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Nothing new about Trump-style racism in America



We’re all aghast at the overt racism of the thugs and pigs at Breitbart and in other rightwing fascist circles—the white supremacists and neo-nazis who constitute Trump’s base. But even though it seems Trump has unleashed something new and profoundly ugly in America, the truth is, that sick vein of malevolence has a long, sordid history in this country.

Sometimes it’s in the foreground, like now. Sometimes it retreats to the background. But like the fungus that make mushrooms, it’s always there, percolating, awaiting the right conditions to spread.

Back in 1965, when Lyndon Johnson was President, the great abstract-expressionist, Robert Rauschenberg, created a masterpiece he called “Drawing for Dante’s 700th Birthday.”

It’s currently at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, where Marilyn and I saw it last Friday. As the explanatory note on the wall explains, Rauschenberg filled the drawing “with images of civil unrest, racist posters…” and other symbols of “forceful political content.”

The part I’ve reproduced is only part of the large drawing; these racist images, however repugnant, are important to show, because they prove that violent bigotry of the kind we’ve come to expect from Trump and his crowd have infected America for a long time.

“Who needs Niggers”, “Down With Martin Luther Coon”, “Negroes Commit 80% of U.S. Crime”—these dreary slurs have been all too common, not only in the South, but elsewhere. Of course, Rauschenberg created this painting at the height of the Civil Rights struggle, when schools and lunch counters were being integrated, the Voting Rights and Civil Rights acts were enacted, and Black activists, especially Dr. King, were appealing to the moral compass of all Americans. It was an inspirational time—I remember it well—but, for a lot of under-educated, ignorant white people, the Movement represented an existential threat.

One might have thought that these people had been marginalized over the last 50 years, as America has evolved into a multi-cultural society. Even in 1965, a majority of Americans viewed them as what they were: sick bigots, the remnants of a KKK that we all hoped was in its death throes. But, like some hideous villain in a monster movie, every time the creature is thought to be killed off, it comes back worse than ever. Thus it is that, in 2017, the sons and grandsons of these racist dunces have returned with a vengeance, released—no, summoned from their dark underworld by the spawn of that darkness, Donald J. Trump.

What will it take to be rid of them? We don’t seem to be able to reason with them. They’re immune to reason, to arguments of morality and ethics, even to the words of the Jesus they profess to worship: “Thou shalt love they neighbor as thyself.” They can’t be shamed into reform: if they had a sense of honor, they would revolt against their pussy-groping, lying President. But they have no honor or conscience. They can’t even be compelled by law to reform, because, as the Scottish sociologist R.M. Maciver noted, you can’t legislate morality. These haters, for the most part, are beyond redemption, which is why Hillary Clinton was correct when she called them “a basket of deplorables.” 

It’s a hard thing to say of some Americans that they are the enemy. But I’m ready to say it. Trump and his neo-nazis try to convince us to be afraid of Mexican immigrants, Muslims, gays, transgendered people, Jews, Blacks, Elizabeth Warren, the European Union, scientists, gun control proponents–whomever they happen to hate on any given day. Sorry. You know whom I’m afraid of? The “Christian” white supremacists who support Trump, who stockpile ammo depots and are just waiting for an excuse to go enemy-hunting for people like me. Their agenda is a frightening throwback to why the North fought the Civil War against the pro-slavery South. Their agenda is exactly the same as when Robert Rauschenberg portrayed it in his 1965 drawing. Their agenda is what Trump, Jeff Sessions, Michael Flynn, Roy Moore, Sean Hannity, Steve Bannon, Franklin Graham, Ann Coulter and their ilk are trying to resurrect: an America of straight white tyranny and repression of “the other.” Nothing has changed. They’re still out there, these fascists, reading Mein Kampf and hallucinating about a white “Christian” America. Like a cockroach infestation, they’ll never go away completely. But we can control them.

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