By Rev. Dr. Susan K. Smith,
“America, America, God shed his grace on thee!” Those are words from the song “America the Beautiful” that we all learned in elementary school.
Well, if America ever needed grace…and salvation…it is now.
Donald Trump won the Nevada primary. He will most likely be the Republican nominee for president. Though my politically astute friends try to calm my fear that he will win the White House, I am not so sure. America’s racists are on a roll, and they are not about to stop.
Donald Trump says that he will “make America great again.” That’s merely a euphemism for putting white supremacy back on top. It’s a euphemism for making it so that black and brown people are under the foot of the Empire, denied of justice in the courts, fair treatment in housing, education and employment. America’s white people are afraid of losing power, plain and simple. Some say they are angry because of the economy, but the biggest issue for them is that the numbers of black and brown people are steadily increasing. They are afraid that their base is getting smaller and smaller, and with that, their power, their capacity to oppress “the least of these.”
And Donald Trump says he will make it all better. He is giving them pablum and they are eating it like starving children in underdeveloped countries eat when they are finally given substantive food.
I read a troubling article this morning, about Trump and the so-called “Central Park 5” Trump was on the case, calling for the five black teens accused of raping a white woman, to be convicted and put to death. Actually, his statements seemed more to ask that they simply be killed.
What Trump said and did in that case was appalling and troubling …but not for people who still believe in vigilante violence when it comes to black people accused of doing something to a white woman. When it was proven that the teens did not rape the white woman, and the charges were dropped, Trump was furious, and was even more furious when the city of New York awarded the young men, collectively, $41 million in damages.
This is not a man who believes in justice for all people. He is clearly racist, and openly so. He is unabashed in what he says and believes, and he knows he has a large group of Americans, mostly white but not completely so, who are with him.
They want the America of the past, where black people stayed in their place. They don’t care much that America’s “exceptionalism” came mostly from this country’s boast that it was a democracy where everyone could come (pluralism) and make good on “the American dream.” (capitalism). Racists never ascribed to that claim. They were clear that America was to be the land of opportunity for white, property-owning men. Colored people were not worthy of having full citizenship. They were merely the tools which white men would use to make this country the powerful country it became.
They were to be used, not respected.
Trump is singing their song. He is sounding like George Wallace and Ross Barnett and Sam Bowers and other racist demagogues. His being in the White House, his followers believe, will provide a calm to the rising tide of multiculturalism in this country. They believe he will bring things into normalcy in the White House.
They celebrate, it feels like, that he will be like President Woodrow Wilson, a member of the Ku Klux Klan who had screenings of The Clansman and Birth of a Nation in the White House.
So many white people are not disturbed at all at what Trump says because he is speaking to the pain they have felt as white oppression has been steadily addressed. They would not think it bad that not only was Woodrow Wilson a member of the Klan, but so were four other presidents, including Warren G. Harding, who was actually sworn in a KKK ceremony that was held at the White House. Calvin Coolidge allowed cross burnings on the steps of the capital and also allowed KKK parades in the nation’s capital in 1925 and 1926. Trump’s followers are not disturbed at this history, nor, I would imagine, would they be rangled if Trump said he was a member of the KKK.
They are just tired of “the coloreds.”
White people of the ilk I am describing have been mortified that a black man has been in the White House, his wife dancing on popular television shows, letting little black children inside those hallowed walls. Many white people believe that America was created to be a “white man’s country,” and all these people of color are messing up what is “supposed” to be.
The media must be in sympathy and in agreement with Trump and his ideology, because from the beginning, they allowed Trump so much free air time – this to the most wealthy man of the bunch running for president. They put his foot on the first rung of the ladder. If he couldn’t come into their studios, they interviewed him by phone. The American media has done much to usher in a racist, hate-filled man, showing that it is not objective at all. They let America hear this demagogue over and over ..and they hardly challenged him.
There is an important chink in this argument, however, that we have to consider. Trump is not only winning with racist white people. In Nevada, he got a big swath of the Hispanic vote as well. According to reports, 45 percent of Hispanics there are Trump supporters, that in spite of his stance on immigration. Does that mean that they do not care about Trump’s open racism?
So, now, here we are. Trump most probably will get the Republican nomination. He will continue to be a bully and a political thug, much to the admiration of his followers. Evangelicals have shown that their love for God leans toward maintaining their view of God in a white-ruled country. They have shown that the words of Jesus, for Christians to be forgiving and to care for “the least of these” have little to do with their religion. And America’s “silent majority” is showing that what they believe in is America’s mandate to be white. If a bully will keep it that way, so be it.
What does God’s grace look like in a situation like this? It is clear that my understanding of grace, and that of whites and others who ascribe to racism, are two different things.
A candid observation …
Rev. Dr. Susan K. Smith is a pastor, author and musician interested in the relationship between politics and religion, and race. Her most recent book is “The Book of Jeremiah: The Life and Ministry of Jeremiah A. Wright, Jr.” She is currently writing the authorized biography of Rev. C.T. Vivian, a major figure in the Civil Rights Movement of the 60s. She blogs at candidobservation.com and you can find her on Twitter @.