Into Being a Black Trump Supporter
Archival Recording: Four more years. Four more years. Four more years.
Trymaine Lee: The Republicans are getting their turn at a convention this week.
Archival Recording: Ladies and gentlemen, please join me in welcoming the president of the United States of America and our nominee, Donald J. Trump.
Archival Recording: And I'm proud to be an American, where at least I know I'm free--
Lee: As I watch the speeches at the RNC, one thing I notice right away: Black people and talk of race for that matter showed up in ways that are rare for the overwhelmingly white Republican convention.
Herschel Walker: Growin' up in the Deep South, I've seen racism up close. I know what it is. And it isn't Donald Trump.
Nikki Haley: And of course we value and respect every Black life.
Lee: South Carolina Senator Tim Scott, who is Black, went directly after Former Vice President Joe Biden.
Tim Scott: Joe Biden said if a Black man didn't vote for him, he wasn't truly Black. Joe Biden said Black people are a monolithic community. It was Joe Biden who said poor kids can be just as smart as white kids.
Lee: Perhaps it's a way of buttering up some white voters who might be turned off by some of the president's more racist impulses. Or maybe it's an overture to Black voters, a tough sell even in the best of times, let alone in the midst of a national reckoning on race.
Trump got just 6% of the Black vote in 2016 according to NBC News exit polls. So should Republicans expect any better in 2020? Maybe more than we think. Black women voters, nah, it's not them. Just 4% went for Trump in 2016. They really do earn the title of being the backbone of the Democratic Party. But Black men are a little different. 13% of Black men voted for Trump last time around.
Sean Shewmake: One of the things that drew me to Trump, because I saw who didn't like him. Once I saw Republicans didn't like him, Democrats didn't like him, and the media didn't like him, I said, "That's my guy right there."
Lee: (MUSIC) I'm Trymaine Lee, and this is Into America. Today, we explore a unicorn of America's two-party political system: Black male Trump supporters and why some are raising their voices now louder than ever. Hey Sean. Man, thank you for joining us.
Shewmake: Hey, how you doin', brother? Thanks for having me.
Lee: So that's why I wanted to talk with this guy.
Shewmake: Yes, my name is Sean Shewmake. I am a spoken word artist. I also go by the name of Tommy Bottoms. I reside here in the north suburbs of Atlanta, Georgia in Morrisville, Georgia.
Lee: Sean is a Black man with a Black wife, and she votes for Democrats. He's a real estate agent and a slam poet who once appeared on HBO's Def Poetry Jam. He voted for Donald Trump in 2016 and plans to vote for him again in November. He doesn't really consider himself a Republican. He doesn't like labels. But he loves outsiders. And that's why he likes Trump.
Shewmake: He hasn't been part of the system. He has never been part of the system. He's never even been dog catcher before.
Lee: And while Sean is just one person who made several false claims and sometimes veered into right wing conspiracy theories and dark visions of a future without Trump, when I talk with him, he struck me as an important point of view. It's a voice we don't often hear in the mainstream at least. But it's a voice that's out there, whether you want to hear it or not. As the conversation went on, we kinda got into it. But we started with his growing up, which doesn't sound like a typical background of someone who votes Republican.
Shewmake: Originally I'm from Peru, Indiana. Small town maybe a hour north of Indianapolis. Typical small town upbringing, middle America. We were probably 2% or 3% of the population as far as Black people of about 15,000, 20,000. You know, so very small, very small town.
Lee: So Indiana has a pretty wild history when it comes to racism and the early Klan. How did politics and racism play out in your small town?
Shewmake: When I was very young, six, seven, eight, nine, we were still called the N-word. We were the only two Black kids in our neighborhood, only two Black kids, me and my brother, in our school. So I kinda grew up with that, always knowing you're Black. But within all of that, I had white friends.
There was a town probably an hour east (I think it is), Elwood, Indiana, which when we were growin' up that was known as kinda the home of the Klan. So I can remember times when we would play those schools. Sometimes they'd pull a Black player to the side, say, "You guys don't have to go."
Lee: Hold up. So they would be like, "Look, we understand we're walking into the Terrordome here. It's Klan country. You don't have to go"?
Shewmake: "Y'all don't have to go if you don't want to. You don't have--"
Shewmake: --"to go if you don't want to." So there were discussions of race. I wouldn't say that it was a dominating thing. For myself, I grew up in a Black household. So I never was confused about being Black. You know, my parents are Black. I'm descended of slaves. You see what I'm sayin'? So all the traditions that come with that are part of my upbringing as well.
Lee: So what were the politics like at home?
Shewmake: The politics was Black. I don't know if it was politics in the sense how we look at it like Democrat/Republican. I grew up listening to Farrakhan tapes back in the day. We watched Eyes on the Prize documentaries. We probably leaned a little more militant.
Maybe not militant by today's standards but militant in the sense of we were Black, and I can't say that we were raised in a Democrat house or something. I don't think we talked about it in those type of terms. But, yeah, it was definitely a pro-Black household though.
Lee: So, Sean, give me a bit of your voting history. Who's the first person you voted for for president?
Shewmake: Obama was my first time votin'. Up until Obama, I followed politics but I was part of the, "F Biden and F Trump." You know what I mean? Whoever it was at the particular time. But at the time, I looked at Obama in the same way I see Trump. I thought Obama was going to be different.
He ran as the outsider. They didn't call it the swamp then, but that's what they were referring to. All of the incestuous stuff in D.C. and the cronyism. Even prior to that, I was the Ron Paul and Bernie Sanders fan, you know? Prior to them becoming household names now, they were just two weird dudes in the Congress and Senate, but they were always saying, "The system is rigged."
Regardless of their politics, they definitely are on the other side of each other, but it was, "The system is rigged." Fast forward a few years, I saw Obama as nothing more than just Bush 2.0. He's passing the National Defense Authorization. He's renewing the Patriot Act. And what you see now is the Republican Party and the Democrat Party really aligning as one. Now, I will be the first to argue that that was always the case 'cause I think we've been living in the one-party system for a long time.
Lee: But going from, you know, your disappointment in President Obama, and voting for Trump, and being a Trump supporter seems to be a whole different bag altogether, right? Because when you talk about, you know, he is part and parcel of the machinery. And some would say he's part of everything wrong with the machinery. The greed, the corruption. You look at his Cabinet, the arrests. Donald Trump, how do you become a Donald Trump supporter?
Shewmake: He has never been part of the system. He's never even been dog catcher before. You see what I'm saying? He's completely an outsider.
Lee: Some would say that's probably the problem.
Shewmake: Well, no. No, that's the problem that there's too many insiders. And that's one of the other things that drew me to Trump because I saw who didn't like him. Once I saw Republicans didn't like him, Democrats didn't like him, and the media didn't like him, I said, "That's my guy right there."
Lee: How much of your support is actually about Trump and what he stands for and his policy, and how much of it is being a contrarian and pushing back against, as you just said, people who are lined up in support of him?
Shewmake: Well, for me, it's hard to say I'm pro-Trump. More than anything, I see the left is going down some very dangerous roads. But when I'm seein' people lock down churches and leave open liquor stores, there's something fundamentally wrong going on at the heart of what we're looking at here. I'm watching people describe riots and things burning as peaceful. That's what scares me. The system being torn down doesn't scare me.
What scares me is what people are trying to replace it with. I see what Trump is battling against, and I don't have to get caught up in all the soap opera drama of whatever Trump tweeted or said and everybody, you know, wants to get hyper excited about on a hourly, daily basis. I see the bigger picture, the road we're going down. I've watched the word "defund the police" enter our lexicon, and nobody even knows where it comes from. People just automatically just start defending it.
Lee: I think you know that when people say "defund the police," they're not necessarily saying "abolish the police." They're saying redirecting some of the funding towards social services.
Shewmake: That's what you're saying. The word shows up, and it's all of a sudden people are just defending it.
Lee: But people are saying what it means. People are saying what it means.
Shewmake: What you saw up there in Seattle, that is the prototype of what they're getting ready to bring to the inner city. There's going to be no goes-ons in certain places where they're just gonna say, "What happens in here happens in here." And there'll just be a perimeter set up, like they did up there. And it devolved into chaos within weeks. That's what you're going to see.
Lee: But you believe that in your heart, that what we're seeing here is the Democratic Party and the left wanting to usher in mass chaos--
Lee: --the destruction of communities, and what goes on--
Shewmake: Absolutely. How can--
Lee: What's the benefit? Why? (LAUGH)
Shewmake: For whatever reason, they do see a political benefit in the chaos because this is what's going on here. This is organized chaos. They put a freakin' car dealership up, up there in Kenosha, Wisconsin. You can't tell me that was as spur of the moment outrage.
Lee: Some people would say that the video in Kenosha, Wisconsin of a police officer grabbing a Black man's shirt and pumping seven bullets into his back would spark some--
Shewmake: That's wrong. That is wrong.
Lee: What specific policies has Trump put forth or enacted that you think benefits Black people directly, explicitly?
Shewmake: You know, I think one of the major things is the NAFTA policies. NAFTA destroyed Detroit. Detroit, and Cleveland, and Gary, Indiana. And, I mean, we can go down the line. Nobody has ever addressed these things. Globalism brought a whole lotta people around the world out of poverty. You see what I'm saying? At the expense of who though?
It's not just the poor white trash or the working class white that lost out on that. Black working class people lost out on that. Gary, Indiana one time was just like Detroit, very thriving, had a large Black middle class. And now, you know, it's Gary, Indiana. The infamous Gary.
Even talking about immigration and the idea that we have to take care of our workers. Every country in the world gates its immigration by the needs of its native workers. And that's not something Trump came up with. This is something that for years the Democrat Party stood on. You know, he's the only president that starts talking about child trafficking.
Lee: Where do you fall in line when it comes to QAnon? I know that President Trump has not disavowed the conspiracy theory at all, and there are a lotta people followin' it. The groups are growin'. Where do you fall on that?
Shewmake: Let's say this. I've known about QAnon since it started in October of 2017. It just kinda came across my radar. Now, with that said, it's a lotta craziness in there. It's a religion in many aspects for a lotta people. But within that, there are fundamental truths. Because I think that whoever is this QAnon person, or if it's a group of people, whatever it is, I think a lot of it is misinformation. But within that misinformation, they are informing the masses about child trafficking and pedophilia, which is part of it.
Lee: And child eating.
Shewmake: And child eating. But I think that, I mean, just a year ago, the govt said UFOs were fake, which boggles my mind, which actually should be the biggest story of our lifetime that UFOs are real. But it just shows you how crazy the times are. But I think that, like I said, it's not just that part of it, the child trafficking. That's the more sensational part of it. But what they were also talking about is what happened in the 2016 election.
Lee: I need to jump in here for a second to correct a few of Sean's statements. First, there have been some confirmed cases of white supremacists inciting violence at protests, but there is no evidence that the majority of protests themselves against police violence are orchestrated by outside agitators.
As for child trafficking, it's been an issue for decades, and many presidents from both parties have addressed it. As far as QAnon, go back and listen to our episode from last week where we explain how QAnon is basically hijacking the child trafficking issue. Stay with us.
Lee: (MUSIC) You talk about the birtherism that, you know, President Obama, the first Black president wasn't legitimate. You have, you know, "There are good people on both sides," in Charlottesville. You have the support of David Duke. You have the Confederate monuments, "our great Andrew Jackson," led the Trail of Tears. On and on. As a Black man I want to ask because there is a caricature of a Republican-leaning or libertarian Black man that is self-loathing, that is sidled up next to, you know, shuckin' and jivin'--
Shewmake: I mean--
Lee: How are you aligned--
Shewmake: --most of these people will buy into everything that pops into the timeline. Just like the people repeat, oh, what do they say? "There are good people on both sides." They only take a small snippet of that statement in order to make this point. If Joe Biden isn't a white supremist, then Trump isn't a white supremist. So this idea we're arguing about who's the bigger or better or least white supremist, then let's just assume they're both white supremists and I just--
Lee: Does it matter if they are? Does it matter if Donald Trump is a racist?
Shewmake: Well, yeah. Let's assume that they both are, and I just think Trump is the lesser of the two evils.
Lee: Do you believe that?
Shewmake: I believe that we don't live under a system of white supremacy. We live under a system of white guilt. White guilt is in the streets.
Lee: What's the difference?
Shewmake: It's white guilt that's burning everything down.
Lee: What's the difference between white supremacy and white guilt? 'Cause some would say that white supremacy, isn't the institutionalized systemic racism and perpetuation of a system that has kept us oppressed and subjugated. So what's the difference between the two?
Shewmake: I believe that white supremacy is built on the idea of white supremacy and Black inferiority. I think what we're now living in a time of white guilt and Black sympathy, where everything comes from the perspective of the Black man is the victim. I don't think that we need white people to be fighting for anything. You know, this is our fight.
If Joe Biden is a white supremist and you still see things that can benefit you or benefit a wider community, then that's perfectly fine. And if you think Donald Trump is a white supremist yet you see policies that he can push or pushes that you see beneficial to yourself or to a wider community, there's nothing wrong with that.
In 2020, a Black man should be able to choose the white supremist of his choice, if that's the way we're going to have this conversation. These white liberals use Black anger and Black rage as currency to pay for their agenda. And it has nothing to do with us.
What kinda sense does it make to tell a party that you all acknowledge has took your vote for granted for 40 years to go out and tell 'em that right now in this election we're gonna vote for you no matter what? What kinda sense does that make when you don't have anything on the table? If you wanted reparations on the national ticket right now, it could be done. But nobody will put it there. Why not?
Lee: Where does your wife fall in all this, man? Where does your wife fall in this?
Shewmake: Oh yeah. Oh, she's woke. (LAUGHTER)
Lee: Well, what are these conversations like? So your wife is fully Democratic. She's part of the Democratic Party. She's--
Shewmake: She's woke. She's woke. She's woke.
Lee: So how does she put up with you, man?
Shewmake: Well, see, you know, we don't sit around, talk politics in the house like that. You know what I mean? It's kinda like she's probably Democrat/woke in the same ways people are Christian but don't necessarily go to church. You know what I mean? She's pro-choice. You know, she has her pet causes. But beyond that, she's not really political like that.
Lee: So in 2016, Donald Trump got 13% of Black men and, like, 2% of Black women. Do you expect that number among Black men to rise?
Shewmake: Oh, absolutely--
Lee: And what is it you think is appealing? What are you hearing from some of your friends? Have you been able to get some folks over on this side?
Shewmake: Well, I think people come to Trump on their own. I don't think you could talk anybody into Trump, right? I think over the last four years and probably even goin' in before he even got elected, a lot of Black men have felt left out of a lot of these movements.
And I think a lot of Black men identify with Trump in the same way that the people who are leaving Black men out of the conversation are the same ones who attack Trump, right? I don't think Trump's history will be remembered how it is today. I think Trump's history's gonna be remembered in the same way people remember JFK, in the same way the country remembers Abraham Lincoln. I do not believe for one second that the Democrat Party has a snowball chance in hell of winnin'.
Lee: Thank you very much. Your voice is one that we don't often hear, but I think we all know there are more out there that think like you, and sound like you, and are voting like you than many want to believe. So thank you, man. Appreciate your time.
Shewmake: Absolutely. I appreciate you, brother. You have a good one.
Lee: Sean Shewmake is a real estate agent and spoken word artist living in Lawrenceville, Georgia, outside of Atlanta. Into America is produced by Isabel Angel, Allison Bailey, Aaron Dalton, Max Jacobs, Barbara Raab, Claire Tighe, Aisha Turner, and Preeti Varathan. Original music by Hannis Brown. Our executive producer is Ellen Frankman. Steve Lickteig is executive producer of audio. I'm Trymaine Lee. We'll be back tomorrow.