The American Divide and the Return to “Normalcy!”
Richard J. Garfunkel
In the simplest terms, America is divided culturally, politically and racially. Throughout our history America has been divided, one way or another, between North and South, rich and poor, White and Black, urban and rural, and the educated and the uneducated. As one breaks down these divisions, one could easily understand that there were always divisions between the ruling, majority Protestants and others (Catholics, Jews, etc.). Up until this past election, often the majority of the wealthiest white Protestants (today, mostly Evangelicals, Baptists and even some allied upper-class Catholics and Jews) used wedge issues, which they hardly believed or even supported, to mobilize the poor white Protestants and others to vote for right-wing, anti-government (Tea Party) candidates. There is even a dramatic shift in religious affiliation in America.
The Pew Research Center has determined that in 2014, Protestants, of all denominations, made up only 46.5% of the population and of that figure 31% are non-white. As with Catholics, not only has their percentage declined to 20.3% of the population, but 41% of all Catholics are non-white. America’s population as a Christian nation has dropped from 78.4% in 2007 to just over 70% in 2014.
The Christian share of the U.S. population is declining, while the number of U.S. adults who do not identify with any organized religion is growing, according to an extensive new survey by the Pew Research Center. Moreover, these changes are taking place across the religious landscape, affecting all regions of the country and many demographic groups. While the drop in Christian affiliation is particularly pronounced among young adults, it is occurring among Americans of all ages. The same trends are seen among whites, blacks and Latinos; among both college graduates and adults with only a high school education; and among women as well as men
With this in mind, we are still nominating white Protestants for the presidency and many of our federal offices, (Tim Kaine is Catholic), and the Republican Party and Donald Trump certainly exploited religious and racial themes in this past election.
These issues were often Choice, separation of church and state, race, guns, education, affirmative action, housing, women’s rights, stem cells and Gay rights. In electing these right-wing Members of Congress, Governors and legislators, they achieved what they really always wanted: the continuance of economic hegemony. These other issues hardly affected them in the first place. If they needed an abortion or stem cell therapy or even drugs of choice, they could easily pay for that need.
In our history, the Chinese and Japanese Exclusion Acts of 1882 and 1907 reflected distinct divisions and legislative mistrust of Asians by Eurocentric, American Christians. Certainly that racial divide was seen in the aftermath of the attack on Pearl Harbor, and the security frenzy in California and the West Coast. Justified, or not, the Japanese Internment was certainly a consequence of the age–old fear of the “Yellow Peril!”
There were always tensions in the Southwest between Mexican (Latinos) and Anglos (Whites), and when there was a large Puerto Rican immigration to the United States in the post WWII period, there was cultural and racial fear and resentment in NYC (“West Side Story”). There were problems over race regarding refugees from Cuba, Haiti and with re-settled boat people from Cambodia, along with large influxes of Filipinos, Koreans and Vietnamese in the wake of our Asian wars. Racial animosity wasn’t unique to the South, and there were race riots in the North, especially over a swimming incident on a Lake Michigan Beach in 1919 which led to a frenzy of violence that injured hundreds and killed 38. Even during WWII, in Detroit, huge White protests ensued over the promotion of Black workers in a defense plant. Earlier, problems between Blacks and Whites began on Belle Isle, a large Detroit recreation area, which caused a riot where hundreds were injured. Much of this tension began with the Sojourner Truth Federal Housing Project. Racial protests began over Black defense workers being moved into a housing project near a white, Polish-American area of Detroit. Later, evidence connected this incendiary situation to a Nazi plot to foment racial tensions in the United States during WWII. Nazi propagandists had a field day in Germany exploiting the tension and violence emanating from these race riots. Japanese propaganda also exploited racial animosities by telling non-white Americas to resist in enlisting or working for the defense effort. There were also riots in Los Angeles (the Zoot Suit violence), Mobile, Alabama and Beaumont, Texas.
Obviously race has evoked a sharp divide in America. There were 1,111 lynchings in America between 1890 and 1899, and there were 1,790 more between 1900 and 1949. One can just imagine how many Blacks were murdered in the South from the earliest beginnings of slavery until 1890. Let us not forget the 1863, “Draft Riots” in NYC, which, according to Princeton historian, James McPherson, 120 people were killed, uncounted multiples of people were injured, and hundreds of Blacks were forced to flee the city. The total damage, in contemporary dollars was estimated to be over $95 million. Many of these people, killed and injured, were Blacks and eleven were even lynched. The book, “The Gangs of New York,” written in 1928 by Herbert Asbury (made into a movie in 2002) claimed over 2000 were killed and 8000 were injured. But, these figures are unverified.
Aside from this ugly history, racial problems continued up into the 1960’s with riots in Watts, Los Angeles, Newark, NJ, Liberty City, Miami, Fl, and in Harlem and Bedford-Stuyvesant in NYC. The amount of local incidents is almost unable to be calculated. Other cultural divides even involved popular music and Black-oriented Jazz. Even in 1939, the renowned Black soprano, Marian Anderson, was banned from singing, in front of an integrated audience, at Constitution Hall, by its owners, the Daughters of the American Revolution, a well-known, conservative group of “blue bloods,” who believed that they owned America, because their ancestors arrived either on the Mayflower or were descendants of American revolutionaries. Eventually, she did sing on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in front of 75,000 and heard on the radio by millions of Americans. This cultural divide spilled into the 1950’s when rock and roll music started to incorporate Southern Black-styled music, and there were protests over people like Elvis Presley and his clones. Even some radio disc jockeys decided to destroy rock and roll 45’s as a protest against this type of “Negro” music permeating into the culture of American youth. These divisions reached into the heart of American’s divide over sexual morality, which included sex education in the schools, birth control information, its dissemination and eventually the sale of condoms and the use of the Pill. This nonsense went on into the middle 1960’s when I witnessed the arrest of Bill Baird, in Boston University’s Hayden Hall, over his dissemination of condoms.
Today, there are deep divides over Gay Rights, Women’s Rights, Black domination of football and basketball (college and professional), Latino and Asian influence in professional baseball, and minorities in the arts, on television, in the theater, and for sure in music.
The mantra of “Taking America Back,” was a not so veiled reference to the return of America to the domination of White Protestants. Certainly the backing of the KKK and other White Supremacist groups, including White Nationalists and Nazis, reflected this xenophobic view on immigration, people of color, (Asians, Africans, Arabs), and religious bigotry towards others (Jews, Catholics, Muslims, Hindus, and the unaffiliated, or non-believers.)
Below is a contemporary list of the “Take America Back” theory:
1. Exercise fidelity to the Constitution, Declaration of Independence, and founding ideals.
2. Promote and achieve a return to American self-belief as a force of nature. As any leader knows: you can’t expect others to believe in you if you don’t believe in yourself.
3. Re-engage with cultural institutions. It is time to compete for control of the cultural institutions that for the past four decades have been the forums and seedbeds of the Left. From Hollywood to popular music to teaching to journalism. The days of the cultural elites playing unopposed … they’re numbered.
4. Put an end to the culture of complaint and entitlement. We need to put the professional offense-takers out of business. They’re designed to intimidate us, to remove our confidence, to make us afraid to even look at someone the wrong way, to make all our visceral convictions suspect. The days of promoting grievance and envy … they’re over.
5. Stand up to bullies. America cannot allow itself to continue to be bullied by the anti-bullying crusade. It’s time to punch the bully’s nose.
6. Embrace rugged individualism. Rugged individualism is not an exercise in political nostalgia – it is a genuine solution for the myriad problems facing the United States in the 21st century. American national character must be understood in light of what it is: a self-made society. The world needs America to be a country of self-reliant warriors, not pussycats.
Of course, what was not articulated in this “Take America Back” manifesto was the following: a roll back in Choice, birth control, Women’s Rights, Obamacare (the ACA) or affordable healthcare options for all, freedom of expression (note the comment on culture: Hollywood, music, journalism). Of course, this revisionist group seems to believe that the Constitution only speaks for them. In other words, let us rollback all the judicial decisions that they disagree with which supported Affirmative Action, integration of the schools, the military, the work force, housing, and America, worker’s rights, Social Security, Choice, Title 9, the rights of the disabled, and all the sexual harassment decisions.
Sinclair Lewis wrote in 1935, his novel, “It Can’t Happen Here,” a satirical novel about the electoral takeover America. In summation- “In 1936 Senator Berzelius “Buzz” Windrip, a charismatic and power-hungry politician, wins the election as President of the United States on a Democrat platform, promising to restore the country to prosperity and greatness, and promising each citizen $5,000 a year. Portraying himself as a champion of traditional American values, Windrip easily defeats his opponents, Senator Walt Trowbridge and President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Though having previously foreshadowed some authoritarian measures in order to reorganize the United States government, Windrip rapidly outlaws dissent, incarcerates political enemies in concentration camps, and trains and arms a paramilitary force called the Minute Men, who terrorize citizens and enforce the policies of Windrip and his “corporatist” regime. One of his first acts as president is to eliminate the influence of the United States Congress, which draws the ire of many citizens as well as the legislators themselves. The Minute Men respond to protests against Windrip’s decisions harshly, attacking demonstrators with bayonets. In addition to these actions, Windrip’s administration, known as the “Corpo” government, curtails women’s and minority rights, and eliminates individual states by subdividing the country into administrative sectors. The government of these sectors is managed by “Corpo” authorities, usually prominent businessmen or Minute Men officers. Those accused of crimes against the government appear before kangaroo courts presided over by “military judges”. Despite these dictatorial (and “quasi-draconian”) measures, a majority of Americans approve of them, seeing them as necessary but painful steps to restore American power. Others, those less enthusiastic about the prospect of corporatism, reassure themselves that fascism cannot “happen here”, hence the novel’s title.”
So, this is what we all face. Do we turn to “strong man” rule or a return to states ‘right’s bigotry? Do we go back in time when Jim Crow ruled? Do we go back to where women were expected to be barefoot and pregnant? Do we go back to when women were restricted to certain, specified, areas of employment? Do we go back to segregated schools and housing? Do we go back to all-white civil service unions or quotas on who and what races can play on college and professional teams? Do we want to roll back Title 9 which gives women the same rights to participate in sports as men? The choice is out there. This election wound up being about “Take Back America!” The history of the 20th Century reflects the disastrous consequences of super nationalism and institutional racism. We saw it all happen before with the failed political philosophy of “Divide and Conquer,” “Social Darwinism”-the survival of the fittest, and “The ends justify the means.” We fought and won World War II over these issues, and let us not surrender to them in the 21st Century.
Therefore, any sign of weakness in our resolve, will be met with strength on their side. We must continue to organize and to educate. We must stand tall with regards to all our critical advances in social and economic justice since the New Deal. We must not allow the “Take Back America” cadres to dominate the American conversation or narrative. We must continual to tell our side of the story, which has been pro-worker, pro-education, pro-equal rights and opportunity, pro-women, and pro-social advancement. We lost the election because too few really understood the “real” issues. Therefore, it is incumbent on ourselves not to let this happen again.