So we’re not post-racial yet.
Instead, we are preoccupied with race, chafing along the color line, possessed of wildly divergent views of authority, justice and equality. According to a New York Times/CBS News poll conducted in the aftermath of widely publicized police shootings and the attacks on Dallas police officers, 60 percent of Americans believe race relations are growing worse.
Some among us lay the blame for that, absurdly, at the feet of President Barack Obama, who was supposed to usher in an era of peace, harmony and racial healing — at least according to some utterly naive predictions made at the time of his first election. Instead, it seems, his presence in the Oval Office precipitated a furious backlash, a tidal wave of resentment from those whites who see his ascendance as a sign of their decline.
But that’s not the president’s fault. He has studiously tried to avoid stirring the cauldron of race, to bridge the color chasm, to unite the warring American tribes. His only crime is in symbolizing the anxieties of those white Americans who see a black man in power as the bete noire of their nightmares.
It makes more sense to blame the presumptive GOP nominee, Donald Trump, for these troubling times. He enters his nominating convention in Cleveland as the same divisive bully he has been throughout the campaign — a man singularly ill-suited to lead a diverse nation.
Trump has not just pandered to the prejudices of his mostly white supporters; he has also encouraged them with his incendiary promises to limit immigration and his vicious insults of the president, starting with his claim that Obama wasn’t born in the United States. Trump works assiduously to keep us divided, a state that sharpens his political advantage.
But the simple truth is that neither Obama nor Trump created this moment. This unruly time has been more than 200 years in the making. We have not yet put away the old ghosts, so they continue to haunt us.
Take the police shootings that have prompted protests around the country during the last several days. There is nothing new about police violence toward black citizens, nothing unusual about bias in the criminal justice system, nothing unexpected about the institutional racism that conspires to imprison black Americans disproportionately.
Just read Douglas Blackmon’s “Slavery by Another Name,” an account of law enforcement practices in the Deep South following the Civil War. White business owners demanded low- to no-cost labor, and they got it by imprisoning black men unfairly and putting them to work.
To justify their rank oppression and their state-sanctioned violence — black people were lynched with impunity for more than a century — powerful whites trafficked in awful stereotypes about black criminality. Those old biases — those hateful stereotypes — didn’t just fade away with the civil rights movement.
As President Obama put it during his moving and elegant speech memorializing the Dallas dead, “We also know that centuries of racial discrimination, of slavery, and subjugation, and Jim Crow — they didn’t simply vanish with the law against segregation.”
Still, there are many who would dismiss Obama, whose political views demand they grant him no legitimacy. Maybe they’d listen instead to Republican Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina, who rose to the floor of the Senate on Wednesday to give a deeply personal account of his maltreatment at the hands of police officers.
Scott is a rock-solid conservative who rarely agrees with the president about anything. He is also black, and, as he noted, that’s enough to kindle suspicion from some law enforcement authorities.
“In the course of one year, I’ve been stopped seven times by law enforcement officers, not four, not five, not six, but seven times, in one year, as an elected official. Was I speeding sometimes? Sure. But the vast majority of the time, I was pulled over for nothing more than driving a new car in the wrong neighborhood or some other reasons just as trivial,” he said.
That’s a powerful testament to the ways in which the old ghosts still haunt us, even in an age of a black president and two black U.S. senators. We are not post-racial yet, and until we can confront and exorcise the demons of our past, we will never be.
By: Cynthia Tucker Haynes, Pulitzer Prize Winner for Commentary in 2007; The National Memo, July 17, 2016
“The GOP Owns This Phenomenon”: Donald Trump Is Merely The Symptom. The Republican Party Itself Is The Disease
We no longer have to speculate whether fascism, in Sinclair Lewis’ famous words, would come to America wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross. We already know what its beginnings look like in the form of Trump rallies, which are carrying an increasingly violent, overtly racist, authoritarian aura strongly reminiscent of the 1930s in Germany or Italy.
Those comparisons were once the province of liberal activists or traffic-seeking headline writers. No longer. The incipient racist violence has reached such a fever pitch that a Trump rally in Chicago had to be canceled entirely. It’s one thing to talk in theoretical or strictly political terms about Trump’s authoritarian behavior, his effect on the Republican Party generally or the potential feasibility of Trump’s policy proposals. But the influence of Trumpism on the country is already so obviously toxic and dangerous that it must be called out and mitigated before people start getting seriously hurt or killed.
That’s just the basic decency aspect. Politically, the Republican Party knows that it has to do something to separate itself from the wildfire of racially charged violence or else lose the votes of every minority constituency for a generation. It’s not just for temporary personal advantage that the other GOP presidential candidates are calling on Trump to act to mitigate the rabid passions of his flock. Those who still have careers to make in Republican politics know that this a point of no return for the entire party and every connected to it.
But try as they might, they will not be able to escape from Trumpism. Even if the Republican establishment does somehow manage to subdue Trump, another will likely come to take his place later on. The genie is out of the bottle, and hucksters of all kinds now realize that the populist GOP base can easily be cleaved from its corporatist handlers with enough brash promises of independence and open bigotry under the guise of truth-telling.
That’s not the fault of Donald Trump. It’s the fault of the GOP itself, for three main reasons.
First, the Republican Party abandoned the notion of shared truths and shared reality. They set up an alternative media empire and convinced their voters that every set of authorities from journalists to scientists were eggheaded liberals not to be trusted. They peddled conspiracy theories and contrafactual dogmas of all stripes–from the notion that climate scientists were all lying about global warming in order to get more grant money, to the notion that tax cuts for the rich grow the economy and pay for themselves. Their base became convinced that no one could be trusted except for the loudest and angriest voices who told them exactly what they wanted to hear. Fox News, talk radio and the Drudge Report became the only trusted media sources. But at a certain point those outlets stopped becoming the media arm of the Republican Party; instead, the Republican Party became the legislative arm of those media outlets. It should come as no surprise that when the Republican establishment seemed unable to deliver on its promises to their voters, conspiracy theory peddlers new and old from Breitbart to Drudge would turn on the establishment and convince the GOP masses that Fox News was the new CNN, just another liberal arm of the media not to be trusted.
Second is, of course, the Southern Strategy of exploiting racial resentment. That worked just fine for Republicans while whites were the dominant majority under no particular threat. It was a great way to win elections in much of the country while discounting voters who couldn’t do them much damage. As long as the rhetoric remained, in Lee Atwater’s words, “abstract” enough, the tensions created wouldn’t boil over into anything much more damaging than the slow, quiet destruction of generations of minority communities via legislatively enforced instituional racism. But as whites have become a smaller and smaller part of the electorate, that Southern Strategy has not only cost the GOP elections by throwing away the minority vote; it has also heightened the fears and tensions of the formerly dominant white voters it courts. What was once quiet and comfortable racism has become a loud and violent cry of angst. That, again, isn’t Donald Trump’s fault. It’s the Republican Party’s.
Third and most important is the effect of conservative economics. For decades laissez-faire objectivism has hurt mostly the poorest and least educated communities in America. Due mostly to institutional racism, those have tended in the past to be communities of color. The deregulated economy simply didn’t need their labor so it tossed them aside, leaving squalor and a host of social problems in its wake. This was convenient for those peddling racist theories, as it laid the blame for drug and family problems in those communities directly on the individuals involved–and by extension on their racial background.
But now a combination of globalization and automation, buoyed by intentional deregulatory corporatist policies, have rendered large swaths of white America also useless to the capitalist economic machine. And lo and behold, drug use, suicide and other social problems have followed in tow. Huge numbers of white Americans now find themselves trapped in a cycle of poverty and despair once reserved for the minorities they despised, without even the psychic wage of perceived racial superiority to maintain their dignity. That, too, is a recipe for violent tension.
Don’t blame Donald Trump for any of this. He’s merely the symptom, not the disease. The Republican Party owns this phenomenon. Its media, economic and political strategies guaranteed Donald Trump’s rise. And they guarantee that regardless of Trump’s electoral success or failure, Trumpism will continue to dominate among their voters.
By: David Atkins, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, March 12, 2016