In the aftermath of the shooting in Virginia yesterday, Bernie Marcus, co-founder of Home Depot, appeared on the Fox Business Network and said that he is “so worried about the life of the President of the United States.”
I can hear African Americans all over this country tell Marcus in response, “Welcome to our world.” From the day Barack Obama won the Iowa caucus in 2008, they worried about the life of the man who would become our country’s first African American president. It was such a prevalent feeling that the television show Blackish featured it in a powerful episode in response to police shootings.
That fear wasn’t limited to African Americans. A lot of white people felt it too as, over the course of eight years we heard, for the first time in modern history, talk of “second amendment remedies” and watched tea partiers regularly show up at rallies with a Confederate flag in one hand and a gun in the other.
But we can’t leave it there. This is not one of those things that lends itself to false equivalence. Barack Obama constantly spoke of the need for us to show more empathy, expand our moral imagination and listen to each other. He also walked his talk. While Obama regularly pointed to differences he had with Republicans over policies, he never maligned, belittled or threatened the opposition personally. In other words, the fear about whether or not he would survive his presidency was based primarily on the fact that he was a Black man facing a racist insurgency.
Trump is the one who encouraged violence at his campaign rallies, talked about how he could shoot someone on the street and his supporters wouldn’t abandon him and said this about his opponent, “If she gets to pick her judges, nothing you can do, folks. Although the Second Amendment people — maybe there is, I don’t know.”
None of that is any excuse for violence on the part of Trump protesters, who are adults with personal responsibility for their own actions. But let’s be honest, Trump has taken the heated rhetoric that broke out against Obama and used it as a rallying cry to inflame his base. If he had any interest in tamping things down, he could start with himself.