Alan Zendell, April 3, 2021
Ever since Donald Trump hit the political scene in 2015 it’s been tempting to conclude that both our politics and our internal divisions over race and the distribution of wealth had hit a new low. Tempting but wrong. The labor movement triggered violent class riots in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. In the years leading up to WW2, the American political scene included powerful extremist movements on both the right (the American Nazi Party) and left (the American Socialist and Communist Parties).
President Harry Truman constantly had to battle ardent segregationists who were a powerful force within his own Democratic Party. The civil rights movement saw peaceful demonstrations erupt into violence, lynchings, and murders throughout the South. Anti-government demonstrations during the Vietnam War led to brutal clashes between demonstrators and police at the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago and the 1970 Kent State shootings of demonstrators by Ohio National Guardsmen. The 1968 assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy triggered deadly riots in dozens of American cities that looked very much like the Black Lives Matter protests of 2020.
The difference between then and now is that in Donald Trump we had a president who thrived on divisiveness and conflict, who openly exacerbated divisions that had existed in America throughout its history. Terms like culture wars and cancel culture now dominate our political scene, poisoning efforts at bipartisan governing and compromise. Trump re-awakened the notion of the Big Lie and made it his primary means of communication. I am not aware of any time in the post-war era when deliberate lies have played so great a role in American life. From “immigrants are rapist and murders,” to Fake News, to Democrats replacing capitalism with socialism, to “the election was rigged,” to the China Virus, the lies grew in size and volume until we have been separated into armed camps ready to pull the trigger at the drop of a hat.
As the Biden administration attempts to pull us back from the disastrous effects of the pandemic and reverse the negative policies of its predecessor, it must deal with a Republican party drowning in internal conflict that is nevertheless united attempting to prevent minorities and the poor from voting, a staunch obstructionist in Mitch McConnell, and a wave of anti-Asian hate crimes. At a critical time in our history, when millions are suffering and mourning the loss of loved ones who died unnecessarily, political extremism and desperation driven by lust for power are our greatest obstacles.
I take heart from the response of the business community to Republican attempts to re-write voting laws around the country. Big business, the traditional base of mainstream Republicanism is reflecting a new reality. Corporations yield enormous financial clout, but they are comprised of millions of everyday Americans from all racial, ethnic, and economic strata, and their customer bases cross all those lines. Corporations that normally are interested only in bottom line profits and have traditionally rubber-stamped Republican policy initiatives realize that when those policies are clearly not in the interest of their workers and customers, they have to take a stand.
How ironic is it that the only substantial opposition to Republican attempts to suppress voting rights has come from the business sector? Moving the major league baseball all-star game out of Atlanta will cost Georgia’s economy more than $100 million. No wonder Governor Brian Kemp sounds more like Trump every day, doubling down on his version of the Big Election Lie. Delta Airlines and Coca-Cola are both synonymous with Atlanta’s economy. They and the hundred plus other corporations calling out Georgia’s new election law may or may not force the legislature to repeal it, but other states contemplating such laws noticed the fast, negative response. They haven’t forgotten the devastating hit Arizona’s economy took when the NFL pulled the 1993 Super Bowl from Phoenix because the state refused to vote “Yes” on a measure that would have made Martin Luther King’s birthday a paid state holiday.
Major corporations and media outlets have begun a massive campaign to combat anti-Asian hate crimes. It’s showing up in popular television programs and commercials all over the country. By consistently referring to derogatory terms used by Donald Trump, they are making it clear in a not very subtle way that hate crimes are synonymous with Trumpism. That tells us the groups singled out by Trump’s racist propaganda may have enough economic clout to cancel the culture war.
It would be nice if America took a loud, collective moral stand against the hate engendered by Donald Trump. But it may be even more satisfying to see his movement and its attempts to dominate the Republican Party brought down by the very corporate interests he claimed to represent.