We’re going to step back from the global scene for a week and wait to see if World War III starts, but until then, let’s take a closer look at about as small a scene as you can get – Auburn, Alabama – and how it has found itself representing exactly what President Donald Trump’s America stands for.
Until Trump ran for president, America had assured itself that it was no longer racist.
Sure, American grandparents would still take verbal swipes at blacks and just say it was a joke. Police would (and still) profile blacks to ensure that the majority of our prisons are filled with a minority group that represents 12 percent of the population. American diversity meant joking about every other nationality’s stereotypes, but it was all seen as harmless vestiges of a long gone age. There are no longer lynchings. Blacks are no longer prevented from voting. Barack Obama had broken through as the first black president. America had progressed, right?
Then came Trump.
Trump, himself, is not known to be a racist or a white supremacist. Actor Don Cheadle said he once got word of Trump asking a friend’s father profanity about the blacks. But besides that anecdote, Trump has not publicly displayed racist tendencies. At least not toward blacks.
And yet, with the rise of Trump came the rise of the white supremacist movement. Although “rise” is not the right word. It’s not that white Americans suddenly decided they wanted to kick every other race and ethnicity out of the country; the racism had always been there lurking. When it was revealed at Trump rallies and public appearances, it shocked the portions of America – read “liberals” – who thought America had moved past this.
The Klu Klux Klan, a group made famous for burning and hanging blacks, was suddenly publicly recruiting members again and passing out flyers as if the circus had come to town. A segment of America who grew tired of hearing about police shooting unarmed black people questioned why the media covered that instead of their problems. In Trump, they found a sympathizer. Former head of the KKK, David Duke, publicly supported Trump, and Trump embraced the support instead of denouncing a man who is as racist as the sky is blue.
Trump did not publicly encourage racism, but he gave it a safe place. There was now freedom in being a white supremacist, because the leading candidate of the Republican party and future president didn’t denounce the behavior.
I was at a Trump rally where a group of white people started punching three black people in the crowd. What did Trump do? He goaded them on shouting, “Get them out of here!” The whites were not removed.
That wasn’t an anomaly. Videos around the web show blacks getting beaten at Trump rallies. One man caught on film cold-cocking a black man who was already being escorted out the building was sued and forced to apologize. Now that is an anomaly.
With the increased publicity of white supremacist hate groups came a new set of terms used by the media to label them. Far-right wing groups became “alt-right” which became synonymous with white supremacy and Neo-Nazis. After years of pride in defeating the Nazis and confronting the Russians, America was now giving both a pass out of fear of immigrants. Again, it was Trump’s doing.
Trump called for a border wall to keep illegal Mexicans out, despite the fact that the majority of illegal immigrants don’t cross the southern border. They fly in. You know, over the walls we already have at the border. Trump said immigrants take people’s jobs. Considering most immigrants have higher education than most rural, white Americans, I guarantee your farm jobs are safe. Trump claimed that immigrants would bring terror and violence. In 2014, 33,000 Americans were shot and killed by other Americans. That same year, terrorism killed 32 people on
But we already knew that Trump’s supporters don’t care about facts. Turns out they didn’t hate Obama because he was a bad president. They hated him because of the color of his skin.
The Southern Poverty Law Center tracks hate organizations in America and estimates there are 917 hate groups operating
Last week, in Auburn, Alabama, they added
The tiny college town in eastern Alabama, like many Alabama towns, has a racist past, but after the civil rights movement, Auburn has been known as a bastion of liberal ideas, tolerance and acceptance.
Then flyers started being passed around last week. The pieces of paper advertised a new organization: the White Student Union.
“Black-White Integration has failed miserably, and our country becomes ever more divided the more non-Whites it has,” the website for the organization says. “Fortunately, we White (sic) conservatives are becoming increasingly energized and assertive following our victory in the Presidential election, and enjoying the wonderful freedom and clarity of purpose that comes with openly identifying as pro-White.”
The unabashed admittance that Trump has given them freedom is perhaps the saddest of all.
Following the group’s announcement of its presence, white nationalist Richard Spencer paid Auburn University a sum of money to speak there. Once word got out, however, the most beautiful thing happened: students resisted. They called the newspapers and the university. They signed petitions online. Eventually the university canceled the event, but Spencer has since declared that he will speak on campus anyway and that “Auburn will rue the day.”
This is where we’ve come to. This is where Trump has taken us. Technically, the First Amendment protects freedom of speech. That includes hate speech. But it’s both terrifying and uplifting that Auburn University has to fight against that signature piece of the Constitution to protect an ideal that many civilized Americans thought was already cemented in permanence. The civil rights movement was 60 years ago. When it ended, rights for minorities were found and racism went away over time.
Turns out it never went away though. It was just hiding. Waiting for somebody to say it was okay again. In Donald Trump, racism found its champion. •