“Brush up your Shakespeare, start quoting him now…” – Cole Porter
“When the white man turns tyrant, it is his own freedom he destroys.”
– George Orwell
“…there’s not a thing wrong with the ideals and mechanisms outlined and the liberties set forth in the Constitution of the United States. The only problem was, the founders left a lot of people out of the Constitution. They left out poor people and black people and female people. It is possible to read the history of this country as one long struggle to extend the liberties established in our Constitution to everyone in America. And it still goes on today.”
– Molly Ivins
“He (Abraham Lincoln) would have proven the best friend the South could have had, and saved much of the wrangling and bitterness of feeling brought out by reconstruction under a President (Andrew Johnson) who at first wished to revenge himself upon Southern men of better social standing than himself, but who still sought their recognition, and in a short time conceived the idea and advanced the proposition to become their Moses to lead them triumphantly out of all their difficulties.”
– Ulysses S. Grant
“The South was and still is, in my opinion, a colony of the North. After we were defeated in the Civil War, they bought us up for a nickel on the dollar, and they still own us.” – Virginia Foster Durr
While I do not intend to support Donald Trump for President, I feel his candidacy has helped to expose hypocrisies in American society left over from our Civil War and Reconstruction a century and one half ago, and from the gap between Mr. Jeffersons’s “All Men Are Created Equal” and the realities of his day. As long as he doesn’t actually come to power, I am willing to give the Donald a “Bronx Cheer” for, in a small way, performing a kind of public service in destroying the candidacies of Scott Walker, Chris Christie, “Bush Dynasty,” and the egos of that strangest of media animals, FOX News.
In a larger sense however, Mr. Trump reminds us, whether we like it or not, that issues which caused the Civil War of 1861-1865 no longer simply divide us into “North” and “South,” but cause havoc within the entire “body politic” in 2016.
Just as George Wallace demonstrated to the Democratic Party and this country in 1968 and 1972 that racial bigotry affected the Northern sections of America as much as the South, Donald Trump has shown the nation that fear and loathing stalks the Republican Party in Blue States, Red States, and Purple States alike.
And that is the bad news that Mr. Trump brings in the wake of his Republican Primary victories. Many of us still respond all too easily to racial, religious, gender, and class bias, rather than to the gentle messages brought to us over the centuries by our world’s great teachings: Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Confucianism, Hinduism, and so many others. Hatred is a powerful drug; harder to kick than booze, nicotine or meth.
What is most troublesome to me is that we continue to do this, despite a material productivity and government safety nets that were unheard of by those who suffered in America before and during the Great Depression of the 1930’s.
The statistics of the Affordable Care Act (ACA, or “Obamacare”), for example, show an increase of jobs in this country since its inception in March, 2010, not the disaster that is portrayed by many media- manufactured “outlets of outrage.” The architect of the ACA Barack Obama, is young (still), gifted and black. That sort of thing has been no problem for most white folks in the past fifty years when relegated to the arts and sports.
But President of the United States? “-ay, there’s the rub,” as many modern day Hamlets
might put it. But there is no murder of one’s father here to ponder, as Shakespeare poses for his young and unformed Dane. There is just the destruction of illusions of power wrought by the expansion of human and civil rights in our country in the past two centuries. Illusions based on superiority or supremacy of color; white over black, brown, red or yellow. Supremacy of gender; based on male over female. Supremacy of money; “divine right of money bags,” as Aldous Huxley put it. Superiority of occupation; white collar over blue collar. And superiorities of class and religion which defy definition in a few words.
Last but not least in American categories of illusion is supremacy of region; East or West Coast over the “fly over zone,” like the Dakotas. And the most pernicious, I think; supremacy of North over South, something I have had to contend with in my own upbringing in northern Illinois and the upper Midwest.
My love of country music is too strong, and the friendly relationships I have cherished among men and women raised in the southern United States are too numerous for me to entertain any notion of real divisions between us, but I know that the divisions are still there. If I believed otherwise, I can only thank Donald Trump and Ted Cruz for reminding me that these divisions are still quite real.
It is not Shakespeare, however, whose writings show how much race and class bias is built into the English language and my White, Anglo Saxon heritage. For that I have George Orwell to thank. But Orwell doesn’t easily explain race hatred that infects white women as well as white men, or the gender bias that infects many black men as it does their white male counterparts. For such insights I must turn to the late Molly Ivins.
Molly Ivins was a Texas feminist. They don’t come any tougher than that. Her biographers, Bill Minutaglio and W. Michael Smith (Molly Ivins: A Rebel Life, New York: Public Affairs, 2009) have done a good job of explaining her life, but she is best at explaining herself and her rejection of male chauvinism and race hatreds in her journalism (Molly Ivins Can’t Say That, Can She? New York: Vintage, 1992; Nothin’ But Good Times Ahead, New York: Vintage, 1994, and others).
When the Democrats were challenged by George Wallace to face their internal racism, regional and class biases, they responded in 1976 with Jimmy Carter, a practicing Christian and committed environmentalist.
President Carter was rejected four years later by the “Gospel of Wealth,” and the process of undeclared war against the middle class, and a government infrastructure that supported it, was accelerated by the wealthiest 1% in an attempt to buy up, not just the South, but the entire country “for five cents on the dollar.”
Shipping jobs to China and overseas, Wall Street deregulation, and other swindles have been well documented by Senator Byron Dorgan [D-ND] (Take This Job and Ship It, New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2006; and Reckless, New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2009)
In 2008 the bill came due in the Wall Street meltdown of that year, and with it, a rejection of the party of George W. Bush for the Party of Barack Obama.
With the election of a competent and courageous Democrat to the Presidency, who also happened to be black, power brokers in the Republican Party became even more open in serving “the land of few” rather than “the land of the free.” As such they made their bargain with Tea Party enthusiasts in 2010, whose “my way or the highway” behavior in Congress, has brought constant paralysis to government “of, by and for the people.” Republicans all over the country have thus well earned the disarray brought to them by Donald Trump in 2016. A Donald Trump, who has cast himself as a “new Moses,” but who is just as counterfeit in 2016, as President Andrew Johnson was in 1868.
Senator Harry Reid (D-NV) has it right when he says that the Republican Party is merely reaping what they have sown. The mantle of “with malice toward none, with charity for all” has fallen from the Party of Abraham Lincoln to the Democratic Party of Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders. It may be a disaster for the Grand Old Party if they fail to stop Donald Trump from securing their nomination, but the thoughtful among Republicans are beginning to seriously consider what a disaster it would be for this country if the Democrats fail to stop him in November.
We need to grow up…fast, for the sake of our grandchildren. Climate change is indifferent to how we treat each other. It only responds to how we treat the planet.
But until we begin to respect the other birds in our nest a whole lot better, it is hopeless to expect that we will treat the nest itself with the respect it is due, and that nature demands.