On Trump and the Election

Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.

(Editor’s note: Reader questions are in bold, followed by Ta-Nehisi’s replies. The speech above was delivered the day after Donald Trump defeated Hillary Clinton.)

With the election and current political climate, there’s a lot of very understandable gloom and trepidation right now. But is there anything happening in America now that makes you feel optimistic about our future as a society? Any bright spots you would like to see more focus on and draw peoples’ attention to?

I don’t know. I don’t tend to look for reasons for optimism or pessimism. I think human societies tend to be problematic. And we are just conforming to the rule.

Trump is very aggressively attacking the credibility of the media. How can the media and journalists best respond to his tactics?

Not sure they can. Dunno if this is really up to them. Feels like something larger happening. Obviously you can do your job well. But I don’t think, say, The New York Times doing its job well is going to garner them cred among the people who believe Trump is a credible press critic.

Do you believe in the meme that it was liberal intolerance for conservative views that generated the backlash personified by Trump? Or the related meme that liberals have ignored white heartland people?

Nah. Trump was polling well back in 2012 in GOP primaries.

How do you think protest movements are gonna evolve in the next few years to counter the alt-right direction that national politics have taken?

No idea. But they need to take appropriate measures against the very real possibility of government surveillance and harassment. We’ve done it before. Like, in the life-times of many Americans. No real reason to think it could not happen again.

What lessons can today’s protest movements take from the civil rights movement, Black Panthers, etc.?

That it is highly likely they will be viewed as a threat. That it is likely that they will be set against each other. That they will be bugged. It’s worth talking to some of the leaders in the Muslim communities here in New York about what the NYPD did to them under Bloomberg.

What do you think of the recent schism on the left (or maybe just the far left?) about economic populism and “identity politics”?

Think it’s silly. I guess I’d be put in the ID politics camp. But there is really nothing in the world-view of, say, Bernie Sanders I actually disagree with. I’d like a guaranteed income, single-payer health care, a stronger safety net, etc. The problem is the temptation to paper over historically fraught issues to achieve that is tempting. And you always see that on the left. Whether with Clinton’s “rising tide” rhetoric, with Obama’s adoption of that notion (see the archives [here]), or with Sanders.

It’s disappointing to see the senator endorse the charge of “political correctness.” It’s disappointing to see him invoke his own identity as coming from the white working class immediately after the election, and then a few weeks later attack identity politics and candidates standing up and saying “Vote for me, I’m a woman.” This is how the attacks on ID politics work. It’s fine for Sanders to invoke his own. It’s a problem when others do the same.

I also think Hillary Clinton was a very unfortunate vessel for the kind of complaints that folks in the “identity politics” camp typically lodge. Her skills as a politician aside, I think her own history provoked a great deal of skepticism among people like me who actually come from that generation that was written off as “super-predators,” who remember the crime bill, who remember welfare reform. I think that made it easy for those who were (rightly) concerned about Clinton’s speeches, for instance, to throw out the causes Clinton adopted right along with her.

Which is a bigger concern for you, Trump’s agenda or the upcoming legislative session?

Both. They’re one and the same. This does not end well. For anyone.