Thursday, December 29, 2016

Trump and His Supporters Push "Racial Amnesia"

Many in the media and pundit circles - even some shortsighted Democrats - are spreading the meme that Donald Trump's election win was the result of a revolt by white working-class voters.  According to this deliberate myth, racism, sexism and religious bigotry had little, if anything, to do with it.  It was all about economics and a need for hope and/or desire for "change." As a piece at CNN points out, this myth has about as much credence as the South's myth of "The Lost Cause" which would have one believe that the Civil War was all about states' rights, that defending slavery had nothing to do with the cause of the war, and that the antebellum South was  like the barbecue at Twelve Oaks in "Gone With the Wind."  Why the effort?  Put simply, Trump voters - and MANY were not economically stressed white working class - do not want to admit to themselves or their children and grandchildren or to have history recount that racial bigotry was a principal factor in their vote for Trump.   This myth must be challenged and dispelled immediately.  Gone With the Wind might have been a good book by some standards, but it was not remotely accurate history. Neither is the story line that white racism didn't propel trump to the presidency. Here are article highlights:
After President-elect Donald Trump's recent victory, some of his supporters celebrated by flying Confederate battle flags from pickup trucks and waving them at rallies.
But Trump's victory may mark the resurgence of the Old South in another more sinister way: The return of "racial amnesia."
That's what some historians are saying as they watch a familiar storyline emerge. Trump's triumph is now being roundly described as a revolt by white working-class voters; racism, sexism and religious bigotry had little, if anything, to do with it.
People making this argument are following a script first honed by another group of Americans who made history disappear. After the Civil War, "Lost Cause" propagandists from the Confederacy argued the war wasn't fought over slavery -- it was a constitutional clash over state's rights, they said; hatred toward blacks had nothing to do with it.
It was an audacious historical cover-up -- to convince millions of Americans that what they'd just seen and heard hadn't really happened. It worked then, and some historians say it could work again with Trump.
"It's already happening again," says Brooks D. Simpson, a leading Civil War historian who teaches at Arizona State University. "A lot of people are saying we're going to have to unite behind the new guy and forget what he had to say. People who feel that they are part of those populations targeted by Trump are going to be told by whites to get over it."
At first glance, comparing some Trump supporters to ex-Confederates may seem absurd, even insulting. But historians say both groups developed an uncanny ability to obscure the role race played in transformative events and to persuade millions of Americans to go along with the charade.
You don't have to pick on the South, though, to spot racial amnesia. Racism is embedded in the daily lives of ordinary Americans in ways that many forget.
Where Americans live, worship, send their children to school -- much of it is driven by race, says David Billings, a pastor who came of age as a white Southerner during the 1960s.
After the civil rights movement sparked the passage of laws that banned overt racism in the 1960s, many whites "built another country" in defiance of government dictates, Billings wrote in his new memoir, "Deep Denial: The Persistence of White Supremacy in United States History and Life."
"Across the country, white people withdrew from the 'public' sphere and migrated to 'whites only' suburbs to evade racial integration. ... The word 'public' preceding words like 'housing,' 'hospital,' 'health care,' 'transportation,' 'defender,' 'schools,' and even 'swimming pool' in some parts of the country became code words that meant poor and most often black and Latino. The word 'private' began to mean 'better.' ''
Consider a contemporary issue that seems race-neutral -- the movement to give vouchers to public school students for private school. That effort started in the 1950s because many white Americans didn't want their children to attend newly integrated public schools, says Kevin M. Kruse, author of "White Flight: Atlanta and the Making of Modern Conservatism." Most Americans have forgotten that today, Kruse says.
"There's a real reluctance of some to acknowledge the part that race has played in American history," he says. "You cannot understand American history without understanding the fault lines of race. If we turn a blind eye to it, we're going to miss an incredible amount of the picture."
The Lost Cause campaign offers the definitive example of racial self-deception. Before there was fake news, the Lost Cause propagandists were creating fake history.
Their timing was audacious. They didn't wait years to claim the Civil War wasn't fought over slavery. They started making those claims immediately after the war ended, when the physical and psychological wounds were still raw.
A year after the war ended, Edward Pollard, a Southern newspaper editor, published, "The Lost Cause: A New Southern History of the War of the Confederates." Former Confederate leaders began to amplify Pollard's argument that the war was over state sovereignty, not slavery. Jefferson Davis, the former president of the Confederacy, claimed that "slavery was in no way the cause of the conflict." Alexander H. Stephens, the former vice president of the Confederacy, argued the war "was not a contest between the advocates or opponents of that peculiar institution."
Confederate veterans' groups started to spread the myth at reunions. So did storytellers. The Lost Cause was recycled in early 20th century films like D.W. Griffith's "Birth of a Nation," "Gone with the Wind" and Walt Disney's "Song of the South." All recast the antebellum South as a moonlight and magnolia paradise of happy slaves, affectionate slave owners and villainous Yankees.
Why would so many Southerners embrace such a big lie?  Part of it was embarrassment. They had to decontaminate history by recasting what they did as a noble cause, historians say.
They also wanted to look good to their children and future generations, Civil War historian Alan T. Nolan wrote in "The Myth of the Lost Cause and Civil War History."
"The Lost Cause was expressly a rationalization, a cover-up," Nolan said.
The Lost Cause myth took hold even though Americans could easily consult the public record. The declarations of secession made by Southern states on the eve of the war cited slavery as the cause. And Stephens, the Confederate vice president, said in a speech in South Carolina in 1861 that the Confederacy was not founded on the "false idea" that all men are created equal.
"The Confederacy, by contrast, is founded upon exactly the opposite idea; its foundations are laid, 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 moral condition," Stephens said.
The same dynamics that nurtured the rise of the Lost Cause are evident now, some historians say.
Those who deny that racism and xenophobia were central to Trump's victory are engaging in another Lost Cause cover-up, they say.
"Anybody who says that the recent election is not, at least in part, a racial event is functioning as an apologist, whether they know it or not, for white prejudice," says, Joseph Ellis, a Pulitzer Prize-winning historian.
There are abundant examples of Trump's explicit racist statements. He didn't campaign in dog whistles; he used a bullhorn. He once called Mexican immigrants "rapists" and proposed a travel ban on all Muslims entering the United States. Even Republican House leader Paul Ryan once said Trump's comment that a federal judge couldn't do his job because of his Mexican heritage was "the textbook definition of a racist comment."
Trump's rise to political prominence was driven in part by a conspiracy theory coated in racism. . . . . Those who say white voters can't be racist because they elected a black president twice are ignoring another inconvenient fact: Obama was elected despite opposition from white voters, political scientist Cornell Belcher told Vox in a recent interview.
He said whites didn't put Obama in the White House. Obama grabbed only 43% of the white vote in 2008 and 39% in 2012.
"The majority of whites did not elect Obama, and that's the wolf at the door," Belcher told Vox. "The vast majority of whites did not support President Obama and President Obama won back-to-back majorities, and that caused the realization of their power waning. Mitt Romney ran up a higher score among white voters than Ronald Reagan when Reagan had a landslide in 1984."

Sadly, this effort at myth making is all too consistent with the track record of Trump and the  81% of evangelical Christians who voted for him: lying and appealing to hatred towards others is their stock in trade.

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