I recently published Leroy Moore’s book Black Kripple Delivers Poetry & Lyrics. Leroy really affected me. I like Leroy. He is the kind of person I wish to be inspired by, showing us how to include all people in our human community, encouraging all of us to give up our prejudice and ignorance. He works tirelessly for the rights of the alternately-abled, for the rights of blacks and women. May his love spread far and wide. Leroy has similar speech and physical patterns that characterize other “disabled” persons with whom he shares compassion. And, let me tell you, his intelligence far outshines mine and our new president’s.
I can’t even express how I felt when I saw Donald J. Trump’s callous, disgusting, and abusive characterization of a disabled person.
Around the time of the Republican primaries, when it was becoming clear what kind of a man Trump was and the televised political “pundits” began to again spew out the stereotype of disaffected white men voting for the likes of him, I had a felt need to speak about an idea that first occurred to me forty years ago, in the blooming era of the “silent majority:” Donald J. Trump is just the most recent candidate of a long line of politicians to employ the Southern Strategy.
Maybe today’s voters have forgotten what that was. After the failure of Reconstruction in 1877, when Lincoln’s Republican party withdrew the United States Army and federal support for the Southern states, the Democratic party capitalized on post-Confederacy fears by intentionally instituting voting legislation that disenfranchised both blacks and poor whites: poll taxes, residency and literacy requirements. Jim Crow laws, “grandfather” voting clauses (a person could vote if illiterate, only if he had already voted prior to the Civil War), and the rise of the Ku Klux Klan solidified a racial caste system in the primarily Democratic Southern states for decades. Until the Voting Rights Act of 1964.
Southern blacks regained the vote in an era when racial tensions were high during an era when the populace was marching for the end of legal segregation. Generationally indoctrinated, disaffected Southern white voters switched to the Republican Party so as not to vote “with” the black voters. Republican conservative presidential candidate Barry Goldwater swept the former Confederate states, but nowhere else in the nation.
Political strategists pounced, capitalizing on the desegregationist fears of that white demographic, with the false rhetoric of white superiority as a founding ethos of the country. By 1972, Nixon’s “Southern strategy” was widely considered the path by which he won the presidency. Political strategist Lee Atwater mobilized the same demographic for Reagan. And then Atwater strategized with Roger Ailes (yes, the one from Fox News) for G.H.W. Bush. And here we are again.
Stereotypes of all sorts are false: mindless, ignorant and dangerous nonsense. If Americans don’t look backwards, we are doomed to repeat an abhorrent history. May we extend to the masses a way to see through the false rhetoric so they may realize their interests are being manipulated and thrust back at them in a demeaning manner. By succumbing to media stereotypes, the Trump demographic are in fact placing America in great jeopardy. The fallacy of Manifest Destiny—that the white working male is the privileged “owner” of this country—perpetuates a divisive myth. Muslims and Mexicans are just the latest immigrants under threat. Chinese, Japanese, Italian, Irish; divide and conquer.
I am a white man (an older one), my three sons are white men, my two little grandsons—four and one—are budding white men. I don’t expect any of them to behave in such despicable ways, and I reject the implicit media stereotypes—racial castes are inherently wrong. Racial stereotyping began in the earliest iteration of this country as native peoples were marginalized. We should acknowledge that. The scurrilous denigration of women is also detrimental to our society. My daughter, the mothers of my children, my own mother and sisters and the myriad women who have blessed my life are being attacked. To whose benefit?
I have spent the last 45 years associating with people who have been working for civil rights, immigrant rights, workers’ rights, LBGTQ rights, religious freedom and understanding, women’s rights, and the freedom of people around the world not to live under the heel of economic and political subjugation. The opportunity to work with people who share these values—black, women, gay, Hispanic, Asian or yes, even white men—gives freedom (both intellectual and economic) to us all. So much is gained.
I wish the media would find a more accurate and enlightened way to characterize the “older white men” demographic that supported Trump than by employing the Southern Strategy and implying racial animus as the primary motive for their vote.
“This is what you shall do; Love the earth and sun and the animals, despise riches, give alms to everyone that asks, stand up for the stupid and crazy, devote your income and labor to others, hate tyrants, argue not concerning God, have patience and indulgence toward the people, take off your hat to nothing known or unknown or to any man or number of men, go freely with powerful uneducated persons and with the young and with the mothers of families, read these leaves in the open air every season of every year of your life, re-examine all you have been told at school or church or in any book, dismiss whatever insults your own soul, and your very flesh shall be a great poem and have the richest fluency not only in its words but in the silent lines of its lips and face and between the lashes of your eyes and in every motion and joint of your body.”
― Walt Whitman
preface to Leaves of Grass (1855)