There were not enough white men in the room.
Indeed, there were almost none, if we are to believe an anonymous witness who testified before the Washington, D.C., grand jury that has been handing down indictments in special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe into Donald Trump’s campaign and administration. New York Post columnist Richard Johnson quotes this person as saying that of 20 jurors, 11 are African American. The witness likened this to “a Black Lives Matter rally in Berkeley.”
“There was only one white male in the room,” the witness griped, “and he was a prosecutor.” He or she added, “That room isn’t a room where POTUS gets a fair shake.”
Let us pass lightly over the ignorance of this unnamed individual (Washington is a city of 694,000 people, almost half of whom are African American, so having 11 blacks on a 20-person jury would hardly seem remarkable).
Similarly, let us not linger overlong on that person’s tone deafness (“Welcome to what black America feels on a daily basis whenever they face a jury of their ‘peers’ and the peers don’t look anything like them,” wrote Stephen A. Crockett Jr. of The Root).
The ignorance and tone deafness are prodigious, yes. But what really leaps out from this person’s remarks is the haughty indignation of having found himself or herself in a room, a room of power and authority, no less, from which white men were nearly absent.
These quotes reveal more, perhaps, than the witness intended or even knew, laying bare in microcosm the fear of racial and cultural displacement that fueled the so-called “Trump Train” – indeed, that has undergirded more than two decades of ever more bizarre political theater. Let’s hear no more, then, about “economic anxiety,” which was never more than an excuse, a way to absolve ourselves of facing ourselves.
It turns out the anxiety we should be talking about is that felt by Johnson’s source. For most of the 242 years of our national life, one thing has always been predictable as a children’s movie and dependable as the floor beneath your feet. White men will always be represented in, and in fact, will dominate, any room where power and authority are wielded.
But the times, they are a’changing. Women, people of color, religious minorities and others have slowly forced their way into those rooms. Additionally, there is the demographic fact that white preponderance – and, thus, unchallenged white prerogative – are shrinking.
If many fair-minded white Americans embrace this or at least accept it, many others regard it with a panic that can only be called apocalyptic. That, more than any other single factor, explains what happened in November of 2016. It explains the defiantly monochromatic nature of Trump’s White House that, in group photos, could easily be mistaken for Eisenhower’s. And it explains the indignation of Johnson’s source.
Unfortunately for that person, and notwithstanding the angry aberration of Trump, the coming demographic shift will not be gainsaid or denied. Nor will people who have made their way into those rooms quietly submit to eviction. At some point, if only for their own political survival, those who are threatened by all this will have to quit denying it. They will have to deal with it.
That includes the anonymous individual Johnson quotes, the one so affronted at being in a room of power and authority where almost no white men were present. He or she might as well get used to it.
There will be a lot of rooms like that from now on.
Leonard Pitts Jr., winner of the 2004 Pulitzer Prize for commentary, is a columnist for the Miami Herald. Readers may write to him via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.