Over at ABC News, an article asks whether Donald Trump is a white supremacist. Bernie Sanders thinks so. Elizabeth Warren does too.
I’m not so sure. Trump sounds like a white supremacist. His rhetoric encourages white supremacists. He has a long history of bigotry and racism. QED?
I’m hesitant to say it’s proven, but I know one thing is certain: Trump is a Trump supremacist.
A self-confessed “very stable genius.” A man without a racist bone in his body. The least racist person you’ll ever meet, according to Trump himself. A president who ranks himself as roughly equal to Abraham Lincoln, considered by most historians to have been America’s finest president.
Vanity, thy name is Trump. And because Trump is a white male, ipso facto white men are supreme; they must be, because Trump is one of them, indeed the finest example of them, at least in his own mind.
So, I think it’s tempting yet too simplistic to say Trump is a white supremacist. Trump is a Trump supremacist. Everyone else is inferior to Trump, some more so than others. The less you look like Trump, or act like Trump, the less he thinks of you. Thus it’s no surprise he surrounds himself with mostly white men, many with dubious pasts of sexism or racism. To Trump, these are not disqualifiers. How could they be? He’s sexist and racist, so how can that ultimately be a bad thing?
From his lofty perch as the greatest human in all of history, Trump looks down on all of us. He just sneers a bit more if you’re brown or black or less than 100% boorishly male.
What can you say about mass shootings in America that hasn’t already been said? El Paso and Dayton (not Toledo, Mr. Trump) are the most recent in a seemingly unending series of shootings in America. A grim statistic:
“Dayton was the 22nd mass killing in America this year, according to an AP/USA Today/Northeastern University mass murder database, which tracks all attacks involving four or more people killed.”
Or, alternatively: “The shooting in Ohio marked the 31st deadly mass shooting in America this year, defined as those where at least three people are killed by gun violence in a single episode.”
The nonprofit organization, which is based in Washington, DC, defines a mass shooting as an event in which at least four people were shot. By its calculations, that means there have been some 292 mass shootings in the US since the year began.”
In a prepared statement this morning, President Trump came out against white supremacy, racism, and bigotry, but tragically this is a clear case of “Do what I say, not what I do” for Trump. He compounded his hypocrisy by ignoring the ready availability of assault weapons, blaming instead mental illness and violent video games, among other factors.
Firstly, the mentally ill are more likely to be the victims of violence than the perpetrators of it. Secondly, violent video games are a global phenomenon, but I’m not reading about dozens of mass shootings each year in Japan or Korea or Sweden.
Trump’s weak-willed words were thoroughly predictable; he’s closely aligned with the National Rifle Association and its total fixation on gun rights to the exclusion of all others. He’s not alone in this. When I taught in rural Pennsylvania, my students knew all about the Second Amendment. But their knowledge of the First, Fourth, and Fifth Amendments was far weaker. Yes, for many Americans guns really do trump free speech, freedom of the press, and similar rights.
Predictably, Americans search for a magic bullet (pun intended) after these horrifying massacres to put a stop to them. How about better background checks? Eliminating extended magazines for the millions of assault rifles that are already in the hands of Americans? Better databases to track the mentally ill and the criminally violent? And so on. And we should have better background checks before you can buy a gun; we should stop selling military-style hardware; we should keep better track of dangerous people. But steps such as these will only stem the violence (if that). They won’t put an end to it.
Our culture is suffused with violence. At the same time, powerful forces are at play (stoked by our very own president) to divide us, to inflame our passions, to turn us against them, where “them” is some category of “other,” as with the El Paso shooter, who targeted immigrants “invading” America.
To stop mass shootings, we must change our culture of violence. This is made much more difficult by men like Trump, who’ve embraced violent rhetoric for their own selfish purposes. But we must change it nonetheless, else witness more carnage across America.
Note to readers: This is not the first time I’ve written about violence and guns in America. Here are links to a few articles on this subject at Bracing Views:
Historical statues and monuments are in the news, but sadly not because Americans have taken a new interest in understanding their history. Statues of men who supported the Confederacy, prominent generals like Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson, for example, have been appropriated by White supremacists (this is nothing new, actually). Such statues have been defended as “beautiful” by a man, Donald Trump, with little sense of history, even as other Americans have called for these and similar statues to be removed.
Statues, of course, are just that. Inanimate objects. Places for pigeons to poop. It’s we who invest them with meaning. Most people, I think, take little notice of statues and monuments until they become controversial, after which everyone has an opinion.
For me, statues and monuments are a stimulus for reflection as well as education. Who was that guy on a horse? Why is he being honored? And what does that decision tell us about who we were and are as a people?
As a people, we choose certain historical figures as worthy of being sculpted in stone or cast in bronze. We choose our heroes, so to speak, our paragons, our worthies. And our choices are just that — choices. They reflect certain values, priorities, motives, feelings. And since our values, our motives, our sense of what is good and bad, right and wrong, change over time, so too can our statues and memorials change, if that is the will of the people in a democracy that enshrines freedom of choice.
If the peoples of various states choose to remove certain statues, so be it. Other statues might take their place; other worthies might be selected as more in keeping with the times and our values as we conceive them today as a people.
What we choose to memorialize as a people says much about ourselves. Many statues and memorials fall under the category of “man on horseback.” Certainly, military figures like Lee and Jackson were considered great men of their times, at least in a Confederate context. They also, sadly, became potent symbols of racism in the Jim Crow South, physical symbols of the myth of the Lost Cause, intimidating and demoralizing figures to Black communities struggling against violence and prejudice.
Americans are an intemperate lot, driven by extremes, constantly fighting to reconfigure ourselves through our interpretation and re-interpretation of history. All this is proof to William Faulkner’s famous saying that, “The past is not dead. It’s not even past.”
As a historian, I find it deeply sad as well as ironic that, at a time when education in history is withering in the United States, the importance of history has arguably never been greater. We should use statues as a stimulus for learning, but instead they’re more often appropriated as a driver for divisiveness.
If nothing else, today’s debates about statues should remind us yet again of the importance of history and a proper understanding of it. History is inherently disputatious. Controversial. Challenging. Exciting. If we can tap the heat generated by the latest controversies and warm students to a study of history in all its richness, perhaps some good can come from the ongoing controversy.
What kind of statues and memorials are the “right” ones for America? It’s a vexing question, is it not? It’s also a question with powerful implications. I come back to George Orwell’s comment (slightly paraphrased): He who controls the past controls the future. He who controls the present controls the past.
Our understanding of the past — our selective celebration of it — helps to define what is possible in the future. If you celebrate generals on horseback — military men of the Confederacy — you make a choice that helps to shape what is seen as right and proper in the present moment, and what will be right and proper in the future.
For a better future, I’d like to see fewer statues to military men and sports heroes and the like, and more to visionaries who sought a better way for us as a people. I recall a small monument I saw to Elihu Burritt in Massachusetts. No one is talking about him or his legacy today. He’s an obscure figure compared to his contemporaries, Lee and Jackson. Known as the “Learned Blacksmith,” he was a committed pacifist and abolitionist who worked to educate the less fortunate in society.
If we are to build prominent statues and monuments, would it not be better to build them to people like Elihu Burritt, people who worked for justice and equality, people who fought against war and slavery and for peace and freedom?