A lot has been written over the last couple of years about how our current President has broken many taboos and traditions, any one of which would have doomed other candidates in the past. Insulting a handicapped reporter. Refusing to release his tax information. Attacking the free press. Praising foreign dictators and enemies of the United States. Bragging about committing sexual assault. Cheating on his wife with a porn star. Etc., etc., etc.
To the extent that anybody ever really had any doubt (or at least pretended they did) about what kind of man Donald J. Trump is, those doubts have long since been resolved. Those who continue to make excuses for his behavior convince no one but themselves, and just demonstrate the depths of their own tribalism and lack of a moral compass.
These breaches of protocol, tradition and common decency have come so often that we have begun to grow numb to them. It is difficult to maintain the same level of outrage when the appalling things he says and does happen so often.
In one area in particular, Trump’s outrages have been and continue to be dangers to our entire country. That is in the area of race. The numbness we have begun to feel, and the lack of energy to continue to be outraged under a relentless onslaught of racism from he and his administration is wounding us in a way which could take decades to recover from.
Racism is becoming normalized.
Trump’s very entry into the presidential race was based on a racist and white nationalist appeal, with an attack on Mexican immigrants. And he expanded those attacks to include all Hispanics, blacks and Muslims. Basically everyone except conservative white Americans was described as the enemy and demonized. His rallies were full-throated hate fests.
He was embraced by racist groups, and was consistently slow to denounce them. He repeatedly endorsed or published information and images from white supremacist groups. He talked of ****hole (or ****house, like that difference matters) countries. He said some of the Nazi racists protesting in Charlottesville were “very fine people”, and when called on it wavered and waffled in denouncing them.
Any one of these things would have doomed any previous politician.
But, instead, a strange thing happened. Although his popularity suffered somewhat and some (but not all) of the leaders in his party were embarrassed and sought to distance themselves, his hard core of supporters dug in further and cheered louder. For them, I am forced to admit, his racism seems to be a feature, not a liability.
They have finally been able to come out of the closet. Open racism is acceptable in our country once again, and it has a champion in the White House. For many years, those who were deeply racist were forced to hide their feelings for fear of public condemnation. No longer. Now they are being public about their beliefs in ways we would have found shocking years ago.
I see the evidence everywhere that the darkest and most evil side of America, our historical and cultural racism, is again, after years of decline, on the rise. Our entire history is full of racism, from the very beginning of our country. Slavery and the near annihilation of Native American peoples are the two greatest stains on our proud national history, and we have never fully owned up to or dealt with them.
Now, this old evil has regained strength and is coming back to divide us and threaten us once again. Racist hate groups have had a boom in recruiting over the last year, and are becoming increasingly bold. Racist and anti-Semitic incidents have increased significantly.
On a more personal level, I see it in people I have known for a long time. They feel emboldened, on social media and elsewhere, to say more horrible things than I have seen in the past. To let their racism show more openly. To try to redefine what racism even is.
The incredible arrogance and sheer nastiness of white people claiming they know more or have suffered more from racism (or the ridiculous theory of “reverse racism”) than people of color astounds me. In their mind the real racists are people who want to talk about racism or combat it. They are “playing the race card” or “trying to make everything about race” in the minds of these people, pretty much all of whom are white. They see themselves as the true victims of racial strife in this country, because for many years they were forced by societal condemnation to hide their racism and feel ashamed of their racist beliefs.
Now our societal consensus against racism has been weakened. Our President openly embraces it and has dragged one of our political parties deep into the slime with him (not that they didn’t help him do so).
An entire propaganda machine led by the most popular (with white people) news channel in America excuses racism at every turn, and demonizes people of color, giving comfort and encouragement to those who before might have questioned their own beliefs and values on issues of race. I cannot help but wonder what the fate of the Civil Rights Movement would have been if Fox News had been around in those days.
We cannot allow this to happen to us as a people. We need to recover our ability to feel outrage. We need to, once again, make racism socially unacceptable. I don’t know if there is a way to permanently stamp out racism, as it is so deeply embedded in our culture, but we can damn well make certain racists know that most of society rejects them.
The responsibility to do this lies with white people like me. People who look like us are the problem. We need to address it. We need to call people on their casual racism, and hold them to account. We can’t just not discuss it for fear of uncomfortable conversations. We can’t allow people to deflect and try to change the topic when discussing racism. We can’t allow racism to be redefined by white conservatives to encompass nothing more than guys in pointy white hats burning crosses (and only lightly condemn those people). We need to make clear why we consider what President Trump has said and done on many occasions is deeply racist, and not allow them to make excuses or deflect. And we need to make clear that supporting racists for public office is the same as endorsing racism.
No excuses. No moving the goal posts. Racism endangers us as a nation. And it must be confronted.