In “The First White President,” Ta-Nehisi Coates argued that, “to Trump, whiteness is neither notional nor symbolic but is the very core of his power.” White supremacy, Coates wrote, was the main catalyst for Trump’s white voters. The piece was sweeping in the ground it covered and breathtaking in its storytelling; it also completely failed to validate Coates’s argument.
I read the essay more than once, took scores of notes, researched polling data that matched statistics he listed, and highlighted several parts that piqued my curiosity. This was no small undertaking, as Coates is as elegant in his writing as he is comprehensive in his research. His essay, an excerpt from his new book We Were Eight Years in Power, covered everything from the racially disparaging comments of Donald Trump to the historical relationship between the white working class and black slaves in the South, to the flaws found in progressive arguments that the reason for Trump’s rise can be found primarily in grievances felt by the white working class.
Coates cites the fact that Trump was elected to office despite making sexually suggestive comments about his daughter and justifying sexual assault in general while a black president, say, Barack Obama, would have never been able to do so and get elected. He also points to the fact that Trump challenged almost all of Obama’s major policies, making Trump “the negation of Obama’s legacy [and] the foundation of his own,” as well as the fact that the majority of white people who voted, voted for Trump.