As a black man who has been a Republican since coming of age, I have frequently been asked by leftists to explain why I am one. The question implies that being a Republican somehow clashes with my interests as a black man.
On its face, that sentiment could be regarded as racist in and of itself. After all, what are black interests? How does my race define what I ought to believe or who I ought to support politically?
Then again, if the worst characterizations of Republicans were true, if the Republican Party conscientiously harbored racists seeking policy which disenfranchised minorities, then one could make a rational case that being a black Republican makes no sense.
For years, I have rejected the credibility of that prospect. I have told all who asked that being a Republican has nothing whatsoever to do with race. I have claimed that Republicans believe in individual rights and the pursuit of happiness made possible through the protection of those rights. I have made the case that anyone of any racial background should enthusiastically support the Republican Party as an institution actively pursuing Martin Luther King’s dream of a society defined not by race but by character. I have said these things, and I have believed every word.
I cannot say them anymore.
The candidacy of Donald Trump has pulled back the curtain on a vile undercurrent within the Republican Party. As one fellow activist recently confided, “Until this past year, I thought it was an unjustified smear to say that large parts of our party’s base are racist. It makes me so sad to realize it is not.” In calling out the white nationalist alt-right, which has rallied to Trump as a beacon signaling their move from the radical fringe to a place in the mainstream, I have attracted some of the ugliest racialized harassment that I have ever experienced. You will no doubt get a sample of it in the comments below. These are folks who actually believe that the American nation ought to be defined not by ideas, but by European ancestry. To the extent they consider ideas at all, the alt-right rejects truths discovered during the Enlightenment, condemning individualism in favor of a tribal racialist paradigm. Trump, while perhaps not conscientiously pandering to these vile anti-rationalists, nonetheless signals an affinity with their cause. When Trump speaks of putting America first and being a nation with borders, they hear those terms as code affirming white nationalism. To them, “America first” means whites first.
Such ideas have always lurked at the edge of the culture. To date, I have believed wholeheartedly that the Republican Party categorically rejected such nonsense. But now the party’s candidate for president has lent these views a fresh sense of legitimacy. So how do I answer the leftists now? What do I say today when asked how I reconcile my racial heritage with my political affiliation? More importantly, how do I make the case to other minorities that they ought to join the Republican Party and support its candidates and causes? I ask because, for the first time in my life, I can’t come up with a respectable answer.