THE WEDGE THAT DIVIDES US

The southern elite—plantation owners before the Civil War, bankers and mill owners during the Jim Crow era—benefitted from keeping African Americans and whites in separate spheres. They engineered a system that prevented exploited people of both races from conversing—at a lunch counter, on the bus, at a school meeting, at church, at a movie theater, or at a neighborhood gathering—and discovering how much the “rigged system” hurt all of them. And they even manipulated less privileged whites into supporting and enforcing the segregation that prevented a bi-racial populist uprising. It was a brilliant strategy.
One of the most powerful weapons in this “southern strategy” was the manufacture of horror at the mere thought of “race mixing”—specifically any kind of sexual contact between black men and white women. (An amazing feat of denial conveniently ignored the generations of sexual contact between white men and black women, obvious in the multiple shades of “colored people.”)
Most of the lynchings of the Jim Crow period involved the suspicion of inappropriate behavior between an African-American man and a “Caucasian” woman. The accusation of merely whistling at a white woman was enough to get Emmet Till beaten to death.
Donald Trump’s first attempt to grab public attention and open a path to political success was not the “birther” controversy. It occurred 27 years ago, in 1989, when the jogger Trisha Meili was raped and severely injured in Central Park. Five young African American and Hispanic men—ages sixteen and under—were charged with the crime. Donald Trump bought newspaper ads urging the city to BRING BACK THE DEATH PENALTY in the case. In essence, he was calling for modern day lynching. We now know that the young men were manipulated into false confessions. Twelve years later they were cleared of charges on the basis of DNA evidence and a confession by a serial rapist. But just as Trump continued to argue that President Obama was not born in the United States, for years after the long-form birth certificate was produced, he still insists that those originally accused of the attack in Central Park are guilty.
It is no coincidence that Trump’s second intrusion into politics was to proclaim that the product of a sexual union between a blond woman from Kansas and a very dark-skinned man from Kenya could not possibly be a real American.
Recently Trump’s 2005 boasts about fondling any woman he finds attractive have made the news. There might seem to be a contradiction between his bragging about forcing his attentions on women and his horror at the Central Park incident. The explanation, of course, is white supremacy. As was true on the plantation, Trump seems to believe that a white alpha male should have unquestioned access to any female. But a black male who approaches a white woman challenges this entitlement and must be severely punished.
The divisions between black and white voters persist. After Reconstruction, African Americans began to migrate from the party of Lincoln to the Democrats. And, true to LBJ’s prediction, after 1965, working class whites left the Democratic party to form an odd alliance with country club Republicans. Nixon and Reagan argued that some people (especially African Americans) were too lazy to get a job and were living off welfare at taxpayer expense. This clever strategy caused white voters to approve of cuts to the social safety net from which they, too, could have benefitted.
Trump has recently made some attempts to woo black voters—or to appear to be reaching out to them as he speaks to mostly white audiences at his rallies. So he uses coded language for his racist statements. For example, he does not depict those who benefit from social programs as undeserving “welfare queens,” but he promises that a six-month maternity leave program could be financed by ending fraud in the unemployment insurance program. He has not openly called for the kinds of voter intimidation that led to the 1965 Voting Rights Act, but he asks his supporters to volunteer as “Trump Election Observers” in “certain areas—you know where they are.”
I will not call Trump’s supporters “deplorable.” But I will say to them, don’t get tricked again by these time-worn tactics designed to silence our voices by driving a wedge between us. All of us who are not (like Trump) in the top 1% of the economy are in the same boat, if we will just open our eyes to see. We all need access to affordable, high-quality health care. We all benefit when social security, Medicare, and Medicaid are fully funded, when college tuition does not burden us with huge debts, when a variety of good jobs are available. I dream of an America where we can find spaces for all of us—of many different hues—to meet and talk and find common cause. I dream that we can join forces to vote for the only candidate with detailed plans for creating a world where we can all succeed. That person is not Donald Trump.

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FALLING SCALES

“Joy to the World” descends the scale—one note at a time.
This tune—so familiar –doesn’t ring my bells,
Until one December afternoon
When I go caroling at the Memory Care Unit
And watch as every worn face mouths the words
And tears course down each cheek.

The gospel choir overflows with gratitude.
Their words describe hands lifting in praise
As the notes move down and down and down—
Until the music soars again in overlapping Amens.

Listen, now, to Webber’s “Requiem”
As that ethereal soprano voice
Hovers near the apex of the Gothic arches
And wafts downward as we wait below,
Breathless.

What is the magic here?
What ancient incantation is evoked?
What genetic memory
Or ecstatic moment from a former life
Is linked to the soundtrack of these descending tones?

While “Joy to the World” bounces down the scale
And “Total Praise” strides confidently along,
“Pié Jesu” floats, drifting as gently
As a falling leaf on an autumn afternoon,
Lofted briefly on an updraft,
Only to settle on the ground
In perfect peace.

“Joy to the World”

“Total Praise”

Andrew Lloyd-Webber “Requiem”