Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor: Democratic Party Faces Reckoning for Purging Sanders Supporters
Democracy Now January 19, 2018
As President Trump completes his first year in office, activists in cities across the country will hold mass protests Saturday on the first anniversary of the historic Women’s March. This comes as a slew of lawmakers have joined members of the Black Congressional Caucus in backing a resolution to censure President Trump over his racist comments in which the president reportedly used an expletive to refer to African nations, El Salvador and Haiti. Several Democratic lawmakers say they will also skip the State of the Union address on January 30 over Trump’s racist remarks. Meanwhile, Trump himself denies being a racist, claiming on Sunday that he is “the least racist person.” To discuss Trump’s first year in office, the direction of the Democratic Party and where racial justice movements go from here, we are joined by Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, assistant professor of African American studies at Princeton University. She is the author of “From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation” and editor of a new collection of essays titled “How We Get Free: Black Feminism and the Combahee River Collective.”
AMY GOODMAN: As President Trump completes his first year in office, activists in cities across the country will hold mass protests Saturday on the first anniversary of the historic Women’s March. This comes as a slew of lawmakers have joined members of the Black Congressional Caucus in backing a resolution to censure President Trump over his racist comments in which the president reportedly used an expletive to refer to African nations, El Salvador and Haiti. Several Democratic lawmakers say they’ll also skip the State of the Union address January 30th over Trump’s racist remarks, calling countries like Haiti, Salvador and the continent of Africa “s—holes.” Meanwhile, Trump himself denies being a racist, claiming on Sunday he is, quote, “the least racist person.”
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: No, no, I’m not a racist. I am the least racist person you have ever interviewed. That, I can tell you.
AMY GOODMAN: That was President Trump speaking to reporters Sunday. Yet, over the last year, Trump has repeatedly faced national and international condemnation over his comments and actions. Trump has tried several times to ban citizens of some majority-Muslim nations from entering the U.S., executive orders that many have called Muslim bans. The president refused to condemn the deadly white supremacist violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, in August, in which Ku Klux Klan members and other far-right extremists attacked anti-racist counterprotesters, killing 32-year-old Heather Heyer. Instead, Trump blamed both sides for the attacks and claimed there were, quote, “very fine people” among the white nationalists. Trump has repeatedly attacked African-American NFL players who take the knee during the national anthem before games to protest racial injustice and police brutality. And Trump has endorsed and campaigned for the racist, xenophobic, homophobic Alabama Republican Senate candidate, the pedophile Roy Moore, who was defeated, in large part, by black women voters. Trump pardoned the notorious racist former Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who has now declared he’s running for U.S. Senate in Arizona. He’s repeatedly retweeted white nationalists. And Trump has also repeatedly insulted Native Americans, including attempting to use Pocahontas as a racial slur to insult Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, who says her family is part Cherokee. Among the times Trump tried to use Pocahontas’s name as a racial slur was during a White House ceremony honoring Navajo code talkers, Native Americans who served in the Marines during World War II and used the Navajo language in order to transmit encoded information. Trump and his Justice Department, led by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, have also pushed policies that seek to roll back years of civil rights gains, including limiting federal oversight of police departments with a history of civil rights violations, and ramping up the war on drugs. Well, the list goes on.
To discuss Trump’s first year in office, where racial justice movements go from here, as well, we’re joined by Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, assistant professor of African American studies at Princeton University, author of From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation and editor of a new collection of essays that is titled How We Get Free: Black Feminism and the Combahee River Collective.
Welcome to Democracy Now!
KEEANGA–YAMAHTTA TAYLOR: Thanks, Amy. Very glad to be here.
AMY GOODMAN: We had you on one year ago—
KEEANGA–YAMAHTTA TAYLOR: Yes.
AMY GOODMAN: —almost exactly.
KEEANGA–YAMAHTTA TAYLOR: To the moment.
AMY GOODMAN: We were in Washington, D.C.
KEEANGA–YAMAHTTA TAYLOR: Yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: We were broadcasting from public television WHUT’s studios at the historically back college of Howard University.
KEEANGA–YAMAHTTA TAYLOR: Yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: A few months later, you would speak at Hampshire College.
KEEANGA–YAMAHTTA TAYLOR: Correct.
AMY GOODMAN: And tell us what you said and what happened next.
KEEANGA–YAMAHTTA TAYLOR: Well, I gave a commencement speech at Hampshire, in which—you know, it was a 19-minute speech, and to kind of set the context for where the students were and what they were—the world that they were going into, I talked about Trump, for probably all of 30 seconds. But I said what I thought to be true, that the world that they were graduating into was very dangerous, and one of the main factors in that was because the president of the United States, Donald Trump, was a racist, sexist megalomaniac.
Today, especially given the list of examples that you just went through, it seems ludicrous that I would be attacked by Fox News, receive hate mail, death threats, for making what is so clear and, to me, such an obvious, obvious statement. And I think that, you know, the fallout from that, with the right, was kind of a prelude to an attack on academics, an attack on radicals, for really saying the truth about the nature of this administration.
AMY GOODMAN: You have talked about President Trump, white supremacy and the precedent set by this president, going back to Woodrow Wilson. Interesting, because you teach at Princeton University—
KEEANGA–YAMAHTTA TAYLOR: Right.
AMY GOODMAN: —where the Woodrow Wilson School is. Can you talk more about that?
KEEANGA–YAMAHTTA TAYLOR: Well, I think that it’s clear, I mean, people—there’s a parsing of Trump’s words in the mainstream media to determine if—is Trump a racist, or does he just make racist statements? And—
AMY GOODMAN: Or, I think they say, “Does he makes racial statements?”
KEEANGA–YAMAHTTA TAYLOR: Right, yes, correct. And I think it shows how the discussion around what is racism in the United States has deteriorated, so that unless someone is declaring “I am a racist” or burning a cross, that everyone is loath or reluctant to identify what is painfully obvious. And so, I think that the Trump administration’s embrace of white supremacy is naked, and it’s obvious.
But I also think that we have to understand what the impetus for that is, because rarely in American history, especially when we’re talking about elected officials and the political establishment, is their racism just purely for the sake of racism, is it—that it’s just driven solely by vitriol. And so, I think that we have to understand the racism of Donald Trump and the sort of “alt-right” racism of the Republican Party, in general, in combination with their naked money grab, with the smash-and-grab operation of the tax cuts, of the efforts to really radically redistribute wealth from the bottom to the top, that they have set out on a course to basically explain away the conditions of and the—what I think is legitimate economic anxiety of ordinary white people, and say that it’s the Muslim, it’s the Mexican, and it’s the blacks. And now we can add to that, it’s the—you know, the countries of Africa, Haiti, El Salvador, who want to send their supposed refuse to our country, that is the reason why you are in the insecure condition that you are.
So, I think that we have to see those two things as linked, which is not to diminish the impact that racism has in this country, because, as I said earlier, that the weight of—the impact of the open embrace of white supremacy in this administration can be literally weighed and measured in the weight of the bodies of the people who have been killed by white supremacists in this country. I think there was a report out earlier this week that said white supremacists who have—deaths by white supremacists account for the largest number of deaths of so-called extreme groups in this country. And so, there is an impact that is being made by that, that has to be accounted for.
AMY GOODMAN: You talk about—in the beginning of your book, How We Get Free: Black Feminism and the Combahee River Collective, you talk about: “In the days after the disastrous 2016 presidential election,”—I’m quoting you—”a popular meme showing [that] 94 percent of Black women voters had cast their ballot for Hillary Clinton was circulated as proof that Black women had done their part to keep Trump out of the White House.” Take it from there.
KEEANGA–YAMAHTTA TAYLOR: Well, I think that that was part of the narrative, but—that black women bore no responsibility for the Trump administration, which is obviously true, but I think that there was a larger story in there that really has been missed by a lot of the efforts to assign blame for the electoral rise of Trump. And for me, the more interesting part of the election was that 100 million people did not vote, that there are almost 240 eligible voters—240 million eligible voters in the United States, and almost 100 million people did not participate in an election that was discussed as the most consequential of our lifetime. And for me, the question was: What does that say about our political system?
And so, I think that that discussion got missed in talking about the level of electoral support for Hillary Clinton by black women, but also not looking at how the numbers of black women who participated in the election was actually down from 2012, the Obama election, which brought out historic numbers of people. And so, I think that understanding that 100 million people didn’t participate in the election is really critical to this ongoing debate about the state of the Democratic Party and whether or not the party is actually in a position to pose an alternative, a credible alternative, to the Republicans in 2018 and the looming 2020 election. And we cannot have a serious discussion about that without talking about the 100 million people who did not vote in the last election.
AMY GOODMAN: What about this Quinnipiac poll that has just come out, talking about the overwhelming percentage of African Americans supporting Bernie Sanders?
KEEANGA–YAMAHTTA TAYLOR: Well, I think that, hopefully, it begins to shift the very narrow discussion that the Sanders phenomenon was driven solely by the, quote-unquote, “Bernie bros,” that African Americans are not interested in socialism, African Americans are not interested in Bernie Sanders. In fact, this poll showed that Sanders had the highest favorability rating among African Americans, by a country mile compared to white people. I think it was 43 percent of whites had a favorable view of Bernie Sanders, compared to 70 percent of African Americans and 55 percent of Latinos.
And I don’t think that this is a complicated question. Why is that? Because I think most people understand, black people understand, that if Sanders’ program, the things that Bernie Sanders advocated and argued for—the redistribution of wealth from the top to the bottom, universal healthcare, a living wage, so on and so forth, the redistribution of resources, from the criminal justice system to the war machine, to public services and public institutions—that that would have an immediate impact in the lives of black people and in black communities, immediate positive impact. And people know that.
And so, I think that these are the kinds of facts and information that have to be wedded into the debate about what direction for the Democratic Party, because we also know, from the Democratic Party establishment, that there’s a war against the Sanders influence within the party. There was a purge of Sanders supporters within the Democratic National Committee. And so, there is going to be a reckoning in that party about what their—you know, what their actual direction is. And I think, for progressives, for the left, and certainly for radicals, that the ease with which people cave in to the decision to back various Democratic Party leaders take off the—or Democratic Party candidates, remove the pressure that is necessary to force that party to actually pay attention to the agenda of ordinary people from below. And that’s a calculus that has to shift in the coming—you know, in the coming elections.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to break, then come back to this discussion. Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, assistant professor of African American studies at Princeton University, author of From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation, editor of a new collection of essays titled How We Get Free: Black Feminism and the Combahee River Collective. This is Democracy Now! Back with her in a moment.