Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Donald Trump: "Southern Strategy" on Steroids

Donald Trump's Demagoguery Evokes Memories of Asa Carter

Trump Rally in Birmingham
Photo by Joe Songer (AL.com)
This week we have seen some frightful things in Donald Trump's political rallies that amount to sheer rabble-rousing and using fear to incite crowds. In my own city of Birmingham, Donald Trump held a rally in which some white Trump supporters actually beat up on a black protester with Black Lives Matter. Trump's response was, "Maybe he should have been roughed up." At that same rally, Trump called for surveillance of mosques speaking to, as CNN reported, "a raucous and approving crowd." That crowd loved Trump's promise to build a wall to keep Mexican immigrants out, chanting "Build that wall!" In other rallies, Trump has made the preposterous claim that he saw film footage of "thousands of New Jersey Muslims" cheering and celebrating when the Twin Towers fell on 9/11. The only purpose for such a statement would be to incite the crowds and gain support by playing upon people's fear and prejudice. 

Memories of Our Racist Past

My friend, Chervis Isom wrote a memoir, The Newspaper Boy, in which he recounted growing up in the racist climate of 1950s Birmingham, Alabama. One of the things he tells about is the White Citizens Council rallies led by Asa Carter, who really knew how to tap into people's prejudices. His public rallies served to whip up the crowds by using racism and fear to incite action. [You can read my review of his book here] Asa Carter went on to be a speechwriter for George Wallace who exhibited demagoguery par excellence.  I have often witnessed what I see as the same base tactics of fear-mongering and hate in the social media as well as in political rhetoric, but when I read about the shameful acts at the Trump rally in my own town, the similarities seemed just too great.

I decided to ask Chervis Isom himself what he thought about what we are seeing today compared to what he witnessed during our state's civil rights struggle. He told me that it does indeed remind him of the White Citizen Council meetings that he attended when he was a teen. Chervis went on to elaborate:   

 Asa "Ace" Carter would speak so knowingly about the worlds and the International Communist Party and its intention to bring us down, our government was full of Communists, the unions were led by Communists, McCarthy was right about all his theories that there's a communist or fellow traveler behind every bush. And it was that kind of motivation that caused all the civil unrest by blacks. Nothing but a Communist plot to cause a race war in America. The WCC was against the Jews, the immigrants, and of course the blacks. It was the place where crazies gathered along with normal law abiding people who were being brainwashed to distrust anyone not like us. Thankfully, I met some good, law abiding people, customers on my newspaper route, who were from up north, who showed me a better place. I wrote about my emergence from racism in my memoir, The Newspaper Boy. 

Unfortunately, I see too many parallels today to those days a half century ago. You would have thought we would have learned something but I suppose we should never be surprised about the abyss of ignorance out there. Today, we see the same xenophobia that was rampant sixty years ago. We are hearing demagogues like Ace Carter on every front. Trump is one of them, among the worst. It is not Communism today that is the enemy but an amorphous danger called "Islamic Jihad" or words to that effect. Frankly, I think Communism was the greater fear by far. Does anyone remember the concept of "Mutual Assured Destruction", an assurance that no matter who sent the rockets with the "Bombs" first, the reaction would be devastating, and all civilization would be wiped out? Now those were the days when we worried about existential problems. Yes, I see the parallels, and if we play our cars well, Russia will be our ally in this more recent problem. I would say to people to lighten up. Xenophobia and fear are not the answer. It was not the answer then nor is it now.

[See more information about Mr. Isom's book at his website:  www.thenewspaperboy.net]

A Call for Fairness, Equality, and Reason

I appreciate Chervis Isom's perspective. Today we need to especially take some time to assess the social and political climate. It is one thing to regret the hateful actions, racism, and misogyny of our past. It is another thing altogether to fail to see that same dynamic coming around again. We need to advocate for a better way. Fairness, equality, and reason should be the watchwords of the day. Anytime we let fear guide our actions, we will come to regret those actions.

Our politicians would serve us better by demonstrating some decency and statesmanship in public life rather than the hateful and fearful rabble-rousing we are seeing in the likes of Donald Trump and his ilk. Hate, racism and fear of other ethnic groups did not bring us peace and security in the past, and will serve us no better today. 

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