Know Them By Their Fruits

Repairing a social and political rift.

It hardly matters whether Donald Trump's latest provocation signifies psychosis or merely the sorest winner ever. The President-elect tweeted on November 27, "In addition to winning the Electoral College in a landslide, I won the popular vote if you deduct the millions of people who voted illegally."

As I wrote before seeing that brazenly false and reckless tweet, I do not think most Trump supporters are bigots. The trouble, given his vicious, violence-inciting campaign, is that so many otherwise decent people considered his racism, xenophobia, and misogyny no more disqualifying than his unhinged statements. Indifference can be as destructive as hatred.

Mark Lilla wrote in The New York Times on November 18 about "white, rural, religious Americans" who see themselves as disadvantaged: "[T]hey are reacting against the omnipresent rhetoric of identity, which is what they mean by 'political correctness.' Liberals should bear in mind that the first identity movement in American politics was the Ku Klux Klan, which still exists. Those who play the identity game should be prepared to lose it."

Lilla's scolding turns the truth on its head. If the Klan is America's oldest identity movement, how can liberals be blamed for defending against it? Hostility toward historically marginalized populations is how plutocrats divide the citizenry by getting us to fight one another instead of defending our common interests against their rapacious practices. Know them by their fruits.

It is easier to blame bogeymen for taking your job than adapt to the reality of a changed economy. And what to make of it when a white woman who voted for Trump says she hopes she can keep the health plan that her chosen candidate vowed to repeal? Misdirected resentment rewards those who want to cut healthcare and job protections, while punishing those who work to address the challenges of economic change.

Leadership and diversity consultant Robert Naylor criticizes Lilla: "It is easy for him to suggest that we should pretend there are no differences rather than celebrate them. Those of us who are called racial and ethnic slurs, or b*tch, or f*gg*t while walking the streets or who are treated differently in professional and social settings don't have the luxury of putting our identities aside. Those who can do that are hell-bent on putting the burden on us. When they stop noticing the differences and using them against us when they choose while insisting that we forget the differences when it benefits them, then our cultural identities will matter less." Naylor traces his ancestors in America back to the Sixteenth Century.

Some demand that we accept the election results in a way Republicans never did after 2008. We are told how unpopular Hillary Clinton was, when she received more votes than any candidate in history except Barack Obama, including over two million more than Trump. We are supposed to forget vote suppression, FBI interference, and Kremlin cyber warfare, even as Trump's pick for national security advisor is Gen. Michael Flynn, who believes Sharia law threatens America and that we should join forces with Vladimir Putin and other despots. I agree with Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings: we have more to fear from homegrown white shooters than Syrian refugees.

Trump's capriciousness last week in alternately insulting and flattering the Times recalls Forest Whitaker's portrayal of Ugandan dictator Idi Amin: charming one minute, violent the next. It is easier to shed problematic policy positions (on torture, climate change, jailing opponents) than one's character. The flaws Trump rode to victory will follow him into the Situation Room.

If we would build bridges rather than walls, as Pope Francis urges, we must appeal to one another's better angels. The alternative is a descent into fratricide. Our national institutions and traditions may see us through, but they require our involvement. Peaceful resistance must be joined by vigilance, creativity, and a willingness to engage across battle lines for the common good.

Poison merchants like Richard Spencer lurk among us, exploiting a "post-truth" media. Nazi salutes at a Washington conference should warn us that white nationalism under a more palatable "alt-right" label is just as deadly. Facts ignored will yet assert themselves like the encroaching sea. We must awaken our fellow citizens before we are overrun.

This piece originally appeared in the Washington Blade and Bay Windows.

Copyright © 2016 by Richard J. Rosendall. All rights reserved.

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