The year 2016 is almost over. During a tumultuous year in politics that many thought would mark the election of the first woman president of the United States, the country instead experienced a political shift of enormous proportions, electing a man who openly disdained Muslims, disrespected women and disregarded African Americans. But aside from the surprising election of a businessman-turned-reality-star-turned-politician Donald J. Trump as the 45th President of the United States, what were the other top political moments of 2016?
1. The First Black POTUS Leaves Office After 8 Years
It’s over y’all. For the first time ever, a Black family walked the halls of the White House, a mansion which slaves helped to build. During his two terms, Barack Obama and his wife Michelle Obama conducted themselves with decency and dignity, modeling a healthy Black family with their two girls Sasha and Malia growing into beautiful young women before our very eyes.
In spite of great resistance from Republicans, Obama managed to score some strong accomplishments. He saved the country from the brink of financial collapse when he first entered office, shoring up the auto industry in the process and passed regulations to keep in check the big banks who initiated the crisis in the first place. Unemployment has fallen to its lowest point in years.
Millions more Americans now have health coverage through the admittedly imperfect Affordable Care Act. It’s now against the law to deny individuals insurance coverage because of pre-exisiting conditions and parents can keep their children on their health insurance through the age 26.
And let’s not forget that it was Obama’s decision to execute the raid that brought Osama bin Laden to justice. During certain moments, Obama was able to shed the office of the presidency and talk about what has also turned out to be the problem of the 21st Century—the color line—particularly after the unjustified murder of Trayvon Martin.
The White House was also notably free of the scandals that plagued it the last time a Democrat (ahem, Bill Clinton) was in residence.
“With the results of the 2016 election, we are seeing that we had a president and presidential family that personifies dignity, class and respect for this country. We had the first African-American president who was able to save the economy, decrease unemployment, restore our global reputation and do this all scandal free, especially with the limitations he had of a Congress not willing to work with him,” Christina Greer, professor of political science at Fordham University, told NewsOne.
“These past eight years he has worked miracles. This president had a level of intellectual curiosity that has allowed him to look for ways to lead,” she added.
And let’s not forget that the first black POTUS has a mean jump shot, a great sense of humor and an ability to laugh at himself that will surely be missed during the Trump administration and its liberal use of cyber bullying to silence and intimidate critics.
2. Trump Wins. Yeah, He Did That
Not many people thought that this P.T. Barnum-like showman would be able to take the highest office in the land. But by stoking the racism that has been at the heart of this country since its founding, telling outright lies about the country and his opponents and promising a much-needed shakeup of America’s political system, Trump will be sworn in as the 45th President of these United States on Jan. 20.
“I think there’s a car wreck feature to it,” Todd Shaw, who teaches political science at the University of South Carolina, told NPR about the 2016 elections.
“The damage is done. Globally, America has been exposed for the fact that the emperor has no clothes,” said Greer. “The fact that Trump got this far lets everyone know who we really are.”
And the people Trump is choosing for his cabinet does not inspire confidence in those people concerned about America becoming more divisive than it already is.
Trump’s cabinet is stocked with billionaires. His pick to head the Department of Education is a strong proponent of dismantling public education; his chief adviser has links to the so-called “alt-right,” which advocates of white supremacy and sexism and his intended head of the Environmental Protection Agency does not believe in climate change.
“There’s a lot of fear and legitimate fear because of the racist rhetoric of the President-elect and the ire he generates from his supporters,” said Greer. “His view of black people is that we all live in urban ghettos and are under educated and underfunded. His view of black Americans shows how little he knows and respects the Black community.”
3. #BlackLivesMatter Breaks Into The Political Mainstream
The movement against police mistreatment of black people moved from the streets into the political process. Black Lives Matter protesters confronted both Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton during the Democratic presidential nomination process.
Clinton—given she and her husband’s involvement in the militarization of police departments across the country and the mass incarceration of black men—had to publicly embrace the issues black people face when dealing with police, bringing the Mothers of the Movement to the Democratic National Convention.
“The founders of Black Lives Matter deserve a noble peace prize because they’ve done more for black advancement than anyone since Martin Luther King Jr.,” said Greer. “Their two-pronged approach of entering electoral politics and also continuing their protest movement is brilliant.”
4. Voter Suppression Efforts Take Hold After the Gutting of the Voting Rights Act
This was the first presidential election in 50 years without the full protections provided by the Voting Rights Act.
The Nation reported that at least a dozen states had new voting restrictions in place for the first time during this presidential election. In 2013, the Supreme Court eliminated a section of the act that required states and counties with a history of racial discrimination to get permission from the U.S. Justice Department before changing local voting rules. In some states, like Wisconsin, the restrictions may have made a big difference in the outcome of the 2016 presidential election.
The Nation reports:
“We’ll likely never know how many people were kept from the polls by restrictions like voter-ID laws, cuts to early voting, and barriers to voter registration. But at the very least this should have been a question that many more people were looking into. For example, 27,000 votes currently separate Trump and Clinton in Wisconsin, where 300,000 registered voters, according to a federal court, lacked strict forms of voter ID. Voter turnout in Wisconsin was at its lowest levels in 20 years and decreased 13 percent in Milwaukee, where 70 percent of the state’s African-American population lives, according to Daniel Nichanian of the University of Chicago.”
“If voting didn’t matter, we wouldn’t see Republicans trying to disenfranchise black voters by taking away early voting and adding voter identification laws. This was an important factor in the outcome of this election because many people were turned away,” said Greer.
And now President-elect Trump is questioning the merits of early voting which has been shown to increase participation in the electoral process. “We have to discuss that early thing,” Trump said at a recent rally. “I wonder what happens during the evening when those places are—locked,” he added mockingly.
5. Russia Interferes In The U.S. Presidential Election
The CIA recently told U.S. Senators that Russia intervened in the 2016 presidential elections with the clear goal of helping Trump win.
“It is the assessment of the intelligence community that Russia’s goal here was to favor one candidate over the other, to help Trump get elected,” said a senior U.S. official briefed on an intelligence presentation made to U.S. senators, the Washington Post reported. “That’s the consensus view.”
Trump encouraged the Russians to hack Clinton and has given Russian president Vladimir Putin an undue amount of praise. But now, he is questioning whether the Russians were involved in the hack of the Democratic National Committee.
“It could be Russia,” Trump told Time magazine. “And it could be China. And it could be some guy in his home in New Jersey.”
Experts say the President-elect’s dismissal of the findings of the intelligence community is troubling.
“To have the president-elect of the United States simply reject the fact-based narrative that the intelligence community puts together because it conflicts with his a priori assumptions—wow,” said Michael V. Hayden, who was the director of the NSA and later the CIA under President George W. Bush, to the New York Times.
Now the issue is quickly becoming a bi-partisan fight, with Trump and Republicans disputing the findings of the CIA. And with Trump losing the popular vote to Clinton by almost 3 million votes, this is an issue that threatens confidence in U.S. elections and the electoral process.
“This cannot become a partisan issue,” incoming Democratic leader Chuck Schumer (N.Y.), Armed Services Committee Chairman and Ranking Member John McCain (R-Ariz.), Jack Reed (D-R.I.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said in a joint statement.
“The stakes are too high for our country. We are committed to working in this bipartisan manner, and we will seek to unify our colleagues around the goal of investigating and stopping the grave threats that cyberattacks conducted by foreign governments pose to our national security,” the group continued.
6. Ben Carson Becomes The Anti-Barack Obama
The book Gifted Hands by Dr. Ben Carson used to be an inspirational gift given by grandparents to their grandchildren.
“Now it’s like getting a re-gifted three year old candle,” said Greer.
Trump’s nominee to head the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, Carson is a gifted retired neurosurgeon. He has no experience in housing or running an agency the size of HUD.
With the flimsy logic that Carson is qualified because he lived in public housing as a child falling apart after it was revealed that he never lived in public housing, Carson is being put in charge of an agency that affects millions of people’s lives, the most vulnerable Americans, likely just because he’s Black.
Carson has been a critic of the fair housing rule, which requires communities to asses patterns of racial discrimination in housing, calling it a “mandated social-engineering scheme.”
“These government-engineered attempts to legislate racial equality create consequences that often make matters worse,” Carson wrote about one Texas fair housing court decision.
Carson has also pushed the belief that disadvantaged Americans need to pull themselves up by their boot straps and that the government can’t be much help in that effort.
“There are reasonable ways to use housing policy to enhance the opportunities available to lower-income citizens, but based on the history of failed socialist experiments in this country, entrusting the government to get it right can prove downright dangerous,” Carson said about the same decision.
Greer said Carson is not only an unqualified choice but a dangerous one.
“What’s the point of spending decades working on a career only to turn your back on the community that uplifted you and got you there,” asked Greer. “He is going to embarrass himself and further destroy his legacy. I would take it as a personal insult if someone nominated me for a job because it has the word urban in it just because I’m black. He doesn’t,” Greer added.
7. Black Women Voters Hold It Down
You’d expect that white women would show up in droves to vote for the first woman to win a major party nomination for president and who also happens to be white. But that wasn’t the case.
According to reports, 53 percent of white women voted for Trump in spite of his derogatory comments about women caught on tape as well as his pledge to end Roe v. Wade.
Black women on the other hand voted for Clinton by a margin of 93 percent to 4 percent for Trump.
“Black women showed up and showed out as we have for decades,” said Greer. “Historically, white women choose race over gender and have for decades. If we had been looking at data from 1952, Democrats should have known that white women would vote race over gender.”
Now Black women are starting to put their electoral prowess to work.
“Black women are decision makers who can mobilize their family members and their community to come out and vote but they get overlooked,” said Greer. “We are starting to demand more by putting up our own candidates.”
8. Bernie Sanders Leads A Progressive Revolt In The Democratic Party
Most people thought Hillary Clinton would cake walk to the Democratic nomination for president. But a 75-year-old senator from Vermont gave her a spirited fight.
Even though Bernie Sanders emphasized class over race, he was able to pull the centrist Clinton campaign and the Democratic Party further left, raising issues such as economic inequality, the minimum wage, the environment and prison reform.
The Democratic Party’s official platform called for the abolition of the death penalty and also for the Justice Department to investigate questionable police shootings of civilians. The platform also called for reforms to the Federal Reserve and expanding the Earned Income Tax Credit.
“I think he needed a more nuanced racial analysis but hopefully Sanders will now serve as the voice of reason with his colleagues, some of whom don’t have the backbone to stick up to Trump,” said Greer.
9. Colin Kaepernick Protest Launches A Political Dialogue
When Colin Kaepernick decided to protest the policy brutality and racial injustice facing African Americans by kneeling during the National Anthem, it set off a firestorm of media coverage.
But some of the praise for Kaepernick’s bold efforts diminished when he revealed that he chose not to vote.
“I think it would be hypocritical of me to vote,” Kaepernick said after the election. “I said from the beginning I was against oppression, I was against the system of oppression. I’m not going to show support for that system. And to me, the oppressor isn’t going to allow you to vote your way out of your oppression.”
But Kaepernick’s actions got many Black athletes thinking about what their role is in uplifiting black people and fighting injustice. Kaepernick’s protest spawned dozens of other athletes, not just black athletes, to make a statement.
LeBron James recently took a step to endorse Hillary Clinton, a move that someone like Michael Jordan would not have made at the height of his career.
“There’s been Jim Brown and the protest at the Olympics so we have a long history of black athletes taking a stance. Then we had [the] Jordans and Barkleys,” said Greer. “Now we have LeBron James who is not only not staying at Trump hotels but now getting involved in electoral politics and encouraging people to vote.”