Every four years, ruling elites aligned on either side of the two-party duopoly choose their most important political official, the president, to defend and protect their interests. Ordinary Americans are taught that the electoral process is a shining example of democracy at work. No other elected politician in the United States is more mythologized than the American president. George Washington couldn’t tell a lie. Abraham Lincoln freed the slaves. Historians, educators, and the mass corporate media have for centuries portrayed presidents as heroes of the people and the most powerful representatives of the “land of the free” and “home of the brave.”
Margaret Kimberly’s book Prejudential: Black America and the Presidents comes at the most critical of moments for the two-party duopoly in the United States. The DNC is clearing a path for Joe Biden to be its 2020 presidential nominee to take on Donald Trump. Biden’s elevation has come at the expense of Bernie Sanders. Sanders’ reformist politics and policies are popular with a large portion of the Democratic Party electorate, especially young people. A Joe Biden versus Donald Trump showdown in the general election would pit a racist servant of billionaires against a racist billionaire incumbent.
Prejudential provides readers with the historical context necessary to understand why the Democratic Party elite despises Sanders yet embraces Joe Biden. In the 1970s, then Senator Biden opposed busing and desegregation. In the 1980s and 1990s, he wrote key legislation that erected the mass Black incarceration state. Yet Biden is considered a friend of Black America because of his coziness with the Black political establishment. A critical takeaway from Prejudential is that neither Biden’s anti-Black racism nor the fact that Black America remains politically loyal to the Democratic Party should surprise us. Presidential elections tend to erase Black Americans from the political scene unless they are being cynically discussed as a chip to elect a Democrat to the White House. The fear of Donald Trump or another representative of the White Man’s Republican Party ensures this political dynamic remains unchanged.
Kimberly reviews the sordid relationship that U.S. presidents, regardless of political party, have always possessed with Black America. From George Washington to Donald Trump, U.S. presidents have held Black people in contempt and exploited them ruthlessly for economic and political gain. Ten of the first twelve presidents were slaveholders. George Washington extracted teeth from his slaves to serve as his own personal dentures. Abraham Lincoln had every intention of colonizing Black Americans on the African continent to appease white racists before he was assassinated in 1865. Woodrow Wilson played the Ku Klux Klan-laden film Birth of a Nation at the White House and his Assistant Secretary of the Navy, Franklin Roosevelt, would later become president himself and be caught by future Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall calling Black Americans “niggers.” In the modern era, Bill Clinton was called the “first Black president” by famed author Toni Morrison even though he took photo-ops at the popular Klan rally destination of Stone Mountain, Georgia.
By exposing the racist hatred that all U.S. presidents have harbored for Black people, Kimberly unlocks insight into Black political behavior. Any improvement in the condition of Black America has come as a result of Black political protest and organizing, not the goodwill of whichever president has occupied the Oval Office. Black Americans rebelled against slavery and joined the Union army in droves to pressure Lincoln into his reluctant support for emancipation. Lyndon Johnson only signed onto Civil Rights legislation after Black freedom activists such as Fannie Lou Hammer placed their lives on the line for genuine change. In the absence of a liberation movement, Black America has been left with the choice of supporting one of two available evils. And fear of the White Man’s Party didn’t begin with Donald Trump. The Democrats held the status of White Man’s Party for over a century prior to the election of Franklin Roosevelt. Beginning in the 1970s, Republicans became fully-fledged members of the White Man’s Party when white racists waged a backlash against the Black liberation movement in the name of “law and order.”
Prejudential strikes a rare balance between concise commentary and attention to detail. The book uncovers the historic pattern of U.S. presidents acting as instruments of white supremacy. However, unlike much of the so-called “resistance” to Trump, Kimberly doesn’t condemn white supremacy to lend support for any president candidate or political party. Rather, she demonstrates that anti-Black racism is fundamental to the Oval Office and U.S. society at large. The myth of American exceptionalism and its opportunist purveyors have committed a shameful crime. That crime is the intentional misrepresentation and omission of history to curry favor with the powerful. This has contributed greatly to the massive suffering Black Americans have experienced at the hands of the racist, capitalist, and imperialist U.S. government since its formation over two centuries ago.
Reading Prejudential is an important step toward starting the conversations that need to be had in order to truly address the racist roots of the U.S. presidency and the system it presides over. We cannot begin these conversations if we believe that one president was better for Black America than another. If we continue to search for a lesser-evil president, then we will continue to face new and more effective evils than those that came before. As Kimberly notes, it is not hard to expose the hatred and ire that all U.S. presidents have harbored toward Black America. Moreover, rejecting U.S. presidents as the racist war criminals they are helps move us closer to the far more difficult task of figuring out just who we should be celebrating and why. Kimberly argues that people like Nat Turner, John Brown, Fannie Lou Hammer and the like deserve our praise rather than Abraham Lincoln, Lyndon Johnson, or Barack Obama. Prejudential provokes readers to question the nobility of the presidents and begin imagining the kind of system of governance that would better serve the interests of Black America and all exploited peoples.
Prejudential will have readers wondering whether any decent human being could run for the commander-in-chief seat knowing the history documented throughout the book. Kimberly fills an important gap in the independent media punditry and analysis of the current presidential election cycle. Black Americans have historically been stripped of their humanity by the powerful forces in control of the United States and U.S. presidents have always been in the vanguard of this historical process. We can look to Prejudential for answers as to why Joe Biden and Donald Trump are far preferable to the establishment than Bernie Sanders. Rather than condemning Trump alone, Prejudential issues a take down of all forty-five anti-Black presidents to move Black politics and the entire left in a more militant and principled direction. For this, we should all be grateful and act accordingly by picking up a copy.
American Herald Tribune, where this article originally appeared, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License
Danny Haiphong is the co-author of the book American Exceptionalism and American Innocence: A People’s History of Fake News-From the Revolutionary War to the War on Terror.