Donald Trump and the Lessons of Philadelphia, Mississippi

David R. Jones, The Urban Agenda

Donald Trump will be the 45th President of the United States. For many, this is simply unbelievable. After all, it was not quite eight years ago that the nation made history by electing its first African-American president.

Barack Obama’s election to the most powerful office in the world gave millions of Americans  hope that as a nation we were finally making real progress shedding the ugly history of racial politics and moving toward a more inclusive and tolerant society. The 2016 election of Mr. Trump serves as a cold, sobering wake-up call that we have not come nearly as far as we thought.

Far more troublesome are signs that a Trump presidency may have already encouraged extreme elements of our society to engage in bigotry, domestic terrorism and acts of intimidation aimed at minorities, immigrants, Muslims, Jews, the gay community and every symbol they find distasteful or a threat to them.   And Trump has so far done nothing to assuage the fear that this sort of thing will only grow in coming months and years.

To the contrary, Trump’s election has almost certainly emboldened the Republican right-wing who now believe -  probably correctly - that they have an ally in the White House, someone ready and willing to support efforts to concentrate political power and marginalize communities of color by rolling back civil rights, voting rights and otherwise chipping away at the incremental gains achieved by vast portions of our population who have historically been left outside, looking in the window at America’s social and economic prosperity.

Of course, no one knows for sure what Donald Trump will do as President. Perhaps he doesn’t know himself. Still, it’s pretty clear that we can’t go on much of anything he said he would do as a candidate. Indeed, there are already indications from his post-election interviews that some of the blustery and incendiary talk he exhibited during the campaign, was just that, talk.

At this early stage of the transition, the only way to really gauge Trump and gain insight into the policies he will pursue and how he might govern, is through examining the people he appoints to influential positions in his administration. And let me tell you, America should be very worried.

Earlier this week, President-elect Trump announced that Stephen Bannon, his campaign manager and the CEO of Breitbart News Network, would be his Chief Strategist in the White House. Of all the people Mr. Trump has either appointed to cabinet posts or is said to be considering - Rudolph Guiliani, Chris Christie, Jeff Sessions – Stephen Bannon’s appointment is the most disturbing. And the most telling.

All anyone needs to know about Mr. Bannon is that he is unabashedly aligned with the “Alt-Right,” a political caste that has gone so far as to applaud and support white supremacy. Thanks to him, Breitbart has become a popular communications platform for virulently racist, anti-Semitic and anti-immigrant views. 

For the record, I am a believer in freedom of speech and the First Amendment. As a U.S. citizen, Mr. Bannon has the right to say whatever he likes, no matter how offensive or objectionable I or anyone else may find it. But he does not belong in the White House. And by appointing him, Mr. Trump has lost any credibility he had (which was nil to begin with) as someone professing to want to unite the country as president after relentlessly stoking racial and ethnic fears as a candidate.

Some no doubt will remember that in 1984, President Ronald Reagan chose to kick off his re-election campaign in Philadelphia, Mississippi. It was well-known at the time that Philadelphia, Mississippi was a flashpoint in the nation’s turbulent civil rights struggle. It was there that the slain bodies of three young civil rights activists -- Andrew Goodman, James Chaney and Michael Schwerner -- were found buried in an earthen dam in 1964, an incident that shocked the nation and helped galvanize the movement. Members of the Klu Klux Klan were eventually implicated in the murders.

But by starting his campaign there Reagan was not honoring the memory of the slain activists or their cause.  Instead, the Reagan campaign was signaling to segregationists in the South that preservation of `state’s rights’ with all of its racist undertones would be welcomed in the Reagan White House.

With his appointment of Bannon, Trump is sending a similar message. And it portends dark, dark days for the country. Unless we are willing to mount fierce resistance to bigotry and any return to a world our parents and grandparents fought vehemently against.

Issues Covered

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