point as an African American she seemed to take particular pride in.
And as an African American myself, I always found this strange. Black Republicans love to introduce this point as if party platforms and priorities don’t change. And yes, the republican party may have begun as the party of Lincoln 159 years ago, but since then, in it’s it place, they had become the party of Calvin Coolidge, who during the Great Mississippi River flood of 1927 reduced the pressure on the levees and flooded Black communities to save White communities leading to thousands of displaced Blacks who were forced to work for their rations under the gun of the National Guard and area planters, leading to a conflagration of mass beatings, lynchings, and rapes.
They had become the party of Richard Nixon, whose Chief domestic aide, John Ehrlichman, shared the Nixon strategy in an interview with journalist Dan Baum.
“The Nixon campaign in 1968 and the Nixon White House after had two enemies: the anti-war left and Black people. We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be against the war or Black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and Blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing them both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news”.
They had become the party of Reagan, under whose leadership the median income of Black families declined by 5.2% and the number of poor Americans, who were disproportionately Black, increased by 2.2 million. Reagan, a president widely celebrated by the GOP, vetoed sanctions against South Africa, when a bipartisan congress presented him with the 1986 Comprehensive Apartheid Act.
And now they were the party of Trump, a president, who when faced with the prospect of African immigrants asked, "Why are we having all these people from shit-hole countries come here?” A man who was the poster child for the “Birther Movement” an agenda that hoped to delegitimize America’s first Black president, and an administration that boasts the lowest number of African American, Latino and women cabinet members in 31 years. And by low numbers for Latinos, I mean none. Trump’s entire cabinet employs not one person of Hispanic/Latin descent.
They are the party of a president whose administration, as a point of policy, removed innocent children, some who were still breastfeeding, from desperate parents crossing the border seeking asylum. Any parent who has lost their child for 5 minutes in a grocery store knows the terror of each prolonged second spent wondering if their child was safe. Imagine that multiplied by YEARS. This administration, ripped children from their mothers arms with no regard for the children’s emotional, psychological or physical health. And today, as it stands, 514 migrant children still have not been returned to their parents in what can only be described as a wanton act of evil.
And finally, they are the party of a president whose reckless handling of a global pandemic is killing African Americans at three times the rate of our White and Asian counterparts. A president who consistently hosts mask-less rallies, in the most vulnerable states in our union. A president who 10 months into a global pandemic that is destroying businesses, hurting families, disrupting our children’s education, and has killed over two hundred and thirty thousand Americans, has no national plan.
But…STILL, I listened.
She talked about how president Trump had come to the rescue of HBCU’s, something she pointed out that Obama didn’t do.
I wondered if she and Trump knew that Obama wasn’t running for president and if ‘rescued’ meant something different for viewers of Fox News. Clearly they weren’t using the dictionary term which meant: to free or deliver from confinement danger or difficulty. Funding for HBCU’s was already on the congressional docket. It was actually, surprisingly, bipartisan senate legislation. Trump in no way spearheaded or even pushed for this funding so at best he can be celebrated for not obstructing it when it reached his desk. So…okay…yes…thanks Donald for not preventing bi-partisan leaders of the Senate education committee from doing what they were already doing.
And although the Obama administration dropped the ball his first year in office with good intentioned but failed legislation that attempted to reduce the debt to students at HBCU’s, his administration reversed action and signed bipartisan congressional funding of HBCUs throughout his remaining two terms. He has also given 125k of his own money to UNCF, which is far different from not doing anything to support HBCUs.
But STILL…I listened.
She ranted about Biden’s signing of the 1994 Crime Bill and how it disproportionately affected the African American community.
It was a talking point founded in ignorance that pissed me off during the 2016 election cycle and unfortunately for her was having the same affect now.
“Now wait a minute!” I said. “Context is EVERYTHING. So slow your roll and let me educate you. The 1994 Crime Bill was not just signed by Joe Biden; it was also endorsed by the NAACP. It had the support of mayors like Kurt Schmoke, the first elected Black mayor of Baltimore. As well as the support of prominent African American Pastors from around the nation who signed a letter urging the Congressional Black Caucus to support the bill. And when it came before congress, 2/3 of the Congressional Black Caucus, including James Clyburn and Kweisi Mfume, who was the head of the Black Congressional Congress, helped vote it in to law.
The reason it received so much support was at that time crack cocaine was running rampant in urban communities. People were being murdered in the streets and becoming addicted to a drug that was destroying lives. People were terrified and desperate for immediate action. So they pushed for the bill’s passage and got it. Trying to lay the entire fall out at Joe Biden’s feet based on your limited understanding of history is short-sided and wrong. I’m not saying it was a good bill, it wasn’t, but the devil is in the details. While it helped to clean up urban communities, we found out that the criminal consequences far outweighed the good. And many of those same leaders have since come out and regretted their involvement in the bill, but as they say, hindsight is 20/20.
As a voter, I appreciate that mature adults can look at past mistakes, admit error, learn from it and do better. But since you brought it up, when has Donald Trump EVER APOLOGIZED or course corrected on anything?”
She tried to jump in but it was too late, I was angry and undaunted.
“In 1989 five young African American men were WRONGFULLY accused of raping a white female jogger in Central Park. Donald Trump NOT KNOWING ANYTHING except that they were black, took out a full-page ad in the NY Times calling for the death of these five innocent boys. These boys spent their youth in prison as a result of the hate and misinformation campaign ginned up by Donald Trump and others. When these same boys who are now men were found to be INNOCENT, Donald Trump flatly refused to apologize.
During Barack Obama’s first term, Donald Trump regularly appeared on national news programs, disparaging him as "not one of us" or as someone who was “not a legitimate citizen”. Trump didn’t discuss policy differences. He instead opted to spread fear and falsehoods, repeatedly acting as if Barack wasn’t a son of this nation and had no right to the American presidency. As if the free labor born through the blood sweat and tears of our ancestors wasn’t the backbone of this country’s economic growth. Not to mention Trump’s greatest hits: Telling 4 congresswomen of color to “Go back to where they come from”. Tweeting that he is saving suburban housewives from “low income housing invasion” or the comments he made about the Hispanic judge who presided over one of his MANY cases for impropriety. Even republican and former Speaker of the House, Paul Ryan, called his comments "the textbook definition of racism".
“So I guess you’re one of those people who see everything Donald Trump says as racist? Even though he has had plenty of Black people around him”, she said.
I was exhausted; this was not how I wanted this meet-up to go. The last thing I wanted to do was talk about race or Trump…I could get that and more on the evening news. I stared at the sky and shook my head…how did we get here?
And then she said, “Did you know when Jesse Jackson had The Rainbow/Push Coalition Wall Street Project Conference, Donald Trump, the so-called “racist”, gave Jesse Jackson’s entire organization office space in Trump Towers for FREE?”
“No, I didn’t know that”, I said. “But I do know that two years ago when Neo-nazis descended on American streets chanting “Jews will not replace us” and a young female protestor lost her life, Donald Trump equivocated the behavior of the Neo Nazi protestors with the peaceful protestors who came out against them. I know that in the first 2020 presidential debate, amidst Donald Trump’s grotesque display of immaturity and narcissism, the man was asked to denounce a racist organization and HE WOULD NOT DO IT. That is not only problematic in a country that espouses liberty for all, it should also remove him from consideration for leadership of a country that espouses liberty for all”.
“Donald Trump may be his own worst enemy”, she said. “But I don’t believe he is a racist. Why would a racist pass landmark criminal justice reform like the First Step Act?”
“Maybe because most of his friends and business associates are criminals”, I said. “You gotta admit that a record number of people who either worked on Trump’s campaign, worked for Trump personally, or worked in his administration have been arrested and indicted on charges. Most recently Steve Bannon and Brian Kolfage were charged for fraud surrounding the wall that Trump promised voters in his 2016 presidential campaign; Roger Stone for lying to congress, obstruction and witness tampering; Michael Flynn for making false statements to the FBI; Paul Manafort for tax and banking crimes Rick Gates for conspiracy and making false statements; Michael Cohen for campaign finance violations, and George Papadopoulos for lying to the FBI”.
“That was all part of the Russian hoax”, she said. “The First Step Act helps to reduce mass incarceration and improves conditions for current prisoners. Besides, you act like Biden is a boy-scout. Let’s not forget how he tried to cover up his son’s misdeeds with Burma in the Ukraine”.
“It isn’t a hoax that Russia interfered with our election”, I said. “That is a known FACT. Russia is still interfering in our election, and Trump, then and now, has done nothing noteworthy to protect our election process from foreign interference. I wonder why that is? It’s also not a hoax that Trump tried to manipulate the Ukrainian leader who needed help defending his country from Russian aggression, by trying to gather dirt on the man who he knew could and IS going to defeat him in the 2020 election. He was IMPEACHED for abuse of power and obstructing congress for goodness sake! And don’t believe the hype. The First Step Act is just that, a first step. It still leaves significant mandatory minimum sentences in place and two of the bills key sentencing provisions are not retroactive, which actually minimizes its overall effect. And as for Hunter Biden, someone’s son making a stupid mistake because of an unfortunate drug addiction is hardly tantamount to the corruption Donald Trump wantonly traffics in, like say the 500 million he owes Deutsche Bank, the taxes he refuses to let the American people see or his secret bank account in China”.
And with that…there we were, once again, sitting in silence for what seemed like an eternity.
Until finally she looked at me.
“Do you agree with them?”
“Agree with who?” I said.
“Do you agree with Biden and Black Twitter? Do you think that because I don’t support Joe, I ain’t, quote-unquote, Black”, she said.
Then I understood. Well…at least I understood it a little more. She had been trying to show me her heart. Trying to get me to see who she was past the judgment and the rhetoric and the ridiculous knee jerk, ill informed, cancel culture that permeated our social lexicon.
“You know me better than that”, I said. “I don’t subscribe to that bull-crap and I never will. Black folks have enough problems then to start determining blackness based on a political stance. I’m educated and mature enough to know that we are a diverse people, with diverse backgrounds, and diverse world views, that inform diverse political beliefs. And while I think you are absolutely bat-shit crazy for supporting Trump, to me, it isn’t an indictment for or against blackness. How could it be? Being black is a gift from God. And gifts from God are not subject to the whims of mankind’s limited definitions. But…that said, voting for Trump DOES mean you’re in the sunken place”.
Then I turned to her and smiled big. She smiled back. And then we did something together that we hadn’t done in a very long time….we earnestly laughed. And we did so for ten minutes straight.
(Click HERE to read The Distance Between Us - Part Two)