Maybe we’re just cockeyed optimists, but we think there is some cause for hope 152 years after the surrender of the Confederate States which had waged a war against their countrymen to preserve slavery.
After all, the US elected and re-elected Barack Obama as president, and even if aggrieved whites form the base of Donald Trump’s political power, Obama’s stature has only increased in the seven months since Trump’s inauguration. Obama’s favorability rating has increased from 58% when he left office in January to 63% in a June Gallup poll. Trump’s approval rating was 38% in a poll released Aug. 19, while 58% disapprove of him.
The next few years will determine whether Trump and the Republican Party will succeed in their efforts to suppress votes of black, Latino and women voters to preserve white male hegemony.
The Republican Party wasn’t helped on Aug. 12 when the “Alt-Right” showed up in Charlottesville with the Ku Klux Klan and Neo-Nazis as prominent allies and ready for a public battle.
Dozens of white nationalists, taking advantage of a state law allowing the open carrying of weapons, marched to the Charlottesville rally dressed in camo with tactical vests and military-style semi-automatic rifles. Some of the counter-protesters also were armed, which may have contributed to the local police’s decision to stand on the sidelines as protesters attacked one another with clubs, poles, smoke bombs and pepper spray. Luckily, nobody was shot. But the presence of guns pretty much limited the prospects that there would be much free speech going on at Emancipation Park.
The estimated 500 white supremacists arguably lost to the anti-fascists and social justice activists in the battle of Charlottesville. Klan insignias and swastikas don’t play well with the American public, and after the battle, as Klansmen and Nazis dispersed back to their hometowns, some found that their faces being connected with Nazi imagery had a bad effect on their academic or business careers. Sad.
One week later, fewer than 100 alt-righters showed up at Boston Commons to rally for “white solidarity” in a city that was notorious for racial divisions in the 1970s, but they didn’t get much buy-in from locals on Aug. 19. Ralliers were surrounded by 40,000 counter-protesters who repudiated white supremacy in a largely peaceful confrontation. A big difference from Charlottesville was that the rally permit’s restrictions included bans on backpacks, sticks, and anything that could be used as a weapon. Charlie Pierce noted at Esquire.com that Boston police intervened when protesters surrounded the ralliers, and the police escorted the ralliers out of the area, with the assistance of the local affiliate of Black Lives Matter, who helped to maintain order.
Trump’s response was to tweet, “Looks like many anti-police agitators in Boston. Police are looking tough and smart. Thank you.”
There were some scuffles between marchers in black masks and bandanas and riot police who separated them from the ralliers, Pierce noted, but when police officers escorted a white-haired gent wearing a T-shirt that said “We must secure the existence of our people and a future for white children” out of the crowd, which was chanting “shame,” Police Superintendent Willie Gross said, “You see? That guy was exercising his First Amendment rights and the people around him were exercising their First Amendment rights. That’s the way it’s supposed to work.” And marcher after marcher came up and posed with Gross for selfies. He congratulated all of them on the stand they were taking against what he called “hate speech.”
Democrats need to renew their appeal to working-class and middle-class whites who have been left behind by “neoliberal” trade policies and unionbusting promoted by Republicans since the 1980s. Those moves have reduced trade unions’ bargaining power, which hurt workers of all races, but white workers have been encouraged to blame their precarious economic situation on competition from undocumented immigrants at home and low-wage workers abroad, and ignore corporate bosses that play them off against each other.
Bernie Sanders showed last year that an economic populist message is still potent among Democratic voters, and Donald Trump’s populist rhetoric probably helped him win just enough white working-class votes in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin to tip the Electoral College his way. But those working-class whites are now realizing that Trump was lying, as he does, and an NBC News/Marist poll Aug. 13-17 in those three key states showed Trump’s job approval was 36% or less, while 63% or more said they were embarrassed by Trump’s conduct. Voters also prefer a Democratic-controlled Congress in all three states.
But allies of the Klan and Neo-Nazis remain in the White House. There won’t be any relief for at least a year and a half, until we get another shot at changing Congress, and then in 2020, when we get a chance to throw out Trump or his successor. In the meantime, Republicans will be working to fortify their position. The 55% of voters who disapprove of Trump’s response to the Charlottesville attack, according to a CBS News Poll Aug. 14-16, need to make sure they vote in 2018 to start holding Trump and his minions accountable.
Dahlia Lithwick noted at Slate, “If you were sickened and horrified by the images of Nazis openly marching through a town and its university, brandishing weapons and symbols of mass extermination, please know that Donald Trump and his attorney general are attempting to enact and effectuate policies that ring in the key of ‘You will not replace us’ every single day. Their programmatic efforts to disenfranchise minority voters, gerrymander minority voting districts, end affirmative action, ban transgender soldiers from serving in the military, increase deportations, curb immigration, and foment racially discriminatory policing, sentencing, and incarceration systems are all the modern-day equivalent of this week’s ugly battle cry, ‘You will not replace us.’”
Some Republicans in Congress distanced themselves from the Nazi rhetoric, and they may have been embarrassed by David Duke, the former Ku Klux Klan leader who tweeted “Thank you President Trump for your honesty & courage to tell the truth,” after Trump balanced the blame for the Charlottesville mayhem. But few Republican officeholders were willing to challenge Trump directly for his pandering to the alt-right — knowing that the GOP owes much of its political success to the exploitation of white fears of losing ground to minorities, ever since Richard Nixon adopted the Southern Strategy in 1968 after President Lyndon Johnson got a Democratic Congress to pass the Civil Rights and Voting Rights acts.
Trump played to those fears when he raised the question of whether leftists, if they ever rid the country of statues commemorating Confederate figures, would try to pull down statues to other slaveowners, such as George Washington and Thomas Jefferson.
Washington and Jefferson, though slaveholders, were founders of the United States. The Confederate statues commemorate traitors and were raised many years after the Civil War in an effort to intimidate black Americans from pursuing their right to vote and other rights as citizens.
We think local and state governments should decide whether to continue to honor the rebellion against the US that cost more than 600,000 lives and continues to generate hard feelings to this day.
Southern towns should embrace an end to hostilities and replace Confederate statues that were installed during the Jim Crow era with monuments to people who have worked to heal society. Just don’t expect Donald Trump to be part of that healing. — JMC
Art by Kevin Kreneck
From The Progressive Populist, September 15, 2017
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