News & Politics

Charles Blow: The Russians Exploited America's Racist Past to Swing the Election for Trump

They used legitimate grievances to force young black men and women to lay down their best weapon: the vote.

Photo Credit: Youtube Screencap / CNN

The Russian government exploited America's shameful racist history in order to elect a virulently racist man as president. As Charles Blow writes in his Monday column, "the black vote was specifically under attack, from sources foreign and domestic. And this attack appeared to be particularly focused on young black activist-minded voters passionate about social justice: The 'Woke Vote.'"

"The tragic irony," he continues, "is that these young people, many of whom already felt like the American political system was failing them, were encouraged to lay down one of the most powerful political tools they have, thereby ensuring an amplification of their own oppressions."

Of course, Blow is quick to admit, there was plenty of opposition to Hillary Clinton from this group of voters during the Democratic primaries. "Michelle Alexander, author of the acclaimed book 'The New Jim Crow'—which has attained near Bible stature among some social justice activists—laid out a strong philosophical argument for 'why Hillary Clinton doesn’t deserve the black vote.'”

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The Russian disinformation campaign used the legitimate grievances Alexander refers to, like Hillary Clinton's infamous "superpredators" comment in references to young black criminals, and other economic and crime policies enacted during the Clinton administration, which Bill Clinton may have written, but Hillary Clinton publically supported, to encourage black voters to stay home on Election Day. 

The evidence is in the indictments for the 13 Russian operatives announced by the Office of Special Counsel Robert Mueller on Friday: "On or about October 16, 2016, Defendants and their co-conspirators used the Instagram account ‘Woke Blacks’ to post the following message: ‘Particular hype and hatred for Trump is misleading the people and forcing Blacks to vote Killary. We cannot resort to the lesser of two devils. Then we’d surely be better off without voting AT ALL.’ "

This sentiment, Blow reminds us, was directly echoed by the Trump campaign: 

Just before the election, a senior Trump campaign official told Bloomberg Businessweek, “We have three major voter suppression operations under way,” in which Hillary Clinton’s “1996 suggestion that some African-American males are ‘super predators’ is the basis of a below-the-radar effort to discourage infrequent black voters from showing up at the polls — particularly in Florida.” This suppression may well have worked better against black people than other targets.

There is, as Blow notes, no way to know exactly how many black voters, especially young black voters, abstained from voting, but there is some evidence that they did: "According to a May Pew Research Center report, “The black voter turnout rate declined for the first time in 20 years in a presidential election. The report said that the number of naturalized citizen voters was up from 2012 and the turnout rate for women was mostly unchanged from 2012."

Blow admits that while we don't have the exact numbers, we do know one very scary thing, that "in making their electoral choices, black folks had unwanted hands on their backs, unethical and illegal ones, nudging them toward an apathy built on anger."

"What happened during the election," Blow concludes, "wasn’t just a political crime, it was specifically a racialized crime, and the black vote was a central target."

Read the entire column here

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Ilana Novick is an AlterNet contributing writer and production editor.