It's hard to look at Ta-Nehisi Coates and not conclude he is a sort of pet intellectual of the left, or at least, someone who has the reputation of an intellectual, in much the same way that certain of New York's elite celebrated the radical chic of the Black Panthers. He voices the right sounds: he radiates contempt and anger when talking about whites. In his latest The Atlantic essay, he blames racists for putting Trump into the White House. Trump, he tells us, has one ideology, "white supremacy." (This is not without basis.) "White", to Coates, is an epithet in the same way that "nigger" is. Trump, he hisses, "must be called by his rightful honorific—America’s first white president." Never mind the much more deserving honorees of that title — say, Woodrow Wilson, who oversaw the expansion of Jim Crow to the Federal civil service, or Franklin Roosevelt, whose FHA enshrined redlining into Federal lending practice. Actual policy objections to Barack Obama's administration driving rejection of a second helping (real or imagined) in the form of Hillary Clinton do not enter his equation.
Coates is not especially troubled by the issues raised by actual data, though to his credit he does do some digging there, making the salient point that Trump won the white vote overall. In doing so, he ignores Clinton's many failures as a candidate (which also, ironically, caused blacks to shirk their duties at the polls as well as casting more votes for Trump as a percentage vs. Obama in 2012), or even bothering to look at why whites might have pulled the lever as they did. For actual investigation there, we must retire to Five Thirty Eight, or to the Voter Study Group's survey that identified five large pools of Trump support. In Coates' telling, it was Kristallnacht at the polls. That is to say, Coates has a one-size-fits-all, theological explanation for the election results — white racism — and he intends to use this hammer upon a world he perceives as full of nails.
Yet, as with his widely praised essay on racial reparations, he never quite arrives at the destination he imagines he does. As with that flawed essay, his aim here is not persuasion but the signaling of virtue. He does not, for instance, extend to white voters the same courtesy he does "long-neglected working-class black voters ... rightfully suspicious of a return of Clintonism" of equal (if not more) suspicion in the face of her very explicit embrace of racial and sexual identity politics. In fact, as Pew put it the day after the election, "Trump won white voters by a margin almost identical to that of Mitt Romney, who lost the popular vote to Barack Obama in 2012." So, how did white Americans become racist between 2012 and 2016? In large part, because the Democrats offered the smug, arrogant Hillary Clinton — a horrible, twice-before-failed candidate whose only successful elective experience was a safe Senate seat in solidly blue New York (she beat Republican Rick Fazio by more than 12%). A dreadful public speaker, she expressly rejected the advice of the man she putatively shared a bed with (and the principal political genius of her party). For Coates, anti-Clinton sentiment only satisfies for blacks. It places him solidly in the same ranks as race-baiters like Jesse Jackson, or the even cruder Al Sharpton.