As we observe the 1st anniversary of the Charlottesville, Virginia White supremacist rally that killed a young woman and President Trump’s equivocation about the event, we are tempted to think of it only in the terms made obvious by the moment. The fact that the President described both sides in the tragedy as having good people and the fact that he celebrated the one-year anniversary by making a very soft statement on discrimination and racial relations.
While it is true that race has colored the history of the United States and is affecting the conversation about a divided America, it is much more than that. Trump is representing a sector of insecure Americans bent on maintaining the trappings of “White Privilege” they see as being threatened by a changing power structure.
If we look closely at our history, we can see that White Privilege was an assumed status going back to the Constitution and even before when as British colonists, Americans found ways to expand their holdings at the expense of Indian people. They saw themselves as deserving of the land and their institutions worked to make sure to follow-through on that outlook.
Since their defeat, American policy has kept Native Americans out of its inclusive circle. When the Southwest was acquired, the same policy could not be used because it was now a question of nationality, land rights and citizenship.
Latinos like Indian people, once out of the limelight of conquest, became a minority that toiled in silence until it found its voice at the end of World War II. On the other hand, African Americans brought to the country as slaves, from the beginning were forcefully included in the national community landscape.
They are referred to in the Constitution as “other persons” and worth 3/5 of a resident for census purposes to establish state representation in Congress and obtain benefits accrued because of population numbers. Also, Article IV, Section 2, Clause 3 of the Constitution more popularly known as “The Fugitive Slave Clause,” provided for the return of runaway slaves
Finally, the Constitution of the United States also mandated the ending of the importation of slaves 20 years after its adoption. So, for African Americans, the issue of race has been part of their history that includes a bloody war between the North and the South, Jim Crow laws that permitted Southern Whites to regain their power over Blacks after Reconstruction and the Civil Rights Movement that sought justice and equality.
On the face of it, the current attempts look like more of the same arrogant and self-serving lashing of minorities to keep them in their place. A closer view however, reveals a sense of desperation about losing power and reflects a fear similar to that generated by the aftermath of the Civil War.
The rank and file of the White Power nationalists, especially in the east, appear to be targeting African Americans and Jews. But a closer look as seen through the lens of national governmental policy shows Latinos and their convenient immigrant community to be the focus of attack because their growing numbers are the main predictors of power and of an old majority becoming a new minority.
That is really what is dividing the country and creating extremism in our democracy. That is the reason for the growing authoritarianism, the growing disregard for truth, the growing corruption in government and the Rudy Giuliani concept that one can be above the law.