Understanding Trump and Contemporary American Racism; Follow the History


Donald Trump. Bigotry now in vogue. Photo: Gage Skidmore–Flickr.

In April 1990 NOI Minister Louis Farrakhan said: “We must never underestimate the blindness that attends arrogance. We don’t see with our eyes; we see with a combination of the heart and the mind. Arrogance poisons our ability to assess properly reality…Pride goeth before destruction and a haughty spirit before a fall.”

An unbiased and purely academic study of American history teaches us that America has always been a racist nation. The American social, political and economc systems were set up in such a manner as to ensure that the chances of success for Africans in America and subsequently African Americans would be virtually non-existent, or require a herculean effort at best.

Still today, for too many African Americans social and economic security seem to be out of reach.

Starting with the Constitution of the United States, government sanctioned inequality was written into the founding legal document this nation. Article 1, Section 2 of the US Constitution, also known as the Three Fifths Compromise; Article IV, Section 2, Clause 3, also known as the Fugitive Slave Clause and Article 1, Section 9 which allowed for the importation of enslaved Africans until 1808.

Go back a little further to the Commonwealth of Virginia, that addressed the questions – what was the status of children “got by Englishmen upon a Negro woman”; is the child slave or free? Or what about the casual killing of slaves?

Per the Laws of Virginia, Act XII, 1662 – “Be it therefore enacted…all children borne in this country shall be held bond or free only according to the condition of the mother.”

Act I 1669, “Be it enacted…if any slave resist his master…and by the extremity of the correction should chance to die, that his death shall not be acompted felony, but the master…be acquit from molestation, since it cannot be presumed that prepense malice…should induce any man to destroy his owne estate.” In a nutshell, a slave master could not have formed the mens rea, the intention or knowledge of wrongdoing that constitutes part of a crime, because no one in their right mind would intentionally damage their own property.

This is where enslaved Africans became codified in law as things, chattel – personal possessions; items of property. This is ground zero for today’s African American. This is from whence we’ve come.

W.E.B. DuBois said, “many people have suffered but none of them were real estate.” Amiri Baraka said, “oh, slavery in America is not even about getting your butt beat; it’s about them transforming you into a thing which they can dispatch the way they want to. No matter what you do, even today, it’s that thingness that’s maintained.”

If you are Native American you can factor in the Trail of Tears and the Indian Massacre.

The Supreme Court, the ultimate arbiter of the Constitution validated this oppression, persecution and genocide with decisions such as Dred Scott v. Sandford, 60 U.S. 393 (1857) and Plessy v. Ferguson, 163 U.S. 537 (1896).

In spite of these sobering truths, the hopeful reality about America up to this point lies in the progress that has been made. Over time and with a cost of blood, death, sweat, sacrifice and tears America stubbornly, slowly moves forward. There has been the historical ebb and flow of progress, but as Dr. King wrote, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice”.

The Emancipation Proclamation; the 13th,14th and 15th Amendments (the Civil War Amendments); the Brown decision, the War on Poverty and the Great Society programs, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and the Civil Rights Act of 1968 are all proof of this “moral bend”.

But don’t get it twisted; legal and judicial progress has done very little if anything to change the hearts and minds of racists in America. That progress has given the historically oppressed a little space in which to operate and establish a better way forward for themselves and their loved ones. In some instances, the interpersonal interaction with Whites that comes as a result of increased mobility has changed hearts and minds, but the racist infrastructure remains intact.

America now finds itself at a crossroads. Since the election of Richard Nixon in 1968, the racist, neo-liberal and reactionary forces in America have been working to undermine, overturn and eliminate the judicial and legislative progress that America has made. There has been more ebb than flow. The election of Donald Trump as the 45th President of the United States is the culmination of the effort to turn back the clock. Trump is taking America backwards and making overt racism, bigotry and hatred fashionable again. The tide has definitely gone out to sea.

Trump’s predecessors had the reverence and historical understanding that the office of the president was greater than the man in it. They understood the Constitution and the legislative process. For as patrician as some may have been when running for office; they understood the need to negotiate with their adversaries and try to expand the base in order to govern once they were in office. Trump cares nothing about responsibility that comes with the office. I doubt he even understands it.

Trump has personalized the presidency. It has become all about his narcissistic, warped perspective of himself. He has set out to deconstruct the administrative state and is appealing to the most racist and base elements of America to accomplish this. We cannot underestimate the blindness that is attending his arrogance.

Trump’s record is fraught with examples of him inserting his personal bigotry and lack of understanding of geopolitical dynamics into domestic and foreign policy. Trump fostered the Birther K ovement (which was supported by Newt Gingrich and Dinesh D’Souza), characterized Mexicans as rapists and gang members, campaigned on a Muslim ban, bullied wome, including leaders (see Angela Merkel and Carly Fiorina), questioned the IQ’s of Rep. Maxine Waters and LeBron James, denies climate science and encourages attacks on the media.

Conversely, Trump finds moral equivalency between the violent actions of Neo-Nazis and White Nationalists and those who rightfully oppose them. Trump is also doing everything in his power to move the SCOTUS to the extreme right in an effort to undermine women’s reproductive rights, as well as to repeal social safety nets.

Trump’s personal vendetta against Obama has led him to try to erase the legislative legacy of the former president from the historical record.

This is a very dangerous time for “the United States as a Grand Experiment in democracy”. Dr. Bandi Lee from Yale and others have described the situation this way: “It is Trump in the office of the presidency that poses a danger. Why? Past violence is the best predictor of future violence. Trump has personally demonstrated verbal aggressiveness towards anyone that dares disagree with him, boasted about sexual assaults, incited violence during his rallies, displayed total disregard for America’s allies and has totally dismissed the advice of career professionals as he taunts hostile nations with nuclear power.”

Yes, arrogance poisons one’s ability to assess properly reality…Pride goeth before destruction and a haughty spirit before a fall.

As America has made progress in overcoming its racist roots, we now have a president who is doing everything in his power to fan the flames of racism, hatred and xenophobia in order to further his personal agenda. An agenda that will only leave America in peril. This is the danger of a personalized presidency.

Dr. Wilmer Leon is the Producer/Host of the nationally broadcast call-in talk radio program “Inside the Issues with Leon,” on SiriusXM Satellite radio channel 126. Go to www.wilmerleon.com or email: [email protected]. www.twitter.com/drwleon and Dr. Leon’s Prescription at Facebook.co

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