It is time for a major third party to emerge to remake the political landscape- and black voters have to deliver it for the good of the country. Black Americans have to face an inconvenient political truth and we cannot wait another election cycle to do it. We need to listen closely to the popular assessment that the cardinal sin of the Clinton campaign was its failure to soothe the emotional needs of the “white working class voter.” That is a warning shot- louder than anything that Trump ever said because the ones propagating this message are supposed to be our electoral allies. The road ahead looks rough for black people, politically speaking.
The country elected a president that won only 3% of the black vote. The highest estimate I have seen anywhere is 5%, but the point remains. Notwithstanding Trump’s incessant self-delusion that he “did great with the African-Americans” he was destroyed among black voters- losing by the largest margin of any candidate in history. Mitt Romney was routed by Barack Obama and he got double the vote share that Trump netted. Yet, Trump won the presidency. We have to face the cold hard fact that we are officially politically marginalized.
Considering the rightward lurch of the Republican Party during the Obama Presidency and the acceptance of known racist kooks into the mainstreams of power, it seems as though black folks have no choice but to remain in our political home of the last five decades. But we do so at our own peril. Democrats are loading up to start chasing that “working class white vote” and that is going to compromise the black constituency- which is a peculiar dynamic because the interests of those two groups over-lap far more than they diverge. This is the inconvenient truth for those white folks who love to believe that they are closer to the Trumps and the Bushes than they are to us. They may look and live like the fictional Conner family from the popular 90’s sitcom Roseanne, but they cling to the fantasy that their family fortune is just around the corner and they will be the Carringtons from the 80’s drama Dynasty. We will long for the days when they could be counted on to cling primarily to God and guns. But even if their group delusion poses a difficult political problem for us today, those working class white folks will find out soon enough that it is an even bigger problem for them.
But the instant concern is the political viability of black-Americans. Since the beginning of this nation we have been at the center of structural political establishment and the subsequent reorganizations. We have occupied that space as both the object and the subject of change. It is one of the unavoidable consequences of America’s original sin. Trying to square up a system that was once organized around the principal that men could be the property of other men may very well be an impossible task but it is the one that conscientious stakeholders take up in perpetuity. As a political group, black Americans are the living breathing descendants of the Greek God Sisyphus- rolling that boulder of civic equality and racial justice up the hill every day, only to awaken each morning to find that it has rolled back down the hill to our front door. But we keep pushing- because we have no choice. Acceptance of that boulder and what it represents is not an option.
So what group is better equipped to lead America out of the antiquated and ineffectual two-party system that defines our politics and denies so many citizens a voice in our governance? It has to be us. The two party political system is poised to toss us overboard like the weight of perished cargo during the middle passage. This is a dark and harrowing image, but we are in a dark and harrowing period in our politics. The stock price on subtlety and nuance has plummeted. If the sound and visual of white supremacists celebrating all around us doesn’t get our attention then nothing will. And despite all of the issues we have had over the years with our formal responses to issues and crises, I do not believe we are that dumb, deaf and blind. We are not that dead inside. Those of us that are conscious and active participants in the political system will act to preserve what remains of our viability and build a strategy for the shifting landscape. I have to believe that. The alternative is to accept that black folks are about to be led on our very own political trail of tears that will leave us with as much power and self-determination as the Cherokee Tribe had at the end of theirs. But unlike the Cherokee, we have the weapons to fight effectively and the landscape is not stacked against us hopelessly as it was against them. We can fight and we can win.
Those prized working-class white voters will get restless when the rainbows and pots of gold that Trump promised them don’t materialize and they find themselves as broke and frustrated as ever. All they will have to soothe their bruised egos and broken hearts will be social issues. And you can bet your last money that the Democrats will be just as eager to feed that need as the GOP. Every vestige of legislation designed to codify and protect black equality and civil rights will become legislative public enemy number 1. And if we are not careful, we could find ourselves begging a losing party not to abandon us- so we can have the privilege of going down on their sinking ship because the Republicans cornered the market on racial identity politics fifty years ago.
But what if a large swathe of black voters just walked away? What if a significant number of us took a hard look at the third party options on the table- or even considered creating another one of our own? The results of the 2016 election cycle reflected that more than 5% of the popular vote went to a third party candidate- in a year when the loser won the popular vote by 2.8 million votes. The third party vote count has never been as high as it was in ’16. That means the game has been shaken up and rearranged so drastically that a political migration of black folks en mass would force every party and candidate to take notice of our voices and our votes. Are black voters any less capable of influencing the Democratic Party as the so-called tea party voters were of influencing the Republican Party? How much difference would it have made if the third party vote rose from 5% to 10%? The entire landscape would be altered and we would be a player on the field rather than a spectator on the sidelines. In the years ahead we may not even be on the sidelines, we may be watching from the bleachers. And if the new Trumpian philosophy takes hold, many of us won’t even be allowed in the stadium. It almost doesn’t matter how the elections play out- what matters is that we must be accounted for. Once we mature as a political body, we will get our wins. The Democrats have been around forever and their struggles are well documented so it is hard to imagine that we can fare any worse, relatively speaking.
The trajectory of our political influence at this point in time could not be worse. No voting bloc has ever had a lower return on investment than we did in 2016. And here is the result: When Donald Trump becomes president with only 3% of the black vote, Donald Trump puts Ben Carson in charge of the Department of Housing and Urban Development. That is the biggest middle finger salute he could have given us without jumping on Twitter and telling us to take our monkey asses back to Africa. And he meant to give us the middle finger. And we need to respond in kind- even though he and his minions will surely misinterpret our initial moves. But Trump was right about one thing he said regarding black folks- even though he was wrong in the original context. This jackass thought it was a winning strategy to attract black votes by asking us repeatedly “What do you have to lose?” Well now that question IS correct. What do we have to lose by taking a hard run at relevancy? What do we have to lose by embracing our rightful status as the nation’s most reliable catalyst for change? What do we have to lose by shaking up the game after we can see that the game is kicking us out? One thing is certain: by standing pat and continuing to do what we have been doing, we have everything to lose and we most assuredly will lose it all.