June 19, 2005

Playing with Fire

The Senate’s historic apology for preventing the passage of anti-lynching legislation has brought to the surface a number of important issues. First, the fact that there are almost 20 senators who didn’t co-sponsor the bill (mostly Republicans) is a sad reminder (just like yesterday’s Supreme Court ruling) that even in 2005 the legacy of racism still rears its ugly head in America.

The blogosphere is replete with stories about the senators whose names don’t appear on the list and there hasn’t been this much angst in the air since Senator Lott’s comments at Strom Thurmond’s 100th birthday party. This episode has reminded me of the tragic political history that surrounds the wholesale domestic terrorism against black Americans that was the norm in this country for way too long. For Democrats and those on the Left, it is discomforting to remember that it was Southern Democrats who were the most stridently racist for much of the century after the Civil War. It is these same oppressors of millions of black Americans who helped solidify the Democratic lock on Congressional politics for the better part of the second half of the 20th century, and who also helped to propel some of the most popular Democratic Presidents to power. Democrats should be proud of the many achievements of the New Deal and other socially progressive legislation, but until Lyndon Johnson’s courageous move to sign the Civil Rights Act many Democrats were on the wrong side of history.

Ever since Johnson’s move to end Jim Crow and Segregation, the South has become the base of the Republican Party, with many disaffected (and racist) whites instantly turning their back on the Democrats, who they felt betrayed them. While the modern GOP is not an overtly racist Party, the regular visits of top Republicans to Bob Jones University, or Reagan’s allusion to state’s rights at the site of the murder of Civil Right’s activists, to Trent Lott’s comments, and now to the many GOP senators whose signatures are conspicuously absent from the anti-lynching legislation, point to an undercurrent of racial animosity. Apart from racist elements, the GOP also draws some of its power from religious fundamentalists and the ire they muster towards gays and lesbians (who are routinely physically assaulted in American society due only to their sexual orientation).

This is playing with fire.

In addition to the almost 5,000 blacks who were lynched, how many millions more had to suffer extreme hardships because of the intransigence of the Democratic Party pre-1964? While Democrats are now rightfully associated with the Civil Rights Movement and the immense progress that this brought to the country, there is a dark side to Democratic history that is rarely mentioned these days, but shouldn’t be forgotten.

Unfortunately, the torch of prejudice has now been taken over largely by the Right and the Republican Party, which keeps the flames of oppression simmering for strategic political gain (which usually occurs right before election time). How many people will suffer from these cold-hearted political calculations? No one knows for sure, but one can only hope that the GOP has its own day of reckoning sooner than later so that we don’t have to wait another 100 years. And maybe then our mainstream politics will forever be free of the corrupting and corrosive influence of prejudice and hatred.

Jason Scorse

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