What “Black-ish” Gets Right About Trump Voters

Just a week before the inauguration, the country is still raw with post-election angst. While non-Trump-supporting Republicans have had since the summer to reach a point of acceptance, Hillary voters have had far less time. While losing a primary race is different than losing a general election, non-Trump-voting Republicans were forced to face the fact that they fundamentally did not understand a party and its voters, despite the fact that many of its members were their neighbors and friends. The idea of a President Trump became real for Republican voters after watching him win primary after primary; seeing him win a general election felt like an amplified version of the nights we saw state after state fall into Trump’s column during primary season. The same shock has resonated for Hillary voters after November 8th.

Republican voters who have most effectively recovered from the shock of losing to Donald Trump have one thing in common: they have made a good-faith attempt to understand the other side. Not surprisingly, there has been little of that from the mainstream left, especially among one of its biggest and most vocal factions: Hollywood. As Golden Globe viewers can attest, few in Hollywood have recovered their sanity in the last several months. Instead, celebrities like Meryl Streep preach to a choir of fellow liberals and then listen as their colleagues call them “brave” for doing so. As well, they continue to attack Trump voters as racist and stupid and take snobbish swipes at them, such as Streep’s remarks about Trump voters who watch football and mixed martial arts. Is it possible for anyone in the entertainment industry to treat Trump voters with anything resembling humanity?

In fact, one show has tried to do just that. The most recent episode of ABC’s Black-ish, filmed soon after the November election, shows the main characters, Andre (Dre) and Rainbow (Bow) Johnson, and their upper-middle-class black family coming to terms with the election results. Bow’s response was that of most liberals: total and complete denial. She spends her days decked out in swag from liberal organizations and her free moments volunteering to do phone banking for Planned Parenthood, despite being pregnant with their fifth child. Dre, on the other hand, like most Americans without hardcore views one way or the other on politics, is exasperated. His four children, enrolled in an expensive private school, have had days of classes canceled after the election so that they can attend school-sponsored assemblies aimed at “healing.” Upon hearing how many classroom hours were wasted on such endeavors, Dre does the math to determine just how much of his tuition payments have been wasted.

And what of those Trump-voting Americans? Black-ish actually included one in the show, and shockingly, the role wasn’t cast as a white, middle aged, racist man, but instead, a well-spoken younger white woman. Upon “coming out” as a Trump voter in a room full of Clinton supporters, Dre’s coworker explained why she and her struggling family (who previously voted for President Obama), felt compelled to vote for Donald Trump because he represented a change. How could a woman support a man who has spoken the way that Trump has? Dre’s coworker explains that while the statements were stupid, she at least could trust that Trump was speaking his mind, unlike Hillary Clinton, whose ideology and beliefs were still a mystery to most Americans. The show also examined other reasons people voted for Trump, such as Hillary’s issues with the truth and Trump’s business experience.

At the conclusion of the episode, Dre delivers an impassioned speech about how to move on after the loss. “How do we work together when the other side is nuts?” one Clinton-supporting coworker incredulously asked. “We have to stop that, too,” Dre responded. “All right, do I understand what anybody in their right mind could have seen in Trump? No! But maybe that’s why we lost.” Dre refuses to paint his fellow Americans as racist, and argues that there must be deeper reasons motivating Trump’s supporters; he also encourages his coworkers to discover what those reasons might be.

Unlike most other entertainment industry responses to the election, the writers and actors of Black-ish were able to see outside of their own experience in order to try to understand the results. This is a welcome change from the many celebrities filming cringe-worthy and hysterical anti-Trump videos that they feel compelled to post to social media. Black-ish has set the tone for how others in the industry should take, even though they view Hillary’s loss as one of historic proportions. Despite being a show about life as a black American family, Black-ish has cross-cultural appeal precisely because of the ability of its writers and cast to take on issues like race and politics with a healthy sense of balance and humor. The show’s writers and producers may have also been reminded with this election that half of America voted against their favored candidate, and insulting and alienating half of their potential viewership may not be the wisest course of action.

This is the first of many mainstream Hollywood attempts at understanding the November election. If other television shows and movies exhibit at least half of the self-reflection and nuance that Black-ish did this past week, we may have a little hope that Hollywood actually wants to retain Republican viewers, and perhaps even learn to understand them.

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  • Todd Brown

    We are the new republicans…formerly called the young republicans…we are now in control…

  • harkin

    Maybe after they get done dissecting the Nov election they’ll take a crack at the pathologies of the urban black neighborhood. But that’s going to require a boatload of self-reflection and nuance. Best wishes!