“In the fifties, you just say n—–, n—–, n—-,” admitted Lee Atwater, South Carolina Republican consultant and architect of George H. W. Bush’s 1988 campaign for the presidency. Later, on his deathbed, Atwater expressed remorse for using race hatred in the pursuit of political power. But from Atwater’s penance we seem to have come full circle. If fifties demagogues cried the n-word, so does the forty-fifth president of the United States.
Donald Trump impishly elicited the n-word from rally-goers at an event in Wilmington, North Carolina. Pause and consider the setting of his evocation. In 1898, just six generations ago, white supremacists in the city of Wilmington overthrew its government and terrorized hundreds of Blacks into fleeing the city. No doubt Donald Trump is completely ignorant of this history. But as Mark Twain quipped, history does not repeat itself, it rhymes. The resonance between one port-city mob and another could not have been on clearer display.
The Trumpers lustily shouted “n—–” in response to their idol’s provocation. This hideous display of racism may have been the ugliest spectacle to surface at a Trump rally since a mob, also North Carolinians, chanted “Send Her Back” in a jeering reference to Congresswoman Ilhan Omar, an American citizen. It was, however, not atypical. For Trump rallies are the most flagrant irruption of fascism America has seen since Charles Lindbergh spewed venom at followers who looked upon European autocracies with admiration.
The Trump rally is a blight on America. On its politics, on its public aesthetics, and on its conscience. The gathering of invariably bigoted whites to cheer on the most racist president since Woodrow Wilson is an extrusion of the darkest aspects of the American soul. These rallies exude the aroma of hatred. Even beyond Trump’s own vile words, his rallies repel the conscience with people choosing to congregate solely on the basis of authority-worship, grievance, and hate.
I’m getting overheated. But I am angry, angry at a political culture in which hatred in the spirit of every demagogue from Charles Lindbergh to Jesse Helms has become a fixture of the landscape. We are an ailing nation. Democracies in robust health do not tolerate xenophobic populism in the heart of a major political party. The greatest problem we face in this regard is that our country does not have many parties, but only two, and one of them is rally for the rawest of hate.
Alexander Jones is an original contributor to PoliticsNC.