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Why Trump’s Racist Backlash Is Worse Than Jim-Crow Alabama

My daughter was born in December 2008, just weeks after the nation had elected Barack Obama its first black president. I was euphoric, overly confident in my country, giddily optimistic about the future. Addressing her in a diary, I wrote: “I’m thrilled you’re going to grow up in a nation that is a much better place for little black girls than it was just a few short years ago.”

If she were born today, my words would reflect my disappointment, my anger, my fears for her future. The election of President Donald J. Trump and the intervening years have shown me a country that I thought was long gone, a mean, narrow and racist place that I believed had been cast aside. Nothing I have known in all my years has prepared me for this place.

This is a territory that we will have to travel through no matter what happens in November 2020, no matter who occupies the Oval Office. This ugly backlash, this fierce resistance to progress, this mindless determination to return to a time that never existed will not be so easy to purge. We are a broken nation now.

Even my Alabama childhood spent in the shadow of Jim Crow was tempered by a cautious optimism that the nation was moving forward, embracing its principles of justice and equality for all, beginning to acknowledge a history of bigotry and oppression. After all, the presidential campaign of George Wallace, with all its contempt for black Americans, captivated only a small minority of voters. His overt racism was shunned by the political establishment, black, white and brown, old and young, Democrat and Republican.

That’s not to say that the political establishment shunned all racism. Richard Nixon beat Wallace with a Southern strategy that used coded language to signal his allegiance to white voters who were uncomfortable with the changes wrought by the civil rights movement. The Republican Party had a respect for decorum if no interest in fairness, a concern for civility if not equality.

That Republican Party is no more. Its dependence on whites who want no part of a richly diverse nation has only deepened, and its fealty to Trumpism is now total. When Trump attacked four congresswomen of color with clearly racist language, virtually no elected Republicans castigated him for his bigotry. They hemmed and hawed, they equivocated, they attacked the congresswomen themselves. They stood by Trump.

Was Trump’s language racist? Absolutely. It was as racist as his birther-ism, which insisted Obama was not born in the United States — a way of attempting to de-legitimize the first black president as a non-citizen, an African. His attacks on Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), Ilhan Omar (D-MN), Ayanna Pressley (D-MA), and Rashida Tlaib  (D-MI), are meant to stigmatize them as something other than legitimate citizens, though three were born here and the other is naturalized. The president is clearly signaling that America is for white people.

As for Fox News commentator Brit Hume, who insisted Trump’s attack was merely “nativist” and “xenophobic,” he engaged in linguistic hair-splitting of the “what the definition of ‘is’ is” sort. Nativism, xenophobia, and racism are all children of an evil, lesser god.”

GOP standard-bearers have abandoned all pretense of decency for the prospect of victory, no matter the cost. As Trump now spews racism on the campaign trail — encouraging his supporters to yell, “Send her back!” about Somali-born Omar — Rep. Bradley Byrne (R-AL), whom I had (wrongly) respected as an honorable man, joined the frightening bandwagon, telling a right-wing Alabama political website that he would pay the airfare for the four Democrats to go live in Venezuela “so they can enjoy their failed socialist paradise.” Byrne clearly believes that sort of demagoguery will aid his campaign for the U.S. Senate.

Trump, of course, has picked up not only Wallace’s coarse bigotry, but also his 1960s red-baiting rhetoric of “socialist!” and “communist!” to wield against his opponents. That was a well-honed tactic back during the days of the civil rights movement, when Martin Luther King Jr. and a host of other activists were smeared as a communist fifth column. The next year and a half promise to be the most hate-soaked period in American politics since Wallace stood in the schoolhouse door. And that wildfire of racism will be hard to contain.

IMAGE: George C. Wallace.

The ‘Lost Cause’ Is Fake History

If your precious “Southern heritage” includes Swastikas, you may as well quit reading right here. But odds are astronomically high that it doesn’t. The vast majority of Southerners are as repelled by those goons as everybody else.

Rebel flags, in comparison, strike me as merely adolescent. Yee haw!

Well, it’s time to grow up.

If that annoys you, answer me this: Since when is Southern history strictly white history anyway?

Most of these Confederate monuments commemorate not so much the South’s glorious history of slavery and rebellion, but the bloody advent of Jim Crow laws between 1895 and 1925 or thereabouts. A time of “race riots”—i.e. black citizens massacred by white mobs across the region from Atlanta (1906) to Elaine, Arkansas (1919) to Tulsa (1921)—and of widespread lynching.

A time when the Klan-glorifying epic Birth of a Nation (1915) was screened at the White House for President Woodrow Wilson.

Ironically, rebel soldier statues were a Yankee industry. A factory in Connecticut manufactured the fool things by the hundreds and shipped them south to stand guard facing north on courthouse squares. A pointed reminder of exactly who was in charge. Specifically, the Ku Klux Klan.

There was nothing subtle about it. Photographs of Charlottesville’s equestrian statue of Robert E. Lee being dedicated in 1924 show that many in attendance wore KKK regalia. Contrary to the art critic in the White House, the statue’s not being destroyed. Plans are to relocate the monument to a park on the outskirts of town—just as Confederate statues taken down at the University of Texas will be placed in a museum, where they belong.

Latter day Confederate sympathizers who feel the need to genuflect to Fake History can visit them there. (Fake horsemanship too. I have a friend indignant about the bronze Gen. Lee’s cruelly over-cranking the bridle, something the real Lee—an excellent rider—would surely never have done.)

But make no mistake: Fake History it is. The treasured myth of the “Lost Cause” of freedom-loving patriots fighting bravely for self-determination and “states’ rights” can’t survive even a cursory reading of secessionist documents.

Here’s Alexander Stephens, Vice President of the Confederacy, arguing that its “cornerstone rests upon the great truth, that the Negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery—subordination to the superior race—is his natural and normal condition. This, our new government, is the first in the history of the world based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth.”

Nobody talks that way anymore except guys with Swastikas. It’s no exaggeration to say that the virulent racism they preach was invented precisely to rationalize the evil of slavery. Nevertheless, that’s what the Civil War, the bloodiest tragedy in American history, was all about. Protecting and defending chattel slavery, a grotesque remnant of human history. There’s nothing to be gained by pretending otherwise.

That said, I think there’s also no point in a struggle to tear down every half-forgotten Confederate memorial across the South. The war’s over and Jim Crow is gone; millions of Americans now living in the region have little interest in this aged feud. Besides, people have a right to their illusions.

As somebody who had no ancestors living in the United States at the time of the Civil War, maybe that’s easy for me to say. However, as an Irish-American who has always thought St. Patrick’s Day was nonsense (especially the vomiting in the gutters part), I’ve no sympathy with tribalized politics of any kind. Certain aspects of everybody’s past, their historical “identity” if you will, are best forgotten. Fighting over symbols gets you nowhere.

Writing in The Guardian, Lincoln biographer Sidney Blumenthal has a good idea. Instead of tearing monuments down, why not build new ones up?

“States and localities,” he suggests, “should establish commissions to build new monuments, statues and memorials, particularly across the South, to commemorate the heroes of the anti-slavery struggle, the unionists during the civil war, advocates for Reconstruction, foes of Jim Crow and champions of the civil rights movement.”

An example of what he means can be found in Arkansas, where I live. Yes, the State Capitol grounds feature the traditional monument to Johnny Reb. But also a striking monument to the Little Rock Nine, a group sculpture depicting the brave African-American students who defied a segregationist mob to enter Little Rock Central High School under the protection of the 101st Airborne in September 1957—Arkansas’ most historically significant event of the 20th century.

People visit the memorial from far and near. To my knowledge nobody finds it controversial.

Cemeteries too are appropriate places to memorialize the Union and Confederate dead. Meanwhile, if it’s history and heritage you want, visit Gettysburg, Vicksburg Memorial National Park, or Appomattox Courthouse among many others. Carefully-preserved Civil War battlefields are scattered across the South: real history, and solemn remembrance.

Michigan Recount Exposes Modern-Day Electoral Jim Crow

The Green Party’s best chance to overturn a statewide victory by Donald Trump has run into a swamp of dubious election protocols in Michigan, where Detroit officials said nearly two-thirds of the precincts cannot be recounted because of poor record-keeping on or after election night—presumably the rationale for a recount.

That unexpected hurdle, which was also present in other southeastern Michigan counties with communities of color such as Flint and Lansing and where Hillary Clinton won by the largest margins, emerged as the Trump campaign and Republicans pursued appeals in federal and state courts to block the recount. (Late Tuesday, the two courts ruled it should continue.)

Meanwhile, in the state’s legislature, a House committee passed a bill retroactively requiring the Greens to pay more for the recount.

“Donald Trump and GOP allies in Michigan are launching an attack against the recount, and attempting to strip the constitutional and civil rights of Michigan voters who are demanding that their voices be heard,” Jill Stein said earlier Tuesday. Her campaign is focused on verifying whether over 75,000 people did not cast votes for president in a state Trump leads by under 11,000 votes.

“In addition to verifying the reliability of our voting machines, this recount has begun to expose a modern-day electoral Jim Crow,” Stein said. “Hand-counting the ballots has revealed many irregularities and red flags about the quality and maintenance of voting technology, the handling of ballots, and other aspects of election administration in communities of color. This raises serious questions about whether historically marginalized communities have been massively disenfranchised during this election.”

Meanwhile, in Wisconsin, where it does not appear Clinton will emerge as the winner in the recount, election integrity activists not working for Stein have discovered a serious security vulnerability to voting systems in many counties including Milwaukee, where ballot scanners have cellphone network SIM cards to transmit precinct vote totals to the county office. The state has said no Wisconsin voting systems are connected to the internet to guard against hackers, but one computer scientist who filed an affidavit supporting the Greens’ lawsuit for hand-counting ballots said such connectivity was standard—and accessible to hackers.

“There are hacks involving the public switched telephone network that are quite distinct from internet hacks, but just as dangerous,” said Doug Jones, a University of Iowa associate professor of computer science. “I would not be shocked to find that the [ESS ballot scanner] DS200 is vulnerable to some of these, but I do not know it to be vulnerable.” In other words, Jones, who has studied voting machines for many years, said the election integrity activists have legitimate concerns, even if he has not seen counts compromised this way. “I don’t find this surprising,” he said. “It appears that numerous communications options are available, and Milwaukee has selected the one that doesn’t require them to make sure that polling places have landlines.”

The Green Party has launched presidential recounts in three states, which is unprecedented. In the third state, Pennsylvania, it filed a federal suit this week seeking to impound electronic voting machines to look for signs of tampering with vote totals. While many people outside computing circles dismiss that possibility, the Greens are pursuing and evaluating a complicated spectrum of political, legal and cyber tactics that could tilt the vote count. (In Pennsylvania, where top election officials have rejected this scenario, news reports Tuesday said Pittsburgh’s top prosecutor’s office was hacked last year and paid a $1,400 ransom to unlock its files.)

Michigan Barriers Emerge

The recount’s biggest developments Tuesday were in Michigan, where the day started with the growing revelation that thousands of ballots in the counties most solidly behind Clinton were being deemed ineligible for the recount.

Trump leads here by less than 11,000 votes, promoting many observers to say that Clinton’s best chance to close that gap would be in Wayne County, home of Detroit, where she won by a two-to-one margin. But shortly after the recount began Monday, local officials discovered that many precincts would be excluded from the recount because precinct ballot totals didn’t match the number of voters signing poll books.

“It’s not good,” Daniel Baxter, Detroit’s elections director, told the Detroit News Monday, saying that at least 87 ballot scanners failed on Election Day, with many jamming. In 392 of the city’s 662 voting precincts, vote totals recorded on the machines did not match the number of voters signing in, he said, disqualifying 59 percent of the city’s precincts from the recount.

There were equally murky problems reported in other Michigan counties that disqualified precincts from the recount, explained local election officials like Barb Byrum, county clerk of Ingham, where Lansing is located. If there’s damage to the plastic containers storing the ballots, or if the seal number on the containers doesn’t match the poll books, “then there is a very good possibility that precinct will not be recountable,” she said. “The [state] Bureau of Elections is here to guide this process along.”

“In the first six hours of Ingham County’s recount Monday, six of 30 precincts from Lansing could not be recounted,” the Detroit News reported. “One of the ballot containers had a hole in it, making it susceptible to tampering and not recountable.”

These disqualifications, which election observers from outside Michigan said were astounding as they underscore the reason for verifying the vote, are well-known to civil rights lawyers in Michigan, who for years have been urging the state to raise its standards. Outside lawyers observing the recount sent memos Tuesday citing Michigan election law (Sections 871 and 872, of Act 116 of 1954) that states, “Canvassers shall have full power and authority to subpoena witnesses and open any ballot box, regardless of the condition in which the same may be found, and may break open, if sealed, the seal thereon and examine the ballots.”

When asked about the apparent contradiction between recount practices in Detroit and surrounding counties, and Michigan election law, Fred Woodhams, spokesman for the Michigan Department of State, replied, “I want to check in with elections leadership about it. They are all at a court hearing right now. It is doubtful I’ll be able to respond to you today.”

That hearing, at the Michigan Court of Appeals, a three-member Republican bench, was the GOP’s latest attempt to shut down the recount. The appeals court held a hearing on lawsuits from Trump’s campaign and state Attorney General Bill Schuette, who are arguing that the recount should end because Stein’s petition was “deficient” and because she “has no possible opportunity to win Michigan’s electoral votes.”

The Greens, however, want to know why there were 75,335 “undervotes” in the state, or ballots that were filled out except for the selection of president. “Many of these are in Oakland and Wayne counties, which include Detroit, raising the very real possibility that communities of color may have been disenfranchised by an unreliable counting of the votes,” the Green Party Tuesday press statement said. “The number of under-votes exceeds by several-fold Trump’s margin of victory in the state.”

Late Tuesday, the Michigan appeals court directed the Board of State Canvassers to reject Stein’s recount petition, but did not order the recount to be stopped, because as numerous experts have pointed out, their hands are tied by a U.S. District Court ruling ordering it to commence. Later Tuesday, that federal court also said the recount should continue.

The Greens were anticipating they might lose in state appeals court and be forced to take their fight to Michigan’s Supreme Court. On Tuesday, the Stein campaign filed papers to disqualify two Michigan Supreme Court justices from hearing cases related to the recount.

“Chief Justice Robert Young Jr. and Justice Joan Larsen have been mentioned by Donald Trump as potential nominees to the U.S. Supreme Court, and their involvement in the case would create an appearance of impropriety,” the summary said. “[Both justices] have a substantial personal and professional interest in the election of Trump as president and in conducting themselves in a way which is favorable to him and/or hostile to, among others, other candidates for president,” wrote Mark Brewer, Stein’s lawyer.

Steven Rosenfeld covers national political issues for AlterNet, including America’s democracy and voting rights, campaigns and elections, and many social justice issues. He is the author of “Count My Vote: A Citizen’s Guide to Voting” (AlterNet Books, 2008).

IMAGE: Oakland County clerks count election ballots as challengers from the Green Party (2nd L) and the Republican Party (R) watch during a recount of presidential ballots in Waterford Township, Michigan December 5, 2016. REUTERS/Rebecca Cook

As Trump Reminds Us, We’ve Had WMSVD Disease For Ages

Reprinted with permission from AlterNet.

A very long time ago, a Zika type virus escaped from the human laboratory. Like Zika it deforms the human brain.  It assumes supremacy by human males over women and all other forms of life. Its most prominent manifestation is male monotheistic religion—the obligation that humans worship a lone male deity. No goddesses allowed.

The sickness has passed ever since from generation to generation.

About 500 years ago in England, Portugal and elsewhere, the Christian form of the disease mutated to add white supremacy to its genetic code. From its initially pacifist origins, Christianity had already evolved over several hundred years to sponsor crusades,  the killing of “witches,” inquisitions, and the dispatch of missionaries to convert heathens.

The necessity of moral justification for the slave-trade from Africa required a modification. This led to the creation of whiteness and its concomitant blackness, Negro-ness etc. It became a powerful, even an apex identity. Skin color came to be more important than national origin, religion or other variables. Males remained at the pinnacle of the hierarchy.

Once slavery reached the colony that became the United States, it mixed with an emerging hyper version of capitalism that generated enormous wealth and power. It was based on the color-coded displacement and slaughter of humans defined as “red” and the enslaving and breeding of humans defined as black. Race and economics combined like H20 to create the water in which we still swim. It now menaces all life on earth.

It incorporates an especially virulent, eugenic strain of belief that those with white skin are the modern, the superior, the civilized, and the God chosen variety of humans and that all others are generally backward, barbaric, and inferior. (It is important to note that from the beginning it has allowed for individual exceptions. Indeed they serve to “prove” the rule.)

This White Male Supremacy Violence Disease (WMSVD) insinuated itself deeply into the brains of successive generations of white humans in religious, government, educational, economic, media, and military institutions. It also, of course, impacted the identity of Blacks, North American Hispanics, Native Americans, and Asians. It provided the intellectual underpinnings for the Holocaust.

African-Americans, women, even some white men and others have worked on vaccines and cures for WMSVD. Breakthroughs have been made.  But WMSVD has proven consistently resistant to both prevention and treatment. Every effort to mitigate the disease is met with ferocious opposition.

Much attention is paid to racial progress. Too little to how white supremacy progresses as well. The end of slavery, for example, produced the backlash that came to be known as Jim Crow. After the civil rights movement ended Jim Crow, another backlash produced the Republican party’s Southern Strategy, Reagan Democrats and mass incarceration.

The election of Barack Obama, together with an expanded media portrayal of blacks, especially on television, fed into the perpetual suspicion of many whites that African Americans are getting things they don’t deserve. This sentiment has been expressed in terms like welfare queens, the 47 percent and so on since the dawn of race-based chattel slavery.

The shift in black visibility did not significantly change actual white advantages in income, wealth, health care, employment, racialized mass incarceration, or other metrics. In fact many racial disparities now benefit whites even more than had previously been the case. What did twist was the context of the 2016 Presidential election. An old pattern returned. White fear, entitlement, and resentment came home to roost with a vengeance.

So it is that WMSVD will soon give Donald Trump access to nuclear weapons capable of unimaginable destruction. That and other powers invested in Mr. Trump make US women, people of color, non-Christians, residents of foreign lands subject to US aggression and virtually every life form extremely vulnerable. Whether they perceive it or not, whites are at substantially greater peril as well.

At the risk of stating the obvious, Trump ran on an explicit WMSVD platform. His appeal was to the diseased thinking that has been a permanent component of the white body politic for nearly 400 years. His staff and Cabinet appointments thus far confirm that he has every intention of implementing a WMSVD platform. Do not be fooled by bobbing, weaving and other feints.The Trump team has a WMSVD agenda and they intend to execute it.

Early on in Trump’s candidacy some of us pointed to similarities with the campaign of Andrew Jackson. Now, Rudy Giuliani, Steve Bannon and others are themselves proudly drawing the same comparisons. The point is that President-elect Trump does not represent something new in US politics. Of course some aspects are unique to Trump himself and to how things are done in 2016 as opposed to 1916, 1816, or 1716. But at the root, Trump’s victory represents something as old as the nation itself.

Sadly, pundit after pundit is shocked, shocked, shocked. MSNBC is running a promo in which Chris Hayes is expounding with great passion to Rachel Maddow, “We’ve never seen anything like this before.” Rachel adds “totally unchartered waters,  in so many ways” for good measure.

An article here on AlterNet asked how a “Christian” could vote for Donald Trump. As though Christians didn’t vote repeatedly for slavery; or carry out witch trials in Salem; or elect brutal Indian remover Andrew Jackson in 1828; or impose Jim Crow segregation in the United States; or, in 1912, elect Woodrow Wilson whose first act as President was to fire all of the black employees of the Federal government; or poison Viet Nam,  Laos, and Cambodia with napalm and Agent Orange; or set up torture sites all over the world after 9/11; or create the biggest system of mass incarceration the world has ever known.

To be fair, some Christians opposed all of that. But their version of Christianity did not and does not usually prevail.

It may comfort some to imagine that tweaking the Democratic Party, or a constitutional amendment, improved get-out-the-vote software, eliminating the electoral college, being patient until “the demographics” turn more in our favor or some other fix, will make it all better. Not likely.  Ameliorating symptoms, even when possible, does not arrest the growth of the disease.

More importantly it misses the opportunity we now have. Humans created WMSVD and humans can and already are creating new systems that operate without it.

Clarissa Pinkola Estes, author of WOMEN WHO RUN WITH THE WOLVES, put it eloquently in a recent essay:

Yet, I urge you, ask you, gentle you, to please not spend your spirit dry by bewailing these difficult times. Especially do not lose hope. Most particularly because, the fact is that we were made for these times. Yes. For years, we have been learning, practicing, been in training for and just waiting to meet on this exact plain of engagement.

I grew up on the Great Lakes and recognize a seaworthy vessel when I see one. Regarding awakened souls, there have never been more able vessels in the waters than there are right now across the world. And they are fully provisioned and able to signal one another as never before in the history of humankind.

Fifty years ago, Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. called for a radical revolution of values. The late Grace Lee Boggs counseled us to “grow our souls.” Lillian Genser urged us to “pledge allegiance to the world, to care for earth and sea and air, to cherish every living thing with peace and justice everywhere.”

Answering the call of this moment starts with ourselves and in our own communities. It begins and ends with love for all life on this earth.

Let the living memory of successful non-violent direct action and thinking by the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), Rosa Parks, Dr. King, Vincent Harding, Mahatma Gandhi and others inspire and guide us.

Frank Joyce is a lifelong Detroit based writer and activist. He is co-editor with Karin Aguilar-San Juan of The People Make The Peace—Lessons From The Vietnam Antiwar Movement.

IMAGE: Republican U.S. presidential nominee Donald Trump greets supporters at his election night rally in Manhattan, New York, U.S., November 9, 2016.  REUTERS/Carlo Allegri