Friday, April 6, 2018

In the News: Another Day, Another Police Shooting of Unarmed Black Man; POTUS Race-Baits Again; White Evangelicals Stage Coup

These are thought-provoking things I've read in the past several days I thought I'd pass on to you; if any theme links them, it’s, Only in America:

A half-century ago today, a bullet robbed Martin Luther King Jr. of his life and America of his leadership. Anniversaries like this inevitably inspire reflection on how our country’s contemporary reality measures up to King’s dream. A few years ago, the tenor of such societal self-evaluations was radically different. Serious thinkers could herald the dawn of a "post-racial America" without having their words drowned out by incredulous laughter. But while Barack Obama's election gave fleeting validation to that fantasy, his presidency thoroughly discredited it. The apocalyptic tantrum that the right sustained through every minute of the first black president’s tenure made it clear that America's white-supremacist past was neither dead, nor past. And the "discovery" of routine, unpunished police violence against African-Americans; the racial wealth gap's accelerating growth; the resilience of residential segregation; and, of course, the election of Donald Trump, all testified to the myopia of mistaking the election of a black man for the liberation of black people.

This should not be brushed off simply as Trump "at it again" or "just playing to the base." Trump is inciting racial animosity and smearing millions of immigrants by making a racially incendiary allegation not backed up by facts. Republicans will roll their eyes and remain silent; Sarah Huckabee Sanders will dodge questions about this. (The White House already tried to claim he was referring to immigrants victimized traveling to the United States. However such crimes have not to our knowledge increased; border crossings in total are down.) 
Like clockwork, Trump soon will move on to another outrageous statements and this racist harangue will evaporate into the political ether. His persistent race baiting and assaults on the truth are precisely what right-wing populists do in France (most prominently by the National Front) and in other European countries beset by neo-fascist movements. Trump's latest outburst is one more indication that the longer he remains in office the more damage will be done to our multi-racial, multi-ethnic democracy.

As I noted Wednesday, Guy Lancaster's Bullets and Fire: Lynching and Authority in Arkansas, 1840-1950 (Fayetteville: Univ. of AR Press, 2018),  a collection of essays studying lynching in Arkansas from 1840-1950, points out that lynchings were so ubiquitous in Arkansas that headlines casually mentioned "Another Lynching" side by side with news about new electric plants. As I also noted, the collection emphasizes that this past is not by any means past.

Another day, another headline about police shooting of an unarmed black man in America. Here's a headline Huffington Post featured yesterday: 

Headlines like this have now become so routine in the U.S. that we're tempted to shrug when we read yet another announcement of yet another police shootings of yet another unarmed black men. Here's more from Guy Lancaster's Bullets and Fire: this is Vincent Vinikas writing about the lynchings of black men that took place in Saint Charles, Arkansas, in 1904 (pp. 106-107). His essay, entitled "Thirteen Dead at Saint Charles, reminds us that, though Arkansas has long been at the bottom of almost all indices measuring human well-being (economic ones, educational ones, ones having to do with healthcare and children's well-being, ones having to do with rights of minority groups), the state distinguished itself by being near the top of the list of states in which lynchings occurred.

Read that observation and then think about the fact that Arkansans voted heavily for the man now occupying the White House, and continue to support him to a degree far out of proportion to the support he has in many other places in the U.S.

Vinikas goes on to cite a 24 March 1892 report of Rev. Malcolm Argyle the Philadelphia newspaper Christian Recorder,* written as black citizens of Arkansas were being lynched at a horrifying rate. As Rev. Argyle notes, the pulpits of churches both South and North were eerily silent about what was happening in that reign of terror, as they were in general throughout the lynching period, as lynchings became mundane, casually mentioned affairs. Just another newspaper headline, another day . . . .

If you think we cannot go back there as a society, I suggest you don't understand history. Is what Rev. Argyle describes in 1892 really extremely different from what we see happening in the U.S. today, under the moral monstrosity in the White House — after a majority of white Christians placed him there?

White evangelical Christianity is built to cherry-pick, and the politicians of the religious right are particularly adept at doing it.

Much has been written about Donald Trump and the Republican Party's authoritarian efforts to subvert and destroy American democracy, and their alliances with right-wing gangster capitalists such as the Koch brothers. But the enormous role played by evangelicals in Trump's victory -- and in his enduring core of support -- has not received as much attention from the mainstream news media. 
In all, it is increasingly clear that with Trump as the figurehead and Vice President Mike Pence as the puppet-master, Christian evangelicals have successfully completed a soft coup in America.

Flanked by the miserable-looking First Lady and the comically aghast Easter Bunny, Trump spoke to the children about the booming economy and the "$700 billion going into our military"—not topics usually favored by the kindergarten set.

*Argyle's report is cited and transcribed in A Documentary History of the Negro People in the United States, vol. 2, ed. Herbert Aptheker (New York: Citadel, 1970), pp. 793–94.

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