The American justice system has never been about right and wrong — it's about white supremacy.
Here's the thing about the American justice system: It's startlingly predictable.
Not because it's good and fair and always right, but because the opposite is true. In America, American interests prevail over anything else. And since this country is steeped in racism, sexism, classism, and capitalism, why are people so surprised that Donald J Trump was acquitted in his second impeachment trial? Isn't that America doing what America does?
It is. So white liberals are the only ones who are surprised. After the rigmarole of a second impeachment trial, the days of press coverage hinting that some GOP representatives might have had a change of heart after the white supremacist insurrection and the urgency of stopping Trump for running for President again in 2024, I did not bat an eye when the news broke that he was acquitted in his second impeachment trial.
Also to the liberal white people frustrated as the House Managers presented an air tight case against a white supre… https://t.co/Hv0qg1DmcD— Brittney Cooper (@Brittney Cooper) 1613242952.0
On January 6th 2021, a mob of white supremacist Trump supporters stormed the Capitol Building in Washington in an attempt to stop the electoral college vote to finalize Biden's win. After months of denying his loss and attempting to overturn the vote, Trump directed his following to "fight like hell."
In his second Impeachment trial, Trump was charged by the house with "inciting an insurrection." The senate verdict was relatively quick, only taking 5 days in a mutual attempt not to draw out the spectacle any longer — especially when the senators themselves were witnesses (and co-conspirators?) to the event.
Nancy Pelosi leading Congreaa
Yet, despite a record of seven Republican senators turning against Trump in a majority 57-43 guilty vote, the verdict was 10 votes short of the two-thirds needed to convict.
And so, Trump walks free once more, emboldening him and his supporters with more of the same violent audacity we saw on display in January — and have seen over the past four years.
But It's Not New
In the wake of the impeachment trial, Trump's team of lawyers, congressional allies, and supporters have all basked in their victory and their whiteness — the shield against which all criticisms and consequences are deflected. Given the green light by the justice system, Trump's sentiments from his farewell video seem like an even closer threat: "The movement we started is only just beginning."
However, the deeply American bigotry made plain by the Trump presidency is nothing new. For BIPOC communities, the reality of violent racism and relentless white supremacy is not a new phenomenon. When Trump supporters rose up to vote in 2016, it wasn't unfathomable that his rhetoric was so compelling — we had seen it. And when Trump supporters stormed the Capitol, we recognized their violent hypocrisy then, too.
After a democratic campaign that focused on trying to win back white voters, only to be won by BIPOC voters in key states, the gaslighting of the post-election and trial period have been achingly familiar. Trump's lawyers have spoken about the "hatred" of the left, and Republican senators have spoken about "forgiveness" and an unwillingness to further "divide" the nation with a conviction.
But where has this intolerance for hatred and this compassion been as BIPOC communities have endured years of violence and oppression?
Listening to these Trump lawyers talking about ‘hatred’ — this is the definition of gaslighting. Everything they ar… https://t.co/CbxWsAMnap— Brittney Cooper (@Brittney Cooper) 1613158981.0
White Liberal Disillusionment
Yet, white liberals have expressed their surprise over the trial results. This is understandable; for most white people, the mythos of the American justice system has remained intact. For them, criminality can be contained by convictions, and justice and fact prevail over all.
For BIPOC communities, the disparities of the justice system have been proven long before this. According to the NAACP, "32% of the US population is represented by African Americans and Hispanics, compared to 56% of the US incarcerated population being represented by African Americans and Hispanics."
Abolitionists are always confronted with the question what will the criminals go if we abolish prisons and idk dear… https://t.co/HJcABrCHMN— Fiona Applebum says Block Shaun King 🍎 (@Fiona Applebum says Block Shaun King 🍎) 1613254083.0
BIPOC folks are also used to fighting for justice and receiving nothing, "screaming into the void."
And while the spirit of idealism that propelled some Republicans to jump ship and vote Trump guilty in an attempt to stop him from running for office again in the next election, it was not enough. Too many Republicans have adopted Trump's rhetoric and politics in an attempt to gain the support of his loyal followers — they want those votes, too.
This disillusioning reality undercuts the naive hope that the past four years have been some error, some trick, some game. Many white liberals have tried to blame the Trump presidency on Trump alone, painting him as the sole cause of the political rift.
The narrative that "Trumpism" can be reduced to Trump is reductive of not just his mass mobs, but of the reality of racism in this country that goes beyond him. The impeachment acquittal has now dashed the hope of holding Trump accountable, but it has also illuminated the rot at the very core of the justice system that white folks were blind to before: white supremacy.
Every week Ted Cruz says another stupid thing in blatant attention-seeking appeals to Trump supporters. Mike Pompeo's parting gift was blatant racism. If this is whom the Biden administration wants to be unified with, I'm good.
What needs to happen next is a deep examination not just of Trump's psyche, motivations, and stronghold on "the silent majority," but of the American conceptions of justice, criminality, and whiteness. Who gets held accountable? What does accountability mean for a nation built on oppression?
To answer these questions and attempt to heal, white liberals need to let go of their indignant surprise at every new Trump development and invest in their own self-examination. Instead of focusing on the easy target, the obvious badness, we need to look within even the most well-meaning among us, and start from there.
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