If you talk to many African Americans you will discover their distinctive take on the political landscape of the United States over the past eight years, leading up to the current political and constitutional crisis. The perspective of African Americans goes a long way toward explaining how Donald Trump was able to ride a wave of anger into the White House, with half-hearted support from the Republican Party he represents, only to find himself at the head of a dysfunctional government, with record low approval ratings and constant talk about the possibility of impeachment. It all goes back, Black Americans believe, to the Republican obsession to do anything necessary to bring down former President Obama.
Ever since he became the first African-American to be elected president racial conservatives have been relentless in trying to delegitimize the Obama presidency and have gone to extraordinary lengths to make sure that Mr. Obama failed. They never forgave Mr. Obama for being successful. This led them to a path of self-destruction. They would stop at nothing to undo the reality of the Obama presidency. Racial conservatives found convenient allies within the Republican Party, in 2009, which sought to cultivate an energized grassroots movement to revive their political fortunes.
The opposition to Mr. Obama, both in the Republican Party and in right-wing media, went beyond anything that could be considered “normal” in American political discourse. Fox News and right-wing talk radio, along with angry grassroots movements, such as the so-called “Tea Party”, used racially-tinged rhetoric and images along with other tactics, to mobilize an oppositional force.
From the perspective of African Americans, the Republican Party cultivated a politics of negativity and visceral hatred. The Republicans could not articulate a vision for the future, but they knew how to play up fears and resentment within their own constituency. Black Americans saw the propensity of the Republicans to embrace a politics of anger and exclusion, rather than inclusion and hope, as having led to political calculations that created internal weaknesses despite outward appearances of success.
Success included the mid-term election of 2010, where Republicans regained control of congress, and the election of Donald J. Trump as president of the United States in 2016. The weakness within the party was building up and came to a head as mainstream Republicans became increasingly dependent on the extremist Tea Party faction. The Republicans grew desensitized to subtle, and sometimes blatant, appeals to racism, sexism, and xenophobia, thereby making it difficult for them to create a “big tent” going forward. Lacking racial diversity within their party there was nothing to alarm them about their increasingly narrow appeal to angry non-college educated white male voters.
To be sure, the politics of anger and visceral hatred also exists within the left wing of the Democratic Party. Many on the left direct their anger against devout members of Judeo-Christian religions, and this has alienated a good number of African Americans. The cultural left’s combined contempt for religion, coupled with their inability to understand the culture and values of these communities, is a significant obstacle to the Democrats’ ability to reach out to blue collar and low-wage service workers, who would otherwise be part of their constituency.
But the Republicans, African Americans argue, have capitalized on racial conservatives’ hatred of Mr. Obama. This strategy has attracted a grassroots constituency that is incapable of governing. People whose political perspective is largely shaped by racial resentment find it difficult to build coalitions and consensus. They find it impossible to compromise. They become natural allies with those whose primary objective is to temporarily shut down the government and to permanently weaken it. This alliance has wanted to demonstrate that government is incapable of functioning efficiently or effectively, except when it comes to policing and the use of military force.
As a constituency, this alliance has been nurtured on the “red meat” rhetoric of insult and conspiracy theories. While these insults and this rhetoric were mostly directed against racial minorities, especially African-Americans, during the Obama years, the leadership of the Republican Party was surprised when Donald Trump mastered this rhetoric and began to direct it against mainstream Republicans during the presidential primaries in 2016.
Ideological currents within the Republican Party, including calls to weaken the federal government, make policing more aggressive, and defend cultural insularity have deep roots that preceded the Obama administration. Nonetheless, these currents grew noticeably stronger after Mr. Obama was elected.
Many African Americans see the chaos today, both within the Republican Party and in the Republican-dominated national government, as the result of indifference toward the politics of visceral hatred, anger, obstructionism and negation, which Republicans cultivated, or at least tolerated, as it was brewing within their party during eight years of opposition to the Obama administration. African Americans argue that in their obsession to destroy Mr. Obama and all that he represents, Republicans have unleashed irrational forces that now prevent them from governing and that they can no longer control.