The lynching of Reuben Stacy, Fort Lauderdale, FL, 1935
After an average of 54 lynchings a year between 1877 and 1950, with a peak average of 111 annually from 1889 to 1918 in the wake of Reconstruction, lynchings in contemporary America happen far less often. That’s progress. But America’s 400-year enterprise of demonizing black and brown people for fear and profit is explosively thriving in the racist fusillades of President Donald Trump and their reception by his voters.
It is time to call out those in the Trump base not only for their calamitous ignorance and their horrific gullibility in falling for Trump’s false economic promises, but also for their immorality, plain and simple, in once again trading away human decency for racial privilege.
In the past 50 years, the fall of white working people from having strong unions and solid blue-collar careers to being corralled in the post-Reagan work camp of unregulated industry has created real and justified rage and disillusionment. But in no sane world is this an excuse for suffering whites, with their eroded privilege, to fall back on the expedient evil of white supremacy. This centuries-old core moral failure will be, in the future telling of history, the monumental disgrace of America’s ever-shrinking white majority.
White racism is the trick gear enabling America’s impossibly top-heavy capitalist machinery to somehow keep lurching forward, through monopoly to plutocracy, in defiance of claimed meritocracy or democracy. White supremacy is to non-rich white people what money is to the fabulously rich: an exclusive currency of dominance by which both enjoy a monopoly on something they covet. For the one percent, the payoff is their economic and political dominance over the rest of us. For whites without great wealth, the reward is the simple privilege of their presumed centrality in the nation’s culture, with comfortably white national standards of normality by which whites never have to explain their presence or their worth, and through which they can rely on their whiteness as a guarantee of authority and respect. Like any group that inherits privilege, both of these favored parties — the rich and the white — can, if they choose, expediently learn to live with the nagging moral wrongness of their roles in the hierarchy.
And so we now see that 58 percent of Republicans (versus 5 percent of Democrats and 27 percent of independents) support the Trump administration’s separating — in some cases literally tearing loose — traumatized children from their parents as part of its anti-refugee policy at the U.S.-Mexican border, which has separated 2,000 children from their parents in six weeks. (A whistleblower’s recording of such children screaming in their prison — let’s call these facilities what they are — reveals the level of abominable cruelty here.) Meanwhile, alleged Christian leaders sell out what Jesus is known to have stood for in their attempt at a quid pro quo for Trump’s support of policies that allow their religious groups to feed at the government trough while dodging discrimination laws and the constitutional separation of church and state. And in recent incidents, Greyhound Bus Lines and Concord Bus Lines both folded to U.S. Customs and Border Patrol officers’ illegally telling passengers they must be U.S. citizens in order to ride.
Through it all, purportedly responsible white adult American citizens have continually excused Trump’s lies, boasted and accused sexual assault, numerous fiscal concealments, apparent obstruction of justice, vulgar and racist statements, and unprecedented debasements of the presidency. Contrast this with the throngs of white voters who were so desperate to crucify dignified non-felonious President Barack Obama that they had to make up sufficiently inflammatory fairy tales. The most successful of these false claims, the “birther” myth that Obama was not born in the United States, was championed for five years by Trump himself.
The long and convenient tradition of bigotry-based immorality is alive and well in a substantial chunk of today’s white American electorate, and has in fact been here since the beginning: through the rise and predominance of the slavery industry, the Civil War that was fought over that industry, and the nation’s unofficial but perennial race wars ever since. These include the war on black civil rights, the real estate war to create and sustain white suburbs and to contain poor communities of color, the War on Drugs, the economic war to further privilege the rich and to pit neglected uneducated whites and abandoned people of color against one another, the war of militarized and brazenly corrupt policing in poor communities of color, and the post-9-11 War on Terror and its successive military and civilian assaults on majority-Muslim nations and on Muslims here and abroad.
Fearing and subjugating people of color in general and black people in particular has been elemental to American whiteness since that category’s very creation as a way to place the enslavers above the enslaved, and to, later, exclude Jewish, Italian, Irish, and other immigrants from official inclusion in white American ethnicity. Whiteness, a concept invented when European invaders needed to legitimize their homicidal occupation of the New World and their violent appropriation of free labor from Africa and the Caribbean, has served as an excuse for genocide and other atrocities on this side of the Atlantic since the 15th century. It continues to do so.
So let’s properly attribute responsibility. Trump did not create this monster. He just fed it raw meat.