News & Politics

Ta-Nehisi Coates Schools Seth Meyers on Racism in America: 'Not Possible to Imagine a Black Donald Trump'

The author explains that white politicians are held to a different standard.

Photo Credit: Late Night with Seth Meyers/YouTube

Ta-Nehisi Coates was "very happy to be wrong" about the presidential election—the 2008 presidential election, that is. And after interviewing President Obama for nearly five hours prior to the 2016 election, he began to question his long-held belief that Trump could be our next president.

"[Trump's win], in a very, very uncomfortable way, accorded with a lot of what I had been writing and there's an intellectual part of me that... believed it. But in my heart [I did not]," he told Seth Meyers.

"It was not a great night to be right," Meyers mused.

"No, I was not going around crowing," Coates responded.

Coates sat down with Obama over several days to write his very personal ode to the Obama era, "My President Was Black," the January cover story of The Atlantic. Coates had been following Obama's political career since his U.S. Senate campaign in 2004.

"It's hard for people to remember this, but before Barack Obama won [a seat in the U.S. Senate] in 2004, there had been only two black people post-Reconstruction who had been in the Senate," Coates told Meyers. "Edward Brooke and Carol Moseley Braun, who was also from Illinois... so the idea that a black guy was running for Senate and might actually win, people overlook that all the time. [That this happened] three years after 9/11 was stunning."

As for the Obama-turned-Trump voters, Meyers admitted he'd been reductive in his assessment of them before reading Coates' Atlantic piece.

"I was simplifying it," he told Coates, "[Obama] kind of had to be the perfect candidate, whereas white candidates in this country don't have to be."

Coates allowed himself a smirk. 

"Every day something happens," he said, referring to Trump's one-man circus. "I just can't imagine a black dude as president standing in front of a memorial for all the CIA agents who died and talking about how smart he was. Like, that guy couldn't be governor... I can't imagine a black man running for, let's just say, senator, with a tape coming out about him bragging about sexually harassing women. It's just not possible to imagine a black Donald Trump." 

"It doesn't say necessarily that if you voted for Trump, that you're racist," Coates added. "But what's probably true is that Trump's appeals to bigotry are not disqualifying."

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Alexandra Rosenmann is an AlterNet associate editor. Follow her @alexpreditor.