The 2020 election was a referendum on race and Christian faith

We can see in how the vote went our competing visions for what we want America to be.

Photo by geralt, courtesy of Pixabay

(RNS) — Donald Trump did not change America. He revealed America. He held a mirror up and forced us to look at who we really are as a country, with all our beauty and all our bruises.

Though the construct of racial hierarchy is a myth, it shapes much of the American psyche and the American experience. White folks and people of color experience a very different America. We can see it in our competing visions for what we want America to be. And we can see it in how we vote.

White people voted largely for Trump; people of color voted for Joe Biden. States where the turnout was highest among Black voters, such as Pennsylvania and Michigan, dealt the final blow to Trump’s presidency. My own city, Philadelphia, which is 44% Black and 35% white, was also part of that final push. I must say it is poetic to see the City of Love voted out the hateful rhetoric and policies of this administration.

It’s also remarkable to see the turnout among Native Americans and Hispanic voters. America showed up like never before — with the highest turnout of voters in American history.

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Four years ago, we saw a surge in white voters backing Trump as the first Black president ended his second term and as a national racial reckoning began in the movement for Black lives. In the years since, there has been a palpable anxiety among many white Americans. Some have called it “whitelash” — a backlash of white fragility, fear and even a nostalgia about how the country used to be. When people say “Make America Great Again,” many really mean “Make America White Again.” 

This election was a referendum on that phenomenon. Yet it was anything but the blue wave that some folks expected. And while Trump will soon be gone, the conditions that led to his election will not.  In the words of Eddie Glaude: “It’s easy for us to place it all on Donald Trump’s shoulders. … This is us. And if we’re going to get past this, we can’t blame it on him. He’s a manifestation of the ugliness that’s in us.”

Yes, it’s time for a regime change. An administration consisting largely of white men and a few women will give over to what could be the most diverse administration that our country has ever seen. The first female vice president is also a Black woman and a woman of Indian descent.

Biden and Kamala Harris have promised to fight as passionately for, and listen to, those who voted against them as for those who voted for them. When people do not feel heard they shout louder and find ways to make sure they are not ignored. As the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. said: “Riot is the language of the unheard.”

The Trump administration has not done a good job of listening, especially to people of color. I hope the new administration does better — both at listening to historically marginalized communities, and at listening to those who don’t agree with them. In a recent conversation,  Sister Simone Campbell suggested we might need a whole new department in the White House — the Department of Listening!

This election was not only a battle for the soul of our nation, it is also a battle for the Christian faith. While white Christians were the only bloc of religious voters that went for Trump, some 80% of nonwhite Christians voted against him. This suggests that the fixation with Trump that we see in many white Christians has more to do with their whiteness than with their faith. It’s more of a white thing than a Christian thing.

Many white evangelicals have said that they voted on one issue, abortion, that didn’t register as a top priority for any other demographic. More and more people I talk to are hopeful that we can find common ground even on this topic. The number of abortions is dropping every year, under both Republican and Democratic presidents, and many of us are convinced that the best way to reduce the number of abortions is to support health care and other social services for low-income women, since the leading reason for having an abortion is a lack of resources to raise a child. 

For now, I am encouraged to see so many people stand up for faith over fear, for love over hatred and for hope over despair. We did it in many different ways. Some folks, including many of my friends, explicitly endorsed Biden. Others did not. We saw new factions of pro-life evangelicals stand out in their courageous support for change in Washington while not compromising their convictions on abortion or other issues they hold dear.

Others, like me, did not endorse Biden-Harris, but worked closely and prayerfully with them to get Trump out of office. I have said many times that I do not agree with the Democratic Party on everything, but I agree with them on this: Trump and his enablers needed to go. 

I look forward to engaging the new administration on military spending, nuclear weapons and drones, defunding the police, restorative justice and the death penalty, racial justice and reparations, and abortion, to name a few issues we might see differently. I’m confident that they are ready to listen, not just to me, but to all of us.

(Shane Claiborne is an activist, author and co-director of Red Letter Christians. The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily represent those of Religion News Service.)

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