John F. Kennedy’s favorite quote, interpreted from Dante’s Inferno, reads, “The hottest places in hell are reserved for those who in time of moral crisis preserve their neutrality.” Elie Wiesel similarly warned, “We must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.” As the dark terror of racism and bigotry has once again gained political ground in the United States, neutrality has lost its morality.
For decades, the Republican Party has flirted with the idea of exploiting hate and inflaming white racial animus for political gain, starting with the Southern Strategy. Republicans – by blowing racist dog whistles and political passivity – created today’s political climate, which has emboldened racists and white supremacists to abandon their hoods and march on Charlottesville, Virginia with torches. For decades, Republicans have made the careful political calculus that this voting block should be courted rather than outcasted. Republicans who oppose this path must now make a choice: work to dismantle the white supremacist ideologies and institutions that they have encouraged, or side with the white supremacy monster of their own creation. Republicans must publicly, clearly, and unequivocally choose a side – both through words, and through deeds.
To illustrate this point, during a recent town hall discussion, House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) described President Trump’s coddling of white supremacists and Nazi’s as “morally ambiguous” and went on to say that the president “messed up.”
But the president did not mess up; his words were an intentional continuation of the Republican Party’s decades-old brand of dog whistle politics, covertly giving comfort to white supremacists through words and legislative deeds. For example, a TIME magazine report last year found that being a police officer was the 15th most dangerous job in the United States in terms of work-related fatality rates. Still, Republicans like Senator John Cornyn (R-Tex.) continue to support measures that insulate police officers from misconduct, like a 2017 bill that would make it virtually impossible to sue police officers, co-sponsored by 15 Republicans. In Republican-controlled state legislatures across the country, the Republican Party has made the suppression of non-white votes a top priority of their legislative agenda. And Republicans have carefully worked to label the Democratic Party as the party of “free stuff.”
The president and leader of the Republican Party, Donald Trump, is a continuation of this strategy of minimizing the political influence of people of color, whether through voter suppression efforts, criminalization and mass incarceration, or political rhetoric aimed at villainizing nonwhite voters. Using the racist lie of ‘birtherism’ to rise to political relevance, Trump strategically seized upon the white racial animus stirring after eight years of the first black president by vowing to make America great ‘again’. He declared that Mexicans are rapists and criminals, Muslims should be banned from the United States, and advocated for violence against nonviolent protestors. More recently, the president lambasted the removal of confederate monuments erected in the early 1900’s as a form of racial intimidation saying, “You’re changing history. You’re changing culture.” He also took the opportunity to praise a fictional war crime, citing the mass murder of Muslims using bullets covered in pig’s blood.
Subtly exploiting the fear of a demographic shift in America and promising to make America great ‘again’ is a promise to reverse course on immigration, inclusion, and diversity – fundamental American values – to preserve the ‘culture’ of whiteness in America.
One of Trump’s first acts as president-elect was appointing Steve Bannon, executive chairman at Breitbart News – which he dubbed the ‘home of the alt-right’ – as his chief political strategist. A week after he was sworn in as president, Trump almost immediately began his assault on the Iranian and Muslim community, as he had promised on the campaign trail. For over seven months we have been combatting the unconstitutional executive order known as the Muslim ban – Bannon’s brainchild and attempt at fulfilling a campaign promise to ban Muslims from the United States – while many Republicans have either overtly endorsed the policy or remained silent. Republicans must choose a side, and recognize that supporting the Muslim ban is to side with white supremacy.
In the 2013 decision in Shelby County v. Holder, the Supreme Court struck down core provisions of the Voting Rights Act. For years following the decision, Republican-controlled legislatures have engaged in unconstitutional gerrymandering, refusal to restore voting rights, and active voter suppression efforts targeting African American, Latino, and other communities of color, making it harder to vote. An agenda of suppressing the votes of people of color to tip the scales in favor of white votes is firmly rooted in white supremacy ideology and must be wholly rejected and abandoned. In America, we must make it easier for citizens to vote, not harder. Republicans must choose a side on voter suppression.
For years, Latinos, Hispanics, and their allies have pleaded with Republicans to display empathy and enact comprehensive immigration reform. Republicans have placed some 800,000 teens who were granted Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, known as “DACA,” in immediate peril of deportation. In fact, Republican-controlled states like Texas have threatened court action unless the DACA program is brought to an end by the September 5 deadline this year, placing DACA recipients in a position of possible – and perhaps immediate – deportation. Harsh immigration policies that betray our fundamental American values by targeting people that have already contributed to American progress and prosperity is derived from white supremacy ideology. Republicans must choose a side on immigration reform, and DACA and DAPA recipients.
No man or woman should leave his or her home and fear that they will have a fatal interaction with law enforcement. Sandra Bland, Eric Garner, Walter Scott, Tamir Rice, Philando Castile, Alton Sterling, Rekia Boyd, Mike Brown, Laquan McDonald, Oscar Grant, Freddie Gray, and so many other victims of police violence should horrify and outrage us all. Black lives must matter just as much as any other life in this country, and those who shoot and kill unarmed black people must be held accountable. Republicans must choose a side and boldly declare that Black Lives Matter.
Make no mistake, white supremacy is not just neo-nazi’s dressed in khaki’s, saluting and holding tiki torches. White supremacy is the privilege of pushing back against a line of police dressed in riot gear without being shot and killed. It can be found in the acquittals and lack of accountability for officers that shoot and kill unarmed black and brown people. It can also be found in discriminatory lending practices, housing discrimination, racial profiling, homophobia, nativism, anti-feminism, cultural appropriation, the belief that we are in a post-racial society, English-only policies and legislation, education gaps and disparity, mass incarceration, confederate monuments in the halls of Congress and across the country, victim-blaming, White Savior Complex, and so many other things that have been allowed to consume everyday American life. White supremacy has been around us all for centuries.
To avoid a repeat of the events in Charlottesville, Virginia, white supremacy – both overt and covert – must be completely dismantled.
We must all, as Americans, acknowledge the moral failures of the past and recognize how those moral failures have contributed to centuries of institutionalized and government-sanctioned white supremacy. Republicans must make the decision to stop blowing racist dog whistles for personal gain and put country above party. We must openly listen to the experiences of one another and acknowledge the deeply held and often times subconscious biases that we hold. We must then work together to overcome these challenges. Only then can we say that America is living up to its promise that all men – and women – are created equal.
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