Day 6·Q&A

'A lot of healing required': Ian Solomon on anti-Black racism, Republican Party and support for Biden

Ian Solomon, dean of the Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy at the University of Virginia, says he is encouraged by Black voters, largely from cities, who showed up to the U.S. election to "repudiate" the Donald Trump administration.

University of Virginia dean says Republican Party needs to be rebuilt

Ian Solomon is the dean of the Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy at the University of Virginia. (Submitted by UVA Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy)

Ian Solomon says he is encouraged by Black voters, largely from cities, who showed up to "repudiate" the Donald Trump administration.

Solomon, the dean of the Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy at the University of Virginia who was also a former staffer for then-senator Barack Obama and U.S. executive director of the World Bank Group from 2010 to 2013, believes that under Donald Trump, the Republican Party has experienced "permanent damage."

As of Friday afternoon, neither U.S. President Donald Trump nor Democratic candidate Joe Biden were declared the winner of Tuesday's presidential election which has been too close to call in several states.

Solomon spoke with Day 6 host Brent Bambury about what a win for either candidate would mean for Black Americans.

Below is part of that conversation.

Election Day was on Tuesday. There was the red mirage, and then for the rest of the week, one of the narratives that emerged was of Black voters ... slowly closing off Donald Trump's path to victory. What did it mean to you to watch that?

One of the tragedies of the past four years has been the way Trumpism has found support among people who oppose civil rights, who sympathize with Nazism and nationalism, white supremacy — and it was great to see that it was the Black community really repudiating Trumpism. 

And that came from Black voters in the cities, and it really was a cities election as much as anything else.

To see that be the decisive factor — and largely by Black women voters — was really quite encouraging.

But at the same time, nearly 70 million Americans voted for Trump this year. Can you reconcile that some of those people are your colleagues, your neighbours, your students?

I can reconcile, but it's troubling. Trumpism has done permanent damage to the Republican Party and they will have to rebuild themselves. 

I have no doubt that an administration that will take COVID seriously, for example, will save many Black and brown lives. No doubt an administration that takes immigration reform seriously will avoid the types of human rights abuses and separation of families. I have no doubt an administration that takes voting rights and civil rights seriously will increase democratic participation and improve the quality of our democracy. 

But, once again, it has come down to Black votes to demand it for themselves when some of our other citizens and fellow countrymen have not done so.

Protesters representing Black Lives Matter and Protect the Results march in Seattle on the evening of Nov. 4. (Ted S. Warren/The Associated Press)

You just said that Trumpism was damaging for the Republican Party, but what about what Trumpism has done to the United States or to American politics? What has four years of Donald Trump done to the size and scale of the problem of racism in the United States?

Trumpism didn't actually have much of a platform, as I could tell, except being anti-Obama. So it seemed like the entire Trump candidacy was triggered by his efforts to deny Barack Obama's legitimacy to be president, and the whole birtherism effort. And everything he did seemed to be a constant effort to just unwind whatever Obama might have done.

There's some interesting analysis that's been done that looks at the efforts in the United States after the promising start of reconstruction in the south after the Civil War. There was a period of redemption, trying to claw that back and disenfranchise Black voters. 

There's been some interesting work that has shown Trumpism is basically an effort to claw back any progress made during Obama's leadership.

If Donald Trump leaves office in January and he's no longer president, how much of that effort to claw back those reforms will be defeated with him?

I think a substantial amount of progress can now happen, but it's too early to tell whether Democrats will face cooperation or obstruction from the United States Senate. 

So, once again, it will not be the sort of full reversal of everything that Trumpism stood for. There's a lot of work required, a lot of healing required.

We are still in the process, I think, of trying to overcome America's original sin of race-based slavery and white supremacy.

Is it realistic to be hopeful that Biden [and vice presidential candidate Kamala] Harris could deliver some reform there? Because Joe Biden, obviously, he's been criticised for his work on the 1994 Clinton crime bill, and Kamala Harris for stances that she took on law and justice when she was attorney general in California. 

Are you hearing skepticism about how they might be willing or able to deliver for your community?

I know the people that they are likely to appoint to key positions of leadership across the government. I know the leadership that will actually be inspired by this victory. 

We see Stacey Abrams in Georgia and the tremendous work of on-the-ground organizations registering people, empowering people, energizing people to go vote. So I actually am enthusiastic that this is a significant turning point away from Trumpism. 

But we celebrate progress, and I'm confident we'll see more progress under a Biden-Harris administration because of the people, the attitude, the evidence-based approach to solving problems they will bring. 

We will once again respect science. Science is not about race. Science just says let's take this disease [COVID-19] seriously because this disease has a disproportionately negative effect on Black and brown communities. That alone will save hundreds of thousands of lives for America.

LISTEN | LaTosha Brown discusses turnout among Black voters on CBC Radio's election night special

So if you were advising Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, what is the first thing that you would tell them to do to start correcting the path that the country is on right now?

I think Biden said it well, that this is about the soul of the nation. 

Restore some decency, evidence-based decision making, respect for expertise and science to the administration. Appoint people on the basis of their competence, not their corruption. 

Appoint people, and empower the team, that looks like America — that is as diverse in background experience, thought, racially, ethnically, so that your administration looks like this country. 

That will put us on the path and the track to progress.

Written by Jason Vermes. Produced by Sameer Chhabra. Q&A edited for length and clarity.