Underneath all the other issues of election 2020, is this essential choice: Will the US continue to advance toward becoming a fully equal society, or will its citizens turn from that, imagining that a nation of white privilege will mean happier times? To an unusual degree, this presidential contest boils down to whether the nation will resist change or realize its destiny as a place where people of all complexions can coexist, enjoy full equality, and thrive.
Our politics is unusually nasty because the nation is moving with some determination toward this goal. The election of the first black president, Barack Obama, was a 21st-century “fire bell” to white America. In response, whites who imagine themselves to be “patriots” have dusted off their rebel regalia and clustered around the monuments valorizing “the Lost Cause.” They have puffed up with pride, hearing president Trump call them “fine people.”
In the view of these “fine people,” much of what is wrong with the US has to do with the Democrats and their incomprehensible loyalty to the cause of black equality. Trump supporters can’t accept that Obama won office (twice!) on the basis of his merits. There must have been some trick, some fraud involved.
Trump is incapable of leading a nation experiencing a new birth of interracial solidarity. A majority of the US has grown accustomed to integration. Equality is the norm in our neighborhoods, workplaces, domiciles, universities, public institutions, regiments, and playing fields. Smart phones have shattered our innocence, making the reality of police brutality against blacks impossible to tolerate, ignore, or deny. Even as people of color fall ill and die of COVID disproportionately, Trump’s White House sees in their sad plight only political gain. He would rebrand as “terrorists” and “enemies” Americans who protest peacefully for equality.
Time and again, the prospect of black equality has triggered crises in our political system. When the black race stands to gain, presidential elections tend to get tumultuous, and federalism itself threatens to break under the strain. Slavery was perpetuated for decades because white Americans could not imagine coexisting with a free black population. Even radical Republicans of Abraham Lincoln’s generation balked at the idea that white and black people were equally capable of freedom, equally suited to being citizens of a republic, even as Republicans were certain that black slavery was wrong.
After the Civil War, blacks languished as an oppressed and segregated population, despite new Constitutional amendments supposedly securing their full civil rights. It was “nothing but freedom,” and in the more than one-hundred-and-fifty years since, Americans have struggled with all that becoming a truly fair and tolerant society involves. We’re getting closer!
The United States is getting nearer to accomplishing a rare feat, becoming a nation that is not tribal but abides by a color-blind code of equality. In the context of this determined movement, Trump’s reelection would be aberrant indeed.
Image: from this source.