My usual readers are familiar with the very unique perception of the American society by the remarquable Political Science professor Renford Reese. This concise and matter-of-fact paper is a very powerful piece on a mono colored struggle. Renford’s linguistic and semantic analysis of words (and articles) used as well as his politico-historical knowledge make it particularly timely and precious reading for our cosmopolitan readers!
Amid the fallout from the Charlottesville chaos, we should pause to examine the dynamics of the two major factions involved. This was a protest of whites vs. whites.
Throughout American history there has been a dichotomous war between whites. This struggle has existed from the founding of our democracy. Indeed, there were founders who fiercely advocated for the institution of slavery and those who fiercely fought against it. The two strands of whites in America have always been prominent: abolitionists vs. anti-abolitionists, segregationists vs. integrationists, pro-civil rights vs. anti-civil rights, white supremacists vs. anti-white supremacists.
Throughout American history there have been courageous whites who have fought and stood for justice, freedom and equality for all: John Brown, Thaddeus Stevens, Chief Justice Earl Warren and many more.
The danger of stereotypes in America is that we see people through a monolithic lens and the biggest misstep we make in discriminatory behavior is when we add the word “the” in our description of people. “The,” which is the most used word in the English language, invariably conjures provocative images and negative perceptions of a group: “the whites,” “the blacks,” “the Jews,” “the Muslims,” “the Hispanics.” When “the” is used, it undermines the tremendous diversity that exists within groups. White supremacists and neo-Nazis have used this word to demonize various ethnic groups in America.
And, in the context of white racism in America, the Charlottesville tragedy shows us how complicated it is to say “the whites” because whites were on polar opposite sides of this conflict. While the white nationalist protesters marched with torches, the anti-protesters arrived to fight fire with fire. And what always seems to get lost in the discourse on race relations is that we have whites among us who are rational, sensitive and social-justice oriented. This group was well represented in Charlottesville. The father of Heather Heyer, the activist who was the victim of vehicular homicide, said, “She loved people. She wanted equality.” There is no better reflection of the egalitarian spirit than Heyer.
The despair and embarrassment that comes from the realization that our country has among its population virulent extremists should be countered by the refreshing realization that they are overwhelmingly outnumbered by people who oppose their views. The white supremacists reflect what is wrong with America while the white egalitarians reflect what is right about this country.
There has been substantial fallout since President Trump’s speech that endorsed the actions of the alt-right. Trump disbanded two of his business councils as a result of several resignations by prominent CEOs who served on these councils. Few people want to be associated with such conspicuous hate.
Franklin D. Roosevelt once stated that the presidency is “preeminently a place of moral leadership.” Trump’s failure of moral leadership has been continuous over a seven-month period. But, this time is different – it is consequential. His inability to distinguish between the two protesting factions in Charlottesville has diminished his already diminished credibility as president.
The U.S. population is made up of a mosaic of 323 million people and Trump has opted to appeal to one small subset of this population. On paper, Trump is the president of the United States, but in practice he is becoming the president of only a faction. At a low 30 percent approval rating, he is increasingly preaching to the choir. And as his base continues to shrink, he will only have the moral authority to lead his mob.
Trump’s form of politics will not stand the test of time. He will eventually be swallowed by the power of longstanding American institutions and by the force of American ideals. Justice, freedom and equality will tear down one part of him while the increasing consciousness of earnest whites who took a chance on him will tear down the other part. In the end, there will only be a shell of a man who embraced a uniquely counterproductive form of bravado.
Trump’s fatal flaw is that he thinks that he is bigger than America. As Americans, we should all know how naïve this mindset is. It might take a few more months for Trump to humbly realize that in America you reap what you sow, and what goes around truly does come around.
Renford Reese, Ph.D. has been a professor of political science at Cal Poly Pomona for 21 years. He is the author of nine books and the founder/director of The Prison Education Project. Editor’s note: Charles Krauthammer has the week off.
Paper initially published on Thursday, Aug. 17, 2017 – 1:58 p.m. In The Sun with the following message:
Here’s my latest, my dear friend! It’s dysfunctional, chaotic, and mad over here. We need more people with your warmth, radiance, and positive energy in public life in this country.