Four years ago, we planned a cover story for our first issue after the presidential election that would urge magnanimity on victorious Hillary Clinton voters, suggesting that they should take seriously the concerns of those defeated Donald Trump voters. Clever us! Early on the morning after the election, our writer, the political philosopher Amitai Etzioni, emailed a plan to recast his article. He would help the dazed majority of voters, who had nonetheless lost, to understand the victorious minority. And indeed, “Understanding the Trump Voter” were the words on the cover of our Winter 2017 issue. Now the tables are turned, but the need to understand the 71 million Americans who voted to continue the Trump presidency is no less urgent, especially since the huge size of that number is such a shock.
Our cover story for this post-election issue was conceived not as Trump Voter 2.0, but rather as an attempt to add depth and historical perspective to the also-urgent discussion growing out of the Black Lives Matter movement. Black lives, not for better but for much worse, exist within the context of white lives. So what does white even mean? Historian Nancy Isenberg explores the question in her cover essay, and the election makes the question even more germane than we imagined it would. More than 20 percent of all Americans voted for an indisputably racist president. That must be said, but if that is all that can be said, then I expect we are in for more elections with shocking results.
Isenberg takes this notion a step further. Does asserting or acknowledging the continued existence of systemic racism mean that all people who are not themselves victims of that system are equally guilty not only of its perpetuation but of its historical atrocities, too? Isenberg, who is the author of the 2016 book White Trash: The 400-Year Untold History of Class in America, continues to see class as important in any discussion of what whiteness means. She does not explicitly consider the results of the 2020 election, but the piece urges us to think in terms of economic status and opportunity in addition to questions of race.
Similarly, in his article in this issue about the future of the performing arts in an era of Covid, Joseph Horowitz—who has written for us about the need to bring deserving African-American composers into their rightful place in the American musical canon—seeks to broaden the discussion about redressing the unacceptable underrepresentation of Blacks in other aspects of the arts. The challenge of finding a meaningful pathway to social justice in this important sphere is one of several serious problems he considers, but this is one that no vaccine is going to resolve.
Permission required for reprinting, reproducing, or other uses.