This past weekend, I was fulfilling a promise I made earlier in the year to read Jill Lepore’s highly acclaimed history of the United States. These Truths, a 960-page tome that explores our nation’s history filtered through the Declaration of Independence, distills the “truths” of “political equality, natural rights, and the sovereignty of the people” that were initially promised by our Founding Fathers.
Lepore presents a national story that includes “a great deal of anguish” that started off with a promise of equality for all that landed, but fell far short of meeting that lofty ideal when early leaders failed to recognize the millions brought to our nation in chains in order to achieve a political compromise with the southern colonies. It was a decision that would have disastrous consequences; and, not even a Civil War could redress.
The story narrates how our national leaders forced millions of native American Indians from their historic reservations, denied the vote to millions of Japanese who were later interned in camps after the start of World War II, and how Black Americans and women have struggled to secure the benefits promised by those “truths” when our nation was formed.
While I was finishing Jill Lepore’s book, President Trump blurted out that a group of four minority congresswomen feuding with Speaker Nancy Pelosi should “go back” to the countries they came from and stop “loudly and viciously telling the people of the United States” how to run the government. In what could not be misconstrued as anything other than a racist trope, was the incredible fact — ignored by or unknown to Trump — that only one of the lawmakers was born outside the country and she was a naturalized citizen who had been duly elected to the U.S. Congress!
Is it acceptable for white Americans — of either party — to remain silent and, therefore complicit, in the face of a President who proudly spouts white nationalist dogma that is antithetical to the tenets of our democracy?
As stated in the New York Times after Trump’s attack on the four Congresswomen, “Even though Mr. Trump has repeatedly refused to back down from stoking racial divisions, his willingness to deploy a lowest-rung slur — one commonly and crudely used to single out the perceived foreignness of nonwhite, non-Christian people — was largely regarded as beyond the pale.”
These are times that are framed by repeated racist and xenophobic statements from a President without any challenge from the leaders of the Republican Party. Is it acceptable for white Americans — of either party — to remain silent, and therefore complicit, in the face of a President who proudly spouts white nationalist dogma that is antithetical to the tenets of our democracy?
Those who, in our recent past, share the President’s white-centric voice, include the Newt Gingrich’s, the David Dukes, and the George Wallace’s, who seek to dehumanize black Americans, native Americans, Muslims, Jews and every other ethnic and religious and immigrant groups. They are driven by the recognized fear that, by 2040, this nation will have a majority of its citizens being non-white.
For a list of Trump’s racist statements — first compiled by the NYTimes in 2018 and updated this week — click here.
The latest diatribe by Trump shows that he believes that the Republican Party, as a whole, is now behind him. They are only acting in enlightened self-interest fearing presidential tweets that could trigger a primary in their own districts. But they are ignoring the mass of voters who left the GOP in 2016 and whose ranks may grow ever larger for his unapologetic racist comments and attacks on our democratic institutions that are seen as dangerous by friends around the world.
Why is it so hard for those who had hewn closely to the tenets of the GOP for the past half century to speak out in protest and denounce him? Is it that GOP Senators and members of Congress fear a core group of voters who are white nationalists, xenophobes who deny they have immigrant ancestors, racists who root for a return to a pre-Civil War south, and, surprisingly, Evangelicals whose religious scruples used to rise up against a presidential candidate who had merely been divorced? It certainly appears so.
This is no longer a fight to be fought solely by the minorities attacked by the President. Trump now stands alone with former President Andrew Johnson as the most racist of Presidents in the history of our nation. What Trump’s tweets represent is the lowest race baiting that has no place in these times. Had he any knowledge of our Constitution and our history he might have been aware that, upon leaving office, President George Washington raised a wine glass and offered thirteen toasts including this one: “May America be an Asylum to the persecuted of the Earth!”
To be true to our nation’s history, we have heard these horrific anti-American statements in generations past. As Jill Lepore notes in These Truths, in the lead up to the Civil War, Confederate leaders spoke frequently that their Southern form of government rested “upon the great truth that the Negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery...is his natural and moral condition.” In short, the Confederacy was founded on white supremacy, the very same form of white supremacy that spouts from the mind and mouth of our current, all too white, President. To be fair, Northern sympathizers, mostly those manufacturers who profited from the cotton picked by Southern slaves, held much the same views.
Stoking hatred in this country for purely political purposes is not new to our nation. But confronting the truths that challenge these unsupported diatribes is the only way to undercut the floor upon which such racists stand. Trump proudly promotes himself as the President of Racism.
In the final analysis we must not forget that tens of millions of our fellow citizens chose to vote for a man sued by the US Justice Department for discriminating against blacks by refusing to rent apartments in Brooklyn, New York; condoned white nationalists in Charlottesville after one of their kind had crashed his car into a crowd killing a young woman; and whose father was, in 1927, parading as an acknowledged member of the KuKluxKlan in Jamaica, Queens when arrested for disorderly conduct. (https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-fix/wp/2016/02/28/in-1927-donald-trumps-father-was-arrested-after-a-klan-riot-in-queens/?utm_term=.cdf04c6b8abc).
We will need to see how effective our democratic institutions respond to these attacks from Trump and his acolytes. And, it must be acknowledged that these are truly difficult times. We will see if our citizens sense the dangers of permitting this behavior without condemning Trump and the GOP when they vote in 2020. Will our electorate choose four more years of Trump's attempts to impose an autocracy? Will the intended votes of blacks and minorities be challenged by gerrymandering and voter suppression or will the electorate insist on overcoming these challenges to oppose government by old, white folk?
But, as the immortal Dante wrote, “the hottest places in hell are reserved for those who, in time of moral crisis maintain their neutrality.” Staying aloof from these issues is no longer an option. Each of us has an obligation to speak out against hatred and attempts to divide us.