Truth Be Told

I am currently writing a book about the Doctrine of Discovery along with Dr. Soong-Chan Rah. There is a crowdfunding campaign to support the writing process with reward levels that includes SIGNED COPIES of the book once it is released! Click here for more information.

Friday, July 22, 2016

The Problem the Republican Party, and now the Nation, has with Donald Trump

The challenge with Donald Trump is that he understands all too well what made America “great.” And this has presented a problem for the Republican Party and now, with his nomination, will cause a problem for the entire country. America's “greatness” is based on explicit, systemic, and dehumanizing racism.


One cannot discover lands that are already inhabited, unless they believe the previous inhabitants are less than human.

One cannot enslave an entire race of people, unless they consider them to be sub-human (like maybe 3/5ths).

One cannot say "All men are created equal" in their Declaration of Independence, and then 30 lines later refer to Natives as “savages,” unless they have a very narrow definition of who is and who is not human.

One cannot establish the legal precedent for land titles based on a Doctrine of Discovery, stating that natives only have the right of occupancy to land, while Europeans have the right of discovery and therefore the true title to the land, unless they consider indigenous peoples to be less than human.

One cannot refer in their history books to a century of ethnic cleansing and genocide of native peoples as “expansion” and “manifest destiny,” unless they consider the native peoples of this continent to be sub-human.

One cannot write Jim Crow laws, enforce segregation, establish boarding schools, and create internment camps, unless they consider the populations impacted by those systems to be less than human.

And one cannot nominate a candidate for President who promises to "Make America Great Again" when there is not a single point in their nation’s history when citizens of every race were treated as equals under the law.

Unless their definition of “great” is explicit and systemic racism.

And Donald Trump understands that. He announced his campaign for President by calling Mexicans “rapists and murderers.” And he promised to build a great big wall to keep them out. He responded to tragic terrorists attacks by proposing a national ban on an entire religion. And he threatens to torture and kill women, children, and other non-combatants from that people group in his war on terror. He openly mocks and objectifies women. He regularly demeans and marginalizes Native peoples. Donald Trump knows what made America great, and he is bound and determined to usher in a new era of explicit and systemic racism.

Paul Ryan's overwhelming white #SpeakerSelfie
This has created a problem for Paul Ryan, the Republican Party, and now, the entire nation. You see, over the past several decades most Americans have grown uncomfortable with our country's explicit racial bias. And, therefore, they have worked very hard to make our expressions of racism more passive aggressive and implicit (see Paul Ryan's #SpeakerSelfie and Hilary Clinton’s “Off the reservation” comment). This problem came to a head last spring when Donald Trump failed to distance himself from an endorsement by David Duke of the KKK.  Speaker Ryan addressed that issue in a Press Conference when he said:

"If a person wants to be the nominee of the Republican Party, there can be no evasion and no games. They must reject any group or cause that is built on bigotry. This party does not prey on people's prejudices. We appeal to their highest ideals. This is the party of Lincoln. We believe all people are created equal in the eyes of God and our government. This is fundamental. And if someone wants to be our nominee, they must understand this."

His open and public rebuke, however, was deflated merely minutes later when Speaker Ryan, responding to a question regarding a possible Trump nomination, affirmed that he does indeed "plan to support the [eventual] nominee."

On the surface, his statement appears contradictory. How could someone associate their party with Abraham Lincoln (who freed the slaves), affirm the belief that "all people are created equal," and then immediately pledge to support a nominee who has clearly and repeatedly stated that he does not hold those same values?

This is where it is helpful to have a better historical understanding of Abraham Lincoln and what he was motivated by.

In the museum located at the base of the Lincoln Memorial there is a plaque hanging on the wall that states:

"I would save the Union. My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and it is not to save or destroy slavery.  If I could save the Union without freeing any slave, I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone I would also do that."

I have stood near this plaque and watched lines of people pass by. Most simply read it and move on. Almost no one pauses or even raises an eyebrow. But when I stop them and point out that this plaque is literally stating that according to Abraham Lincoln "Black Lives Don't Matter," they look at me, turn around, read the plaque again, shake their heads in amazement, and then pull out their cameras to take a picture.

I then educate them on another tidbit of history regarding our 16th President.

In December of 1862, Abraham Lincoln ordered the largest mass execution in the history of the United States. After the United States failed to meet its treaty obligations, the Dakota people raided American settlers and conflict with the US Military ensued. After more than a month, several hundred Dakota warriors surrendered themselves. They were each tried in military courts, and 303 were condemned to death. Because these were military trials, the executions had to be ordered by the President.

303 deaths seemed too genocidal for Abraham Lincoln. So he modified the criteria of what charges warranted a death sentence. Under his new criteria, only 2 were sentenced to die. That small number seemed too lenient and would most likely lead to an uprising by the white settlers in the area. So, once again, he changed the criteria. Ultimately, 38 Dakota men were executed on December 26, 1862, by order of President Lincoln. It is important to note that he did not order retrials, even though the initial trials could easily have been seen as a sham, but instead he merely changed the criteria (twice) of what charges warranted a death sentence.

"...If I could save the Union [by hanging 303 Dakota warriors], I would do it; and if I could save it [by hanging 2 Dakota Warriors] I would do it; and if I could save it [by hanging 38 Dakota Warriors in the largest mass execution in the history of the United States] I would also do that..."

Abraham Lincoln was primarily motivated by his desire to save the union. Paul Ryan is motivated by his desire to unify the Republican Party and eventually the country. The problem both these men face[d] is that they are attempting to unify a nation that is systemically racist.

And so when Horace Greeley published an op-ed in the New York Tribune calling for immediate emancipation, Abraham Lincoln was compelled to respond in a way that assured the states and citizens who owned slaves that he did not actually believe "Black Lives Mattered." Likewise, when Paul Ryan's Republican Party nominates a candidate who is explicitly racist, the Speaker publicly pledges his support to that nominee. Tragically, both men believe that unity, for a nation that is rooted in racism, requires its leaders, from time to time, to publicly deny the humanity of the minorities within that nation.

But there is a better way.

George Erasmus, an aboriginal leader from Canada said, “Where common memory is lacking, where people do not share in the same past, there can be no real community. Where community is to be formed, common memory must be created.”

This quote gets to the heart of our nation’s problem with race. The United States of America does not share a common memory, and therefore, we struggle to have real community. White citizens of this country remember a mythical history of discovery, expansion, opportunity, and exceptionalism, while our communities of color have the lived experience of stolen lands, broken treaties, ethnic cleansing, slavery, Jim Crow laws, boarding schools, segregation, internment camps, and mass incarceration.

There is no common memory.

But we can change that. We can more accurately teach our history. We can acknowledge and address the Doctrine of Discovery and the racism it embedded into our foundations. We can apologize for and own our mistakes. And we can stop pandering to our citizens stuck in their narcissistic and racist world views.

We can create a common memory, and begin planting seeds for better community.

Photo by Kris J Eden
Make no mistake, the United States of America is explicitly and systemically racist. The Declaration of Independence states it. The Constitution codifies it. The Supreme Court legalizes it. Abraham Lincoln affirms it.  Donald Trump campaigns on it. And Speaker Ryan endorses it.

But until we can acknowledge it, we will remain incapable of ever changing it.

The problem the Republican party, and now our entire nation, has with Donald Trump is actually a problem with the very foundations of our country. And while it definitely will not be easy, we can stop endorsing it, and begin changing it.

- Mark Charles (Navajo)

15 comments:

Mark Charles said...

The challenge with Donald Trump is that he understands all too well what made America “great.” And this has presented a problem for the Republican Party and now, with his nomination, will cause a problem for the entire country. America's “greatness” is based on explicit, systemic, and dehumanizing racism.

...

[So] when Paul Ryan's Republican Party nominates a candidate who is explicitly racist, the Speaker publicly pledges his support to that nominee. Tragically, for a nation that is rooted in racism, unity requires its leaders, from time to time, to publicly deny the humanity of the minorities within that nation.

Jason Mitchell said...

Thanks Mark for this insightful perspective.

Jason Mitchell said...

Thanks Mark for this insightful perspective.

Edward Greacen said...

Mark Charles tells the story the media is trying to hide. America has been hiding racism from the beginning. It's the big secret. It's the elephant in the room we are ignoring. Republicans have been capitalizing on the secret since the founding of the party back in 1850s. By manipulating public opinion, the GOP helps to keep racism at the forefront of our national consciousness. Maybe it is time to roll up the shade and let the light shine through. I hope we see some of this kind of optimism at the Democratic convention next week. I'm really tired of all the doom and gloom!

R. A. Lord-Wilkinson said...

Thank you for your powerful, illuminating, and troubling words. I feel both convicted and liberated! I will share this with others.

Linn said...

Thank you for the beautiful explanation. I feel my mind is open. But your analogies connected thoughts in new ways.

Linn
Navajo,AZ

Phillip Cato said...

So very well-said. Trump knows exactly what he is doing when he uses that slogan; he is letting the wolves out.

Kay King said...

Wow, so well put. Knowledgeable. Teachable. Thank You. Kay King

Kay King said...

Wow, so well put. Knowledgeable. Teachable. Thank You. Kay King

Justin M. Wright said...

You and others have made the claim that the United States is systemically racist, you use it like a punchline, whose veracity is beyond question. I would question that, there is a difference between a country of 100 million having racist in it, and even a race problem, and being systemically racist. Make your point without giving in to over reaching and hyperbole. Otherwise I agree , and thank you for your thoughts.

Justin wright (Cherokee)

Native Youth Alliance said...

Thank you, for your good words, helps us in our prayers

robynll111 said...

@Justin Wright - just one quick point to your question of using the term: systemic racism. Perhaps you're not aware of two government departments that are dedicated to the 'management of the Indigenous peoples of the continent". It is from these two departments that all lack of information about the Indigenous was begun. It is these two departments that still apply paternalistic oversight over grown women and men and their children.
One is called the Department of Indian Affairs in the U.S., the other is called the Indigenous Affairs and Northern Development Canada.
It is these still active dept's overseeing the still in place "Indian Act"s of 1876, and they use these acts to deny and under-fund our people to our own rights to clean water, healthcare, decent housing, equal education, the right to proper legal counsel and representation, and so on.
That is the definition of systemic racism and that is how it is applied - every day.

John Andrews said...

As a former history and government teacher on the Navajo Nation, I am reminded of one incident when I was teaching U.S./AZ Government at Monument Valley High School in Kayenta. I asked the asst. principal if I could invite representatives of the chapter, township, and tribal government to talk to my students about the Dine' government. I was told no because it wasn't in the Arizona social studies standards. I finally talked my department head into letting me invite these people. My students and I learned a lot. What still makes me angry is the Anglo administrator did not think it was important for my students to learn about their own government and the department head didn't either. Teaching parallel histories, as the author points out, is necessary to overcome racism and bigotry and to build community. Next week, I'll be visiting family in Navajo, NM and friends in Fort Defiance. It will be good to be back on the Navajo Nation.

Amy said...

Here is the entire letter to Horace Greeley. Please note the last sentence.

Executive Mansion,
Washington, August 22, 1862.

Hon. Horace Greeley:
Dear Sir.

I have just read yours of the 19th. addressed to myself through the New-York Tribune. If there be in it any statements, or assumptions of fact, which I may know to be erroneous, I do not, now and here, controvert them. If there be in it any inferences which I may believe to be falsely drawn, I do not now and here, argue against them. If there be perceptable in it an impatient and dictatorial tone, I waive it in deference to an old friend, whose heart I have always supposed to be right.

As to the policy I "seem to be pursuing" as you say, I have not meant to leave any one in doubt.

I would save the Union. I would save it the shortest way under the Constitution. The sooner the national authority can be restored; the nearer the Union will be "the Union as it was." If there be those who would not save the Union, unless they could at the same time save slavery, I do not agree with them. If there be those who would not save the Union unless they could at the same time destroy slavery, I do not agree with them. My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and is not either to save or to destroy slavery. If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone I would also do that. What I do about slavery, and the colored race, I do because I believe it helps to save the Union; and what I forbear, I forbear because I do not believe it would help to save the Union. I shall do less whenever I shall believe what I am doing hurts the cause, and I shall do more whenever I shall believe doing more will help the cause. I shall try to correct errors when shown to be errors; and I shall adopt new views so fast as they shall appear to be true views.

I have here stated my purpose according to my view of official duty; and I intend no modification of my oft-expressed personal wish that all men every where could be free.

Yours,
A. Lincoln.

I agree with much the author says, but throwing Lincoln under the bus is disingenuous at best.

Stellina Gp said...

Amy, check this out:

“I will say then that I am not, nor ever have been in favor of bringing about in anyway the social and political equality of the white and black races – that I am not nor ever have been in favor of making voters or jurors of negroes, nor of qualifying them to hold office, nor to intermarry with white people; and I will say in addition to this that there is a physical difference between the white and black races which I believe will forever forbid the two races living together on terms of social and political equality. And inasmuch as they cannot so live, while they do remain together there must be the position of superior and inferior, and I as much as any other man am in favor of having the superior position assigned to the white race. I say upon this occasion I do not perceive that because the white man is to have the superior position the negro should be denied everything.”

by:Abraham Lincoln
(1809-1865) 16th US President

Source:
Fourth Debate with Stephen A. Douglas at Charleston, Illinois, September 18, 1858
(The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln edited by Roy P. Basler, Volume III, pp. 145-146.)