Sunday, July 16, 2017

Trump Has Just Solved a Conundrum Historians have Struggled with for a Century

As a historian, it is difficult if not impossible to teach American history, without at least one student each semester asking in wide-eyed incredulity, the same damning question.  "How could slavery have existed and flourished in the Antebellum South, given that it was so inimical to the democratic values upon which American society was built?"

My answers are seldom adequate because young people are trying to connect what experiences in their own lives would help them to understand Americans' acceptance of such raw brutality?  How did Southerners justify the institution?  How did Northerners, for that matter, justify the justifications of Southerners before the Civil War?

Well, alas with the election of Donald Trump to the presidency,  we're living the answer.  But please don't get me wrong.  I'm not suggesting that Trump's bungling, his treasonous ties to Russia or brutal immigration policy might in any way add up to the unspeakable evils of slavery.  But what I am suggesting is this.  The people who make the biggest moral claims are invariably the ones who accept the most jaw-dropping moral compromises.  It was the well-mannered, gentile Southern aristocracy, who examined naked slaves on the auction block like beef heifers, sold slave children from their mothers when money was tight, or worked the field hands until they dropped dead in the cotton fields. Their Confederate Christianity accepted the status quo, as did their confederate moral sense of right and wrong. Their confederate schools taught them to disparage reason in favor of pseudo-scientific theories about racial hierarchies, where the universe placed them at the top and their slaves at the bottom. These people lived in a confederate world so jerry-built on fakery and filled with lies that they truly believed the slaves loved their station in life, and would take the Confederate's side when the Civil War erupted.

Trump's presidency is an abomination of a different sort.  But like the confederacy of old, it is built on fakery and flim-flam.  The man is a corrupt businessman, who has bankrupted every business he started. It appears that he became entangled in money laundering for the Russian mob when American banks would no longer lend to him.  International intelligence reports claim that he has been compromised by Russian President Vladimir Putin.  And yet the Republicans in Congress as well as his supporters have refused ever since Trump entered the presidential campaign  to demand that he release his income tax returns. The daughter and son-in-law are selling their wares from the White House porch.  This is the behavior of a crime family.  The "First Lady" refuses to perform any but the most minimal duties knowing that her husband, who is on tape as a "pussy grabber"  will probably be serving penitentiary time before she even has a chance to hang the gold-threaded curtains in the bathroom.   Speaker of the House Paul Ryan and Senate Speaker Mitch  McConnell know that Trump is a pathological liar as do the other members of the GOP.  They realize that he is precipitating a constitutional crisis by attempting to obstruct the FBI's investigation of Trump's collusion with the Kremlin.  But they tiptoe around everything, the dishonesty, disrespecting the rule of law, compromising the government of the United States for the sake of the Russians.

My point here, is that Trump's supporters, the Republican controlled Senate and House of Representatives didn't just pop out of nowhere.  They've merely been in the background, waiting for an opportunity to be heard.  This is neo-confederate America.  Anti-immigrant nativism, plays a role and police state racism.  But the larger picture is one of authoritarianism, a yearning for fascism, a strong man dictatorship. That is the true legacy, the fake worldview built upon comforting lies that allowed slavery to thrive, which America never did get around to dismantling.      

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