I grew up loving the history of this country, the good, the bad and the ugly. Watching the ‘good’ rise in the aftermath of WWII was exhilarating and seemed to give tribute to our aspirational foundation. Our forefathers created this country with high hopes for equality and individual freedom, but unfortunately were forced to do so on the back of an egregious compromise that still haunts us today, the continuation of slavery. Without that compromise there might never have been a revolutionary war, and the entire history of the world would have changed trajectory .
Unfortunately, after taking steps toward muting the voices of bigotry and hatred of the “other”, the world is now doing a u turn. In no small part this has been influenced by the man our electoral college put in the White House, with the help of Russian interference and angry voters on both sides. The 2016 election was influenced to some degree by far lefters (the democratic version of the Tea Party) who want to upend the country, just as the far right wanted to, only in the opposite direction. It appears there are masses of people…on both ends…who feel going up the hill towards their goal, bringing the majority along with them through logic and reason, is not nearly as satisfying as causing an earthquake or volcano that can destroy the “enemy” and give them the world they envision, in their image. In other words, everyone should live like me, believe like me, obey my God (or my interpretation of what my God says), and agree with all my belief systems. There are those who resent “the other”, a contingent who dislike the idea of diversity. Different is bad, because it…what? Frightens me ? Makes my beliefs invalid? Threatens the substance of my life? How insecure individuals must be to cower at change and diversity…yes, I said cower. That kind of insecurity brings out the bully in some, which is just another example of reaction to fear. Sadly, changes of any kind can evoke that response in some individuals, and if that change threatens ones position in the hierarchy it becomes seminal in that persons reaction.
Admittedly, much of our problems today stem from actions and policies following the Civil War. There was a good faith attempt to grant equal rights to the freedmen during reconstruction. President Grant signed the Enforcement Acts in order to protect the southern blacks, and essentially wiped out the Ku Klux Klan for that period. Unfortunately, the attempt to reconcile the former combatants and unite the country fell victim to the election of 1877. As Wikipedia describes the time:
The results of the election remain among the most disputed ever. Although it is not disputed that Tilden outpolled Hayes in the popular vote, after a first count of votes, Tilden had won 184 electoral votes to Hayes’ 165, with 20 votes from four states unresolved: in Florida, Louisiana, and South Carolina, each party reported its candidate had won the state, while in Oregon, one elector was replaced after being declared illegal for being an “elected or appointed official”. The question of who should have been awarded these electoral votes is the source of the continued controversy.
An informal deal was struck to resolve the dispute: the Compromise of 1877, which awarded all 20 electoral votes to Hayes; in return for the Democrats’ acquiescence to Hayes’ election, the Republicans agreed to withdraw federal troops from the South, ending Reconstruction. The Compromise effectively ceded power in the Southern states to the Democratic Redeemers, who proceeded to disenfranchise black voters thereafter.
(For anyone a bit confused about the parties positions, please note that the Democrats and Republicans switched positions in the twentieth century because of the Civil Rights Act, helped along by Nixon’s “courting” the Southern Democrats who were angered by President Johnson’s move toward equal rights.)
After the failure of Reconstruction the one thing many small farmers and white workers on the lower rungs of the social structure relied on was the idea that they might be poor, and looked down on by their “betters”, but they could also look down on some “others”. The vast majority of freedmen were poorer, also uneducated, and at the bottom of the social ladder…or maybe not on it at all! Through the decades following this was a fall back: separate bathrooms, separate water fountains, back of the bus, no fountain service, and tragically the freedom to not only harass black citizens, but the ‘righteousness’ (in some states) to string them from a tree if they so much as looked at a white woman.
I was raised in Washington State and had never seen signs separating the races, but encountered the stories and pictures in my inveterate reading. That kind of social structure never made sense to me, even as a child. I grew up naively unaware that underlying bigotry was alive and well even in the west, just not as state promoted, or obvious. As I reached maturity the exact level of my grandparents bigotry became evident, and the nuanced racism in my father’s character was clearly revealed. Having been educated in the evils of any kind of group hate by the thousands of books I read while haunting the library, I was not infected by the discovery, merely a bit appalled and saddened. I am aware that racism is a world wide problem, along with religious hatreds, misogyny, and homophobia. However, I was hoping our country was on it’s way to at least creating policies that would equalize all citizens. Everyone would have the same rights of freedom: speech, assembly and voting. Not to mention ability to purchase a home and obtain a good job!
Enter our 45th president. His approach was to divide the citizenry, something he managed to accomplish just enough to win the Electoral College by razor thin margins in the necessary states. The majority of Americans held their breath, dried their tears, and hoped he would “grow into” the position. Instead his inaugural speech still gave a nod to divisiveness, and so it has continued and been exacerbated during his three plus years in the “bully pulpit”. And bully he is. The latest proof of this statement is in his sending militarily armed agents into Portland, Oregon
spraying rubber bullets into groups of peaceful protestors and grievously injuring at least one young man. The protests had been relatively peaceful and in control up to that point. Guess what happened then…the people erupted into riots. Apparently the military manual (which I understand can be viewed online) states that security clampdown in an area that has popular support never works, it escalates the problem. Escalation can work for dividing people, see how out of control this mob is (after I attack them), and people sitting at home in front of their screen forget the cause and see the violence. Divide and conquer.
The question now is simple, are we, as a people, going to allow one man and his “cartel” to divide the nation, and turn our citizenry into two or more camps that see each other as the enemy? Are we, as a people, bowing down to hate and turning our backs on peace, friendship and prosperity for all? It will be a hard slog getting our country back on the right path. It will take effort to pull the forgotten into comfort, the homeless into homes, and learn to communicate with each other in a productive and peaceful way that encourages compromise and/or the ability to agree to disagree with no animosity. Real change takes time, unlike chaos and destruction. Toppling statues is quick and easy, building them is hard.
With militia marching in our streets, arresting innocent individuals for no reason, injuring bystanders with rubber bullets, disobeying state Governors and unnecessarily creating further chaos, we are at a crossroad. If you really want anarchy, military rule run by one man, rampant racism and dictatorial rule then you will vote to keep this failed president in office. Or decide not to vote at all, or write a name in. If you want our country to truly regain greatness you will understand that change takes time and effort, and you will stand in the hurricane in order to vote for a man who will not be a great president, but will try his best and surround himself with experts. It is a choice of being conquered by division, or attempting to create a better country with unity and purpose. Choose wisely.