ST. PETERSBURG – When Dr. Gerald Horne, prolific author and lecturer, spoke at Greater Mt. Zion AME Church Jan. 11 as part of the 2017 Heritage Lecture Series, he opened by asking the blunt question: “Why Trump? How and why did this man get elected?”
He has been called a “con man” and worse, a “fascist” by commentators and politicians, yet there are a number of explanations by political pundits as to how he got elected, said Horne, who is the John J. and Rebecca Moores Chair of History and African American Studies at the University of Houston.
There are those that suggest that Trump did so well in states like Florida, Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Indiana because of the “economic distress” suffered by so many in the white working class and middle class.
Yet this alone cannot be a sufficient explanation, as 95 percent of black women and 88 percent of black men voted against him.
According to an Ivy League professor, Horne said, the reason Trump did so well is that Democrats paid too much attention to “identity politics,” and essayist Andrew Sullivan also postulated about the negative reaction of Democrats identifying with Black Lives Matter and the marches following the deaths of African Americans at the hands of white police officers. As a result, some felt the black community was getting too much attention, Horne said.
Another explanation, Horne continued, is that Russian leader Vladimir Putin interfered with the electoral process and that Russia was behind the hacking of the Democratic National Committee emails.
“Even if you grant that there was Russian interference in the U.S. electoral process,” Horne stated, “it doesn’t explain why 95 percent or black women seemingly were unaffected by this.”
He pointed out that despite these “scandalous charges,” nine out of ten whites in Mississippi and Alabama voted for Trump.
It is a commonly held perception in parts of the country that on the one hand, in this country you have a so-called “hardworking” white working and middle class and minority class, and then you have these ”undeserving” so-called minorities who are leeching off the hardworking folks, Horne said. Even if you grant this is true, why did so many feel this way, he asked?
The easy explanation is racism, but even if you posit this explanation, you have to wonder where that came from.
Going back into history, Horne referred not only to his book, “The Counter-Revolution of 1776,” but those by other writers that take a new approach as to how this country was founded.
“Instead of ‘taxation without representation,’ instead of the fight for liberty and the fight for religious freedom,” he said, “the story actually is that at a certain point in the 1770s, the settlers on the Eastern seaboard of North America went to continue pushing westward, seizing Native American land.”
In its confrontation with Spain to take control of the New World, Britain was forced to arm the Africans that it had forced onto this new continent. The settlers felt that Africans should not be armed; they should be marched at gunpoint into the fields to pick cotton or other crops.
When the Revolutionary War broke out, the Africans realized that if the settlers won, there’d be more enslavement and the “tightening of the handcuffs on their wrists.”
“They did not necessarily stand alongside George Washington and Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin and James Madison,” Horne said. “They stood alongside the Redcoats. And when you fight a war and lose, which is what the Africans did, you should be expected to be punished and pulverized forevermore, including your descendants.”
In order to understand how and why black people have been treated so terribly in North America, he said, you have to understand that basic fact. You also have to understand that Africans were in a constant state of revolt, he pointed out, and it was not unknown for enslaved Africans working in the “big house” to poison those whom they were serving or go into their bedrooms and slit their throats. They also lingered in the fields, not seeing the point of working hard to produce wealth, which they could not claim for themselves.
“So this led to this fear and hatred of African people,” Horne stated, “that has not been dealt with honestly by the historians—certainly not by the politicians. And you can draw a straight line from there to these Nov. 8, 2016, election results.”
Horne offered other skewed versions of American history and African Americans’ place in it, such as the 1915 epic film “Birth of a Nation,” which depicted black people as murderous rapists and savages while the members of the Ku Klux Klan were heroic saviors and the “false story of Reconstruction,” in which many Americans for years viewed blacks in the South—even the black politicians—as incompetent.
“‘The Birth of a Nation’ and the false story of Reconstruction were part of a longer narrative about defaming black people because our ancestors had fought a war and lost,” he said.
“My study of history has convinced me that the way black people have been able to travel this difficult road from 1565 in St. Augustine to 2017 in St. Petersburg is not only through conducting that relentless, tireless domestic struggle…but we also have to live in the battlefield.”
We know what the road ahead is going to be like under Trump, he warned, adding that there are those who want to turn back the clock and “make America great again” like it was decades ago when on the one hand the country controlled half the global income, yet on the other hand Jim Crow laws were very much in effect.
“Somehow they can’t grapple with that kind of truth,” he said, “but we have to be in their faces, we have to be protesting if we want to make our children’s and our grandchildren’s future better than what it looks like today under President-elect Donald J. Trump. We have to struggle relentlessly.”
The 2017 Heritage Lecture Series was sponsored in part by Cross & Anvil Series, St. Petersburg College, Pinellas County Sheriff’s Department and Pinellas County Schools, Duke Energy and others.