Thursday, August 17, 2017

275. And the soup boils over

In 2008, I flew to California to take a bar exam and on that flight I met a guy from Alabama.

He was a former professional baseball player so I enjoyed hearing some of his “playing day” stories. Later we noticed that then-presidential candidate John Edwards was on our flight and the conversation turned to politics. His most memorable comment was when he told me that the country just wasn’t ready for a black president.

I naively thought this was a preposterous idea, but maybe he was right.

The question is how did we go from the crowning civil rights achievement of my generation in electing a black president to debates over white supremacy groups, Confederate flags, and the election of Donald Trump?

I don’t think we can identify one thing that has led to the racial tension facing this country. I think it is more like a soup made up of many elements that has finally boiled over.

The election of Barack Obama for two terms annoyed those who still felt racial prejudice against the advancement of minorities in this country. He and his family were often treated with disrespect and subject to cruel racial stereotypes.

There has been a building frustration with political correctness. Liberals are largely to blame for the ridiculous notion of treating each other with kindness and respect.

The increasing diversity in this country, including not only minorities, but also women, groups (like gays, lesbians, and people who are transgender) and programs like affirmative action continue to be an issue for a segment of our population. Some whites, particularly males, feel like their rights are being eroded and an unfair preference is being given to others.

The oppressors had suddenly become the oppressed.

Fox News, conservative talk shows, and other resources like Breitbart continued in popularity and hammered Obama, later Hillary Clinton, Democrats, and liberals on a daily basis. The attacks continued mercilessly, fueling further animosity toward these people. Vilifying things like the Confederate flag supported their notion of suppression and discrimination.

Increasingly we live in the age of validation. Ideas, no matter how crazy, can be found and supported somewhere on the Internet. The Earth is flat; Sandy Hook was a conspiracy theory. Fake news furthered the craziness and engaged those susceptible to believing such nonsense.

Black Lives Matter and the police shootings divided the country, as though there were only two sides. Either you were with the blacks or you were with the police. The power and attention of the movement infuriated racists.

The economy, though improving throughout the Obama administration, still left individuals struggling to make ends meet. The rich continued to get richer but the blame of middle class stagnation typically fell on so-called entitlement programs. And with Obamacare, some Americans felt like there was too much subsidization and not enough capitalism. Mexicans and the outsourcing of manufacturing was costing too many American jobs.

The continued fear of terrorism, particularly from ISIS, fueled discriminatory attacks on Muslims and Muslim nations.

Mix it all together and along comes Donald Trump. He stumbles in at the perfect time of American history, and immediately, to the delight of millions, crushes political correctness. He brings back the idea of American nationalism and American capitalism. When in doubt, build a larger military. Winners win, and they are wealthy for it, and losers lose and it’s not my problem. Criticize Trump and he will attack you with everything he has—and then call you names. You are either friend or enemy.

He says what he wants and whatever he thinks people want to hear. He doesn’t care and doesn’t suffer political consequences even after dozens of damaging transgressions are revealed. Even after he tells lie after lie, he finds millions of supporters who feel like they finally have a voice, someone who represents them. Principle has nothing to do with it.

Trump parlayed this with traditional Republicans desperate to win the White House, regardless of the candidate, and religious conservatives who continue to vote Republican despite the moral sludge, because they relentlessly focus on a couple of specific social issues. Trump was also fortunate to square off against Clinton, a villain among conservatives who was unable to grab the enthusiasm of Democrats.

Thus a troubling American underbelly created President Donald Trump and he has given them permission, even approval, to express themselves. Supporters grew in momentum as it became socially acceptable to act the way the president does. The alt-right was created.

Republicans got their president and the alt-right and white supremacist groups were empowered to promote their views and beliefs. And these beliefs were validated by the election and views of Donald Trump. They knew they were right all along.

It took Trump two days to reluctantly criticize the racism that led to the attacks in Virginia. Both sides saw it for what it was — disingenuous and politically motivated. Trump confirmed those suspicions when he recanted and again tried to blame both sides. No way he was abandoning these supporters. He needs them because he knows the other Republicans, though they might occasionally speak out against him, will again fall in line when push comes to shove.

Hate and racism, particularly blatant racism, has no place in this country. Neither does a president who inspired it and refuses to disavow it.