BETHESDA, Md. — How should black American voters respond to the tectonic political rift and the stress of a permanently divided nation that the election of Donald J. Trump has laid bare?
This national and irrational divisiveness, if left unanswered, could render African Americans a declining voice in the increasingly zero-sum game of the electoral process that is today’s American political system, and I fear that of the future. In my opinion, for far too long, African Americans have failed to draw upon and exercise our historically unified voting clout and bloc to become “the balance of power” between the two parties before deciding to support or oppose either party based solely on our unique and special interests.
The times demand that we take the necessary and urgent steps to address this reality. Based on the outcome of this election, if we feel a need to protest and raise our voices to draw attention to both our fears and concerns, we should do so. However, as the leaders of the Civil Rights Movement did so effectively, we should protest with peaceful confrontation and in full recognition that the greatest strength of this country is the peaceful transfer of power and governance based on free and open elections.
This governance is regulated by the checks and balances and the separation of powers enshrined by the rule of law of the U.S. Constitution. Most importantly, as a minority population, we want the assurances that a peaceful transfer of power will be sustained when the president or political party that we support comes to power.
We must realize, this is not the last election in America and that elections at every level of government— federal, state and local— will continue to take place. Our job now is to continue to mobilize in these elections whenever and wherever they occur. We should, as before, educate and inform our voting community about the critical social and economic issues that impact our families, our community and this nation.
We are required to challenge and to demand that all candidates or parties in pursuit of our vote, whether they are Republican, Democrat or Independent, explain in comprehensive terms what they propose to do for us to make our lives better. Remember, the most precious and powerful asset we possess in this democracy is the right to vote in favor of or against those who seek to govern us. Let us not give away that right; let us make them earn our vote!
Finally, and this is most critical, it is time for black American voters to return to a political ideology and an engagement strategy with the two-party system that was proposed to us almost 45 years ago at the founding of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC). Why shouldn’t we, as black voters, reject the notion that we are locked into one party, which undoubtedly limits and dilutes our voting power? We should instead use the power of our vote to support and elect whichever party best serves our interests. I am convinced that this is what Congressman William Clay of Missouri had in mind when the CBC was formed in 1971. Congressman Clay, who I had the honor of knowing, was bold, astute and showed amazing insight when he declared, and I quote, “Black people have no permanent friends, no permanent enemies, just permanent interests.” That was the CBC motto then and black Americans should embrace it as our rallying cry today.
To the Republican Party, we say to you, even though you have ignored us or often times actively conspired against our rights, “we have no permanent enemies.” To the Democratic Party, we say to you, even though you have taken our vote for granted and often patronized us, “we have no permanent friends.” What we do have are “permanent interests” and we invite both parties to demonstrate your understanding and willingness to respect and address our interests.
Robert L. Johnson is the founder and chairman of The RLJ Companies and the founder of Black Entertainment Television (BET).