Jamelle Bouie on race and racism in American politics

Slate’s chief political correspondent, Jamelle Bouie, sat down with MIT’s Seth Mnookin this evening for a conversation about race and racism in the 2016 presidential election. The wide-ranging discussion approached the issue of race and racism from several angles — including both Bouie’s personal experience as an African-American journalist to a broader focus on the shifting ideological coalitions in the American political landscape.

Every political discussion since November 9th has probably started with the same question: how did this happen? Bouie deserves credit for pointing to the possibility of Donald Trump winning the Republican nomination earlier than other observers, citing the intensity of support at his early rallies, and how easily Trump survived the criticism leveled at John McCain shortly after announcing his candidacy. Trump also benefited, Bouie argued, from a crowded Republican field and the “zombie candidacy” of cash-rich but vote-poor Jeb Bush.

But Bouie, along with so many others, gave Trump scant chance of winning the general election against Hillary Clinton, pointing to the seemingly durable ‘Obama coalition’ of voters. Bouie admitted that he wished he’d more taken seriously Trump’s chances. The media in general, Bouie argued, were confident enough in a Clinton win to subject her to severe scrutiny and merely focus on the “spectacle” of Trump — it was “Trump saying crazy things, versus emails.”

Another reason Trump succeeded — and one which might have serious implications going forward — is that so-called ‘Never Trumpers’ stayed reasonably quiet. Bouie pointed to the several crises that the US two-party system has suffered through yet survived, and suggested that the Republican party is more likely to morph than collapse, with ethno-nationalism emerging at its core.

Bouie and Mnookin also discussed the challenges discussing race and dealing with racial inequality — even between those who might agree. Bouie highlighted the differing forms of interaction that take place between people of different races in the south as compared to the north — the liberal northeast of the country experiences its own perhaps more subtle form of segregation and separation which can color attempts at crossing racial divides.

Bouie, at a mere 29 years old, has already emerged as one of the leading observers of American politics in our current volatile era. Both Bouie’s firm sense of American history and his own experience undergird both his articulate prose and the important, impactful perspective on display this evening.

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