When we elected Barack Obama president in 2008, I hoped maybe our long civil war — the one in which Appomattox was merely a pause — might be over at last. The United States would finally become what we like to claim we are: a society dedicated to tolerance, equal opportunity, and equal justice under the law.
Of course, putting a Black man in the White House did not cure our endemic racism; instead, it perversely enabled millions of white folks to decide they are some kind of oppressed minority.
White grievance fueled Donald Trump’s 2016 win. And last week Trump, an out and proud autocrat wannabe and white nationalist, stood before several thousand of his snarling, armed, racist fanboys and incited a riot.
He told them to “fight like hell,” which they did — against their own country.
Hundreds of white terrorists invaded the U.S. Capitol, smashing windows and looting congressional offices, toppling statues, damaging art, and disrupting the democratic and constitutional process of certifying the next president.
They planted pipe bombs near the Republican and Democratic national headquarters. A guy from Alabama had a cooler of Molotov cocktails in Mason jars at the ready.
It was another battle in the forever war over who is a “real” American. Who gets to protest. Who gets to vote. It started in 1619 and it’s still going on.
Call it Chickamauga 2.
What we saw Wednesday was not an American version of the sans-culottes storming the Bastille, rising up against oppressive elites. It was a coup attempt by the entitled, the new Lost Cause.
Don’t believe that white privilege is a thing? Check out the images of the Capitol Police’s less-than-ferocious response to the thugs overrunning the building. Some accommodated; some retreated; they let most of these rioters just walk out of the building into the D.C. night; there’s even video of a cop and a rioter taking a selfie.
In cities across the country — New York, Minneapolis, Philadelphia, Los Angeles — cops beat, kicked, and handcuffed nonviolent marchers.
Peaceful Black Lives Matter demonstrators were driven out of Lafayette Square by armed officers deploying tear gas — all so Trump could stage a photo op with an upside down Bible.
Trump is, and always has been, president of White America, that neo-Confederacy of the mind that animates so many in the Republican Party. In his unhinged rant in front of the White House Wednesday, he kept bringing up his executive order to “protect” monuments to slaveholders and his determination to clamp down on evils such as the 1619 Project that suggest that white America was not without sin.
He carried on about Wayne County in Michigan (where Detroit is located) and raged about other urban areas where votes should not be counted because they 1) Weren’t cast by white people; and 2) Weren’t for him.
On either side of Trump, giant banners read “Save America March.” What are we saving America from, you ask?
Not Caucasians with guns and pipe bombs; not his people. America — the real America, the white America — must be rescued from those people: Black people. Brown people. Science-lovers. Book-readers. Elites. Journalists. Stacey Abrams. Metrosexuals. Colin Kaepernick. Wusses.
Rudy Giuliani, one of Trump’s warm-up acts, liked the look of that bunch of unmasked, “Don’t Tread on Me” flag-toting Caucasians so much he suggested the “question” of who actually won the presidential election be settled according to “trial by combat:” the Trumpist mob versus members of Congress.
In that imagined neo-Confederacy, there’s simply no way in Hades that he could have lost the presidential election, no way the Democrats took the Senate, no way that America isn’t really what the old segregationists called “a white man’s country.”
No wonder they holler about voter fraud, evidence be damned. No wonder Trump called the Georgia secretary of state flinging wild, stupid theories about dead people voting, ballots being shredded or appearing in mysterious suitcases.
You could see the same stunned disbelief on the faces of Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue when they lost their Senate races to a Black preacher and a young Jewish documentary film producer.
The Trumpists resorted to their reliable white supremacist playbook: Loeffler ran Facebook ads in which Raphael Warnock’s skin was darkened — because we all know black Black people are extra scary. Perdue blessed a campaign spot with Jon Ossoff’s nose curiously enlarged.
It might have worked, save for Atlanta’s flowering of diversity, Stacey Abrams’ organizing skills, and Donald Trump’s epic stupidity, assuring his white acolytes that the election was rigged.
The state that gave us “Gone with the Wind” and Lester Maddox may have saved our democracy.
But it’s too early to celebrate. Even if Trump can be persuaded to resign to save himself from a second impeachment or Mike Pence grows a spine and invokes the 25th Amendment, America’s obdurate neo-Confederates have threatened more violence, especially on Jan. 20, Inauguration Day.
At least the man we hope is the last president of White America will be gone by then, sulking on a golf course somewhere, plotting impotently, blaming everyone but himself.