Wednesday is the fourth anniversary of when the man who is now president went to Dimondale, Michigan, a working-class suburb of Lansing, and, referencing black voters, barked out for the first time, “What do you have to lose by trying something new, like Trump?” Well, how much time did he have?
The candidate continued on with his condescension. “You’re living in your poverty, your schools are no good, you have no jobs, 58% of your youth is unemployed, what the hell do you have to lose?” he asked, happily employing statistics and stereotypes about black people to shame powerful Democrats in the White House and in city halls across the nation. The candidate who openly aligned himself with white nationalists accused Clinton of “bigotry,” and of only seeing black people “only as votes, not as human beings worthy of a better future.” Yet, he predicted that “at the end of four years, I guarantee you that I will get over 95% of the African American vote. I promise you,” so Trump couldn’t even make it through this brief exhibition of charlatanism without telling us outright that he was taking us for granted.
The answers to Trump’s patronizing question were abundant and obvious to us black folks then, as they are now. “A lot,” “our souls,” and “too much” might qualify for top answers were this an episode of Family Feud. But I’d wager that a lot of Trump’s own voters would score highly on this, as well.
They knew precisely what black people had to lose under this president. The list would be column-length, but among the lowlights would be a lot of our money, many of our jobs and businesses, our physical freedoms, breathable air, availability of food, ballot access, immigration status, the ability for our Muslim community members to travel freely, progress towards the end of housing discrimination, and due to the administration’s support for police brutality and the dispropotionate impact of Covid-19, untold thousands of black lives whose blood is on this president’s hands.
But this anniversary is not a moment for receipts. Trump never pays his bills, anyway.
It is a time for warning. Kristin Urquiza, whose Trump-supporting dad became a victim of the pandemic, may have been the most memorable speaker from night one of the convention who wasn’t named Michelle Obama, simply because of these words: “The coronavirus has made it clear that there are two Americas: the America that Donald Trump lives in and the America that my father died in.”
Urquiza, a second-generation Mexican American, did not delineate those Americas by race, nor should she. While this pandemic has further laid bare our cultural and ideological divisions rather than bring us together as a nation, it is useful for women of color like her to remind her fellow Americans that supporting Trump does not exempt you from the horrors that he can wreak. As the beleaguered president turns his attention increasingly away from his former faux-populism and towards his fellow fat cats to buoy his campaign, it is useful for speakers like Urquiza to remind those “suburban housewives” that Trump’s America is as difficult to locate as his conscience.
This is why the former First Lady was savvy, in her Monday night speech, to deride Trump for his incompetence and to make empathy the heart of her thesis. She didn’t just call out the president, but those Americans who follow his poor example: the folks berating store staff (or killing them) over having to wear masks; the Amy Coopers of the world, weaponizing the police against people due to the color of their skin. These are all people who somehow have the illusion that either a vote for Trump, a red MAGA ballcap, or his mere presence grants them exempts them from a certain decorum and somehow insulates them from the consequences of his cruelty. All Americans didn’t feel the full brunt of Trump’s savagery these past four years, but his utter failure to handle the coronavirus catastrophe alone ensured that everyone, no matter the color or class, got at least a little taste. The very crises Trump mentioned as societal plagues — poverty, poor education, unemployment — have all worsened on his watch. We all had something to lose, and still do if he remains in power.
Obama knew she wouldn’t be heard by everyone because she is a black woman, and this fact alone in this nation will make some people shut her out. But before making her case and stating the stakes, she said something that most everyone should be able agree with. “You know I hate politics. But you also know that I care about this nation. You know how much I care about all of our children. So if you take one thing from my words tonight, it is this: if you think things cannot possibly get worse, trust me, they can; and they will if we don’t make a change in this election. If we have any hope of ending this chaos, we have got to vote for Joe Biden like our lives depend on it.”
The convention needs more Democrats who echo the messages offered by Kristin Urquiza and Michelle Obama. (Surely, the First Lady’s husband, the former President Obama, is likely to do so on Wednesday night.) These two women of vastly different renown both offered similarly transparent warnings that truly should resonate with white voters more than anyone. If Covid-19 should teach them anything, it is that they all are locked in here with us. Likewise, when Trump screamed out “What do you have to lose?” in Dimondale four years ago, perhaps that cheering crowd should have been more alarmed and heard that question as a harbinger for their own fates. Par for the course for a Trump rally, nearly every face staring back at the podium that day was white.