Editor’s note: Peniel E. Joseph is the Barbara Jordan Chair in Ethics and Political Values and founding director of the Center for the Study of Race and Democracy at the LBJ School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin, where he is a professor of history. He is the author of The Third Reconstruction: America’s Struggle for Racial Justice in the Twenty-First Century. The views expressed here are his own. See more opinions on CNN.
As a black man, I found the U.S. Senate race between Raphael Warnock and Herschel Walker a particularly painful one to watch, observe, and analyze. Thankfully, the assumption that a black football player with a strong reputation in Georgia would be enough to split the black vote did not materialize, but the reality that many white Georgians are willing to support Walker underscores the unsettling challenges facing a nation mired in division and division. The questions prepare for former President Donald Trump’s 2024 bid for his old office.
I was relieved by Warnock, pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta. Martin Luther King. and mr. Once led, beat the woefully unqualified Walker and got a full six-year term. His victory in a close contest represented the triumph of substance over cynicism.
Aside from being a famous former athlete who is friendly with Trump, Walker is completely unqualified to be a Republican Senate nominee.
Yet Walker, who played running back at the University of Georgia in the early 1980s, turned the game into a race to the bottom and launched a campaign whose toxic brand won’t fade easily. Backed by Trump (who reportedly personally recruited the Heisman Trophy winner to run against Warnock) and a fueled MAGA movement, Walker became the Republican Trump party’s continued misunderstanding and disrespect for the black community extreme performance.
I grieve for the parts of America that enthusiastically supported Walker’s candidacy. Some are hopelessly unaware of the negative message their support for him sends to millions of black Americans, and they won’t soon forget it.
The Republican embrace of Walker represents an American tragedy. Walker’s conduct on the campaign trail included incoherent gibberish about movies and farm animals, pointless nonsense, and bizarre scenes of dancing in front of an overwhelmingly white audience reminiscent of the Jim Crow era. Bards perform. As Walker’s humiliating campaign continues to showcase the GOP’s failure to understand or connect with black voters, the Jim Crow era’s objectification of black men as mentally weak but physically strong has grown.
However, allegations that Walker serially abused women, injured his son Christian (who publicly criticized his father as unfit for public office), engaged in extramarital affairs and forced women to have abortions did not stop more than 48 percent of Georgians from supporting him. Pressed by reporters, Walker — who has denied some allegations of violence against him and cited mental health issues but not violence against his wife — denied the abortion charges. “You know, I’m fed up with this stupidity,” he told reporters. “I’ve told people it’s a lie.”
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For far too many white voters still enamored by Trump, MAGA, and January 6th, Walker represents the only form of racial “progress” they think is acceptable — and the issue isn’t as prevalent as candidate Walker defeated in the opinion polls. For too many of these voters, only a black man who knows his “place” — as the puppet leader of the Republican Party, openly pursuing a policy agenda of voter suppression, education censorship, and reproductive injustice — is worth Georgia’s many Local support Barely two years after the murder of George Floyd, the entire country (and parts of the world) have entered a period of public revolt and private soul-searching.
At this point in our history, white support for Walker sends the completely wrong message to America, not just about party or ideology, but about the direction of our country. Still, I’m hopeful for a Warnock victory. While all ballots have yet to be counted, nearly 100,000 more Georgians have voted for a movement whose belief in multiracial democracy represents an act of ancestral dream.
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Black women, in particular, proved to be key to Warnock’s victory. Former Democratic gubernatorial nominee Stacey Abrams worked hard to recruit Warnock as a 2020 candidate and help organize the largest ballot drive in Peach State history with a 2022 election Got amazing returns. The grassroots efforts of Warnock’s campaign helped establish the kind of multiracialism that would have made Dr. King proud.
On January 5, 2021, Warnock became the first black person in American history to be elected as a U.S. Senator from Georgia. Along with Jon Ossoff, who became the state’s first-ever Jewish senator, those historic victories were overshadowed by a miserable start to the next day.
In the nearly two years since then, a distinctively American symmetry has emerged. Trump’s election denialism and toxic rhetoric have blinded the political imagination and political vision of the Republican Party. If Warnock’s surprise victory in 2021 reflects the galvanizing power of the racial and political reckoning unleashed last summer, the hard-won victory represents a repudiation of the cynical political environment that has led to candidates like Walker. Clear moral refusal.
That’s enough to give us a full appreciation of the pain Walker’s candidacy left behind, and all the more reason to celebrate Warnock’s victory rather than see it as a partisan victory for the Democrats. This is a much-needed step towards realizing the dream of a multiracial democracy.