Yes It Is, It’s True: Election ’86 was an epiphany on racism

The book “Everybody Lies,” offers an interesting appraisal of just who we Americans are in this troubled era of political vitriol and division. Author Seth Stephens-Davidowitz declares “Google is a digital truth serum… People tell Google things that they don’t tell to possibly anybody else, things they might not tell to family members, friends, anonymous surveys or doctors.”

Stephens-Davidowitz spent five years examining Google data with the idea that you can get much better information about what people are thinking by looking at Google Trends data than you can through polls or some other survey device. When the pollsters failed to understand the Trump phenomenon of 2016, his Google research did.

“Everybody Lies” contends that we Americans are more racist and selfish than we admit. I cannot argue.

My first sad epiphany with the idea we are racists in denial of our disease occurred in the Michigan gubernatorial election of 1986. That was when Democrat James Blanchard defeated Republican William Lucas, the Wayne County executive who happened to be a black man.

Though State Rep. Paul Hillegonds told me Lucas would change the face of Michigan politics, the GOP standard bearer lost badly. What bothered me about it was that Allegan County, which had not voted Democratic for governor since the FDR landslide of 1932, supported Blanchard. Was it because Lucas was a black man? It’s the only explanation that makes sense.

It certainly wasn’t like Blanchard was a popular figure in 1986. Just three years earlier he had spearheaded the effort to raise the state income tax from 4.6% to 5.8% to balance the budget, a move that caused two Democratic state senators to be recalled and the senate has been GOP-controlled since. And Republican voters aren’t fond of Democrats who raise taxes.

I concluded from the ’86 election that regardless of what we say to pollsters or each other, too many of us show our true colors in the secrecy of the ballot box. So I’ve been particularly suspicious of white folks who carry placards around of Barack Obama with a bone in his nose, or the the one of Obama with a noose around his neck and saying, “hang in there.” I’ve been more than suspicious of people who flout the Confederate flag and insist it’s all about heritage, but not racism. This flag was displayed prominently in 2009 and 2010 during Tea Party rallies and once a guy in Hastings got up on a stage and told everybody he’s not racist, showing pictures in his wallet of two black friends. It was like saying, “I’m not prejudiced against black people. Some of my best friends are black people.”

It seemed like the Tea Party was a knee-jerk reaction to a black man finally getting elected president.

Then comes now-President Donald Trump, the ringleader of the birther movement trying to assert that Obama was a Kenyan, even though he did produce a birth certificate from Hawaii. And there still are plenty of normally reasonable people who have to plead temporary insanity for believing Obama is a Muslim, yet believe Trump is a Christian.

The day after Obama was elected president, I was a substitute teacher in a government class in Wayland. A student loudly declared Obama to be the Anti-Christ. When I challenged his assertion, a couple of female students checked out and wound up in the office, saying they couldn’t emotionally handle our argument. I was never asked again to sub in that class.

I can’t forget Thornapple Kellogg schools not permitting a harmless first day of school message from President Obama, a message that was intended to persuade the kids to work hard and get good grades. TK officials said they didn’t want students to have to listen to political messages. I suspected enough local residents raised a stink and school officials caved to avoid any unpleasantness.

And Barack Obama just happened to be black. I don’t believe for a minute that he was widely accepted as our commander in chief in these parts, even though he won the office fair and square. It was because he was a black man.

This ugliness even reared its head at a Martin Township Board meeting last Wednesday night when I told board members they and many other local governments have been getting lesser and lesser amounts of state revenue sharing for the past dozen years. Allegan County Commissioner Don Black, though he had no evidence, immediately said it was all Obama’s fault. A black man who’s an easy scapegoat.

Please understand that Obama disappointed me a lot during his presidency. But I respected him and his office, which I don’t believe very many other in West Michigan did during his two terms. Now some of these same people whine and complain because Trump isn’t getting proper respect.

Racism remains our national disease. We weren’t born with it. We learned it. And just like with Alcoholics Anonymous, our first collective step, me included, is to recognize that we have a problem and strive for the rest of our lives to be as fair and respectful as we can. I don’t think we’re going to do it. I fear for our future and believe the rotting of America continues apace.

PHOTOS: James Blanchard    William Lucas



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