Donald Trump may be representing the “party of Lincoln” as the Republican nominee these days (sorry, Mr. Lincoln) but he’s not a subscriber to Lincoln’s well-known adage, “You can fool all the people some of the time, and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time.”
Why, after all, would Trump believe he couldn’t fool all the people all the time? He got the Republican nomination campaigning as a silver-spoon spoiled brat, after all, though some of his opponents looked more like Grumpy, Sleepy, Dopey and Bashful than they did like presidential candidates.
But now he’s going for the African-American vote, asking that part of the American electorate that has long gone Democratic, “What have you got to lose?” Gee, there’s some inspiration for you. Vote for me. What have you got to lose? Hardly up there with “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself” is it? But for a little insurance, Trump’s pulled out his old reliable, vicious insults and name-calling, and referred to Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton as a “bigot.”
Trump ignores that Clinton has worked for civil rights and children’s rights virtually her entire adult life,. His comment was another cheap shot by someone who identifies with the African-American world about as much he does with self-made Americans who pulled themselves up by their bootstraps. Give us a break, pal.
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That race remains a defining issue in our politics and in our society seems maddening, more than 150 years after the end of the Civil War. But it is, evidenced by Trump’s desperation and nutty rhetoric. I can say, in fact, that for those of my generation (I’m 63) race in politics and life has never left our front pages. Just think. Our whole lives, and probably after our lives have ended, this nation of immigrants still will be dealing with the tensions of racial differences and division.
I came upon a single touchstone of that when, going through some family records, I came across a picture of my father, then a young newspaper reporter, accepting a national press award in New York for articles exposing the Ku Klux Klan in North Carolina. He’d done some of the work, risking his personal safety, the summer before I was born. Two small-town North Carolina editors who really took the heat in their rural communities for their own work on the Klan, Willard Cole and Horace Carter, won the Pulitzer Prize for their work, well-deserved.
Donald Trump underestimates his fellow Americans if he thinks his blustery appeals to the hate in their hearts will carry him to the White House, whether it’s hatred of immigrants or others just “different” than whatever stereotype of the electorate he and his paid posse came up with in the gilded rooms of Trump Tower.
Oh, I don’t think Trump’s a racist. But he or his revolving set of sycophants are making a calculated grab for the votes of people he wouldn’t even let past the doormen at his hotels. He knows they’re angry and he thinks they’re dumb.
And at the top of that list are people who still jump at and bite hardest on the bait of race.
My parents used to hope that time would heal the racial divide, but they probably knew it wouldn’t. They, and many other parents in the South, did give their kids the gift of not allowing them to carry around the burden of indoctrinated racism.
Public schools trained that indoctrination out of some people, thank goodness. Exposure through the arts, or travel to different cultures has helped. So has the simple evolution of a world we know now where many young people just don’t seem to define others first and foremost by race.
But there remain those who still are ready to exploit for their own purposes the suspicions and fears and resentments of people who still by reflex pull away from people who are not their mirror images. A true leader brings those people together. He, or she, does not push them further apart.
Jenkins: 919-829-4513 or firstname.lastname@example.org