Though we’ve known for four years that the 2020 US election cycle would be even more fraught than the strange and painful fall of the 2016 elections, most of us still find ourselves a little disoriented these days. For some, the urgency to remove Trump from office has immobilized us. For others, it’s fortified us into action to get out the vote and to sway those who are undecided, apathetic, and reluctant.
In the final five weeks before the election of a lifetime, we asked writers to consider the undecided voter and contribute compelling arguments and ideas for making the world right. Some contributors sent us work that takes on issues with precision and gravity. Others sent us different work, perhaps an even more visceral snapshot of this alarming moment — a one-act play, an open letter, a story of exile. New writing will be published weekdays; we believe its wisdom and strength will help us all navigate the uncertainty ahead.
Make no mistake, this current conversation around whether or not the job of the Secret Service is to serve and protect the president, even when he knowingly puts their lives in danger, is a question about whether or not we as a nation will accept the basic premise of white supremacy.
At its core, white supremacy is simply a belief that white lives are inherently more important than others. That ride-and-wave stunt this week was an instance of peak white supremacy. Many who support Trump’s actions will resist my statement that their thinking is derived from white supremacist ideology because they do not wear Klan hoods. Participation in the machinations of white supremacy does not require organizational affiliation. White supremacy is a hierarchical ideology in which some people are expected to always work in service of those at the top.
White supremacy encouraged this nation to believe that Black people existed to serve the whims of whites. Black people provided the labor that helped wealthy white people aggregate power. In order to cement the system, rich white people convinced poorer whites that imposing the tools of supremacy over anyone who did not look like them would put them in proximity to the power of wealthy whites. Thus, we are a nation built on the subjugation of Black people, the persecution of Indigenous people, and the exclusion and harassment of immigrants of all kinds, especially those with markedly different skin.
When Black people insist that we must dismantle white supremacy in this nation, we are not simply talking about saving our own lives. Once established, an ideology that allows a person to believe their life is inherently more worthy than others will permeate every interaction with another human being. A person in whom this world view has taken hold will always believe that there is someone at the top and that all other lives should be lived in that master’s service. I have no idea about the race or ethnicity of the Secret Service officers who Trump put at risk with his publicity stunt on Sunday, but I know that his actions and subsequent explanations have treated these servicemembers as dispensable.
I’ve read the argument that Secret Service agents signed up to protect and serve the president, that is their job. I’ve heard a similar argument that teachers signed up to serve and instruct our children, that is their job. Soldiers sign up to go into battle, that is their job. And yet if their commander knowingly sends them into harm’s way, for the commander’s own vanity and without proper weapons and armor, there would be every reason to criticize the decisions of that commander. The demonstration of such poor leadership could and should be grounds for removal from his post. To support this commander’s behavior is to accept the idea that his life and desires are more important than those of servicemembers. I refuse to believe that. The president also has a job, which is to serve and protect the American people. But, because supremacist ideology fosters the belief that he and a small subset of Americans are more worthy than most of us, Trump has failed to do his job again and again. It is time to vote him out.
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Camille T. Dungy is the author of Guidebook to Relative Strangers: Journeys into Race, Motherhood and History, and four collections of poetry, most recently Trophic Cascade. She has edited three anthologies, including Black Nature: Four Centuries of African American Nature Poetry.