Fifty years from now, historians will point to this moment as one of the great surges of freedom in American history.
Think about that—be alert, as you slog through your daily grind, to what a thrill it is for all of us to be here as this mass movement continues day after day, to see it bring together millions of patriots of all races, across the country and the world and, most importantly, force all this dramatic and sudden change. States and cities—and even countries, i.e. France—are banning chokeholds and taking other overdue steps. Confederate statues finally being hauled down.
It’s totally exhilarating even during a pandemic, during an economic crisis, to see the people of the United States finally rise up to say enough is enough—that we no longer want to be a country where black men are choked to death by police, or where you can’t take a stroll in a park in certain cities without passing a monument to men who committed treason against the United States for the purpose of defending slavery.
It’s amazing to witness.
And what do Donald Trump and the Republicans think of it? They hate it. Don’t kid yourself. Some of them pay lip service to embracing this change. I applaud Mitt Romney for joining the marchers last week. He’s behaving quite admirably these days, even though, as the 2012 presidential candidate, he kowtowed to the very forces that gave us Trump four years later (indeed, he kowtowed to Trump himself).
As individuals with consciences and hearts (a category that may not necessarily include their leader), most of these Republicans, I’m sure, were shocked at George Floyd’s murder. But what’s in their consciences or hearts isn’t what matters. What matters is how they behave as elected officials.
And how they’ve behaved as elected officials ever since, say, the rise of Newt Gingrich—until Trump, the most poisonous public figure of the last 50 years—is clear to anyone with eyes and ears. Cheat black people of their proper political representation. Curtail their civil rights. Slash programs that help minority businesses and poor people. Invent phrases like “race-neutral” to hang a veil over rank discrimination. Reintroduce school segregation, now rampant in this country thanks to their phalanx of reactionary judges. Move heaven and earth to make it as hard as possible, and in many cases outright impossible, for American citizens to vote. And at election time, dog whistle dog whistle dog whistle, so that you can be sure the white voters get the message while you turn to the media and say, “Who, me? How dare you!”
What’s happening now terrifies them because they all know one simple thing, which they’ll never admit: If the white middle class rejects en masse racially discriminatory behavior and racially coded messages, they’re cooked. Mind you, as heartening as these last few weeks have been, that’s still a big “if.” Let’s not declare victory here. But we are seeing historic breakthroughs. Polls suggest a good two-thirds of the country will not buy that GOP hoodoo juice anymore.
Trump and his GOP represent the one-third of the country that is digging in to fight this change. It would all be funny if it weren’t so sick and racist and Pravda-worthy. Kayleigh McEnany: “The African-American community is very near and dear to [Trump’s] heart.” What kind of cankered brain does a person have to have to stand before the world and utter that sentence?
And Trump himself! MAGA “loves the black people.” Did you catch that one? The black people. He’s Archie Bunker who stayed too long on Hauser St., as the neighborhood grew full of African-Americans and Latinos and Koreans and Indians, and he hasn’t bothered to get to know a single one of them, and he stays barricaded in his house screaming at poor Edith to quit trying to force him to eat these disgusting recipes she’s getting from the other Hauser St. housewives and where’s my well-done steak with ketchup you dingbat?
But actually he’s not because underneath it all, Archie had a conscience, in his way; he knew when reality had proven him wrong, even if he couldn’t admit it. And anyway Archie wasn’t the president of the United States going out and calling the tear-gassing of citizens a “beautiful scene” and threatening to send troops to invade Seattle. He is really and truly losing it. You can see it. He’s unraveling, like Queeg on the witness stand. “The black people” stole those strawberries! Send in the troops! Fred McMurray, fetch my Bible!
But as I always, always tell you, always, always, remember: It’s not just Trump. It’s never just Trump. It’s the party. Yes, Trump made the racism more flagrant and open. But ask yourself why the party embraced an open racist to begin with. It was because so many predecessors made that road by walking it before Trump came along.
Which brings us, finally, to the United States Senate. Let’s just see what Senate Republicans do on the police reform bill. You know as well as I do what Mitch McConnell wants. He’ll say he wants a bill. He hands it to Tim Scott, avowing solemnly that he and his colleagues will listen to Scott, because Scott has experienced police harassment, “even as a United States senator.” That’s another hallmark of modern Republicanism: An issue of discrimination isn’t real until it affects someone they know, like Rob Portman and his gay son.
But McConnell will hope to do what he always does, except on tax cuts and judges: nothing. So he’ll stall and stall and hope it goes away, because he knows his party needs it to go away. The more conscience this country has, the worse it is for the GOP. He knows this.
Remember when McConnell was #MoscowMitch? It seemed to singe him. Maybe it’s time to make him #ChokeholdMitch and see what happens.
We sit at such an inspiring turning point. I am grateful to be alive to see it. Remember how in the ’60s they sang “we shall overcome someday”? Well, someday may finally be approaching, a reality made all the sweeter by the knowledge that its enemies, stupid and vindictive and embarrassing finally even to NASCAR officials and Clemson University, helped hasten its arrival.