Looking Beneath the Surface
By Dr Selwyn R. Cudjoe
January 12, 2021
Viewers around the world were struck by the Trump-inspired mob that stormed the US Capitol on Wednesday. The Boston Globe editorialized: "'When did you form a monster so hideous that even you turned from me in disgust?' That's what the reviled monster asks Dr. Victor Frankenstein in Mary Shelley's classic novel, but it's also what the angry mob of thousands who stormed the US Capitol in an insurrection on Wednesday could well ask soon-to-be-former Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell and other congressional Republicans who fled the House chamber" (January 7).
The US has never dealt fully with the monsters of race and racism that is buried deep within its entrails. The white insurrectionists who invaded the Capitol feared that their positional superiority would be undermined and they would no longer control a republic they had dominated since the republic began.
Trump is the embodiment of white racism. In 1973 Donald and his father Frederick were sued by the Justice Department for refusing to rent their New York apartments to Black people. In 1989 Trump placed advertisements in four New York newspapers calling for the state to adopt the death penalty against five Black and Latino youths who were wrongly accused of raping a white jogger in New York's Central Park.
Therefore, many white people were happy when he announced his candidacy in 2015. His slogan, "Make America Great Again," seemed to be a disguised appeal to "Make America White Again." In 2016 he boasted that he could shoot someone in the middle of Fifth Avenue and not lose any voters. His first presidential act was to ban Muslims from coming to the US.
Trump's racist and xenophobic tendencies explain why so many white people saw him as God. Just over 74 million Americans voted for him in 2020 because he spoke to something deep within them. He was the last dying gasp of a white supremacist's dream.
When Trump lost the election, 140 GOP members of Congress and at least 4 of the 100 senators supported his claim that the election was rigged. By their actions, they played a big part in propping up this unsustainable racist position. They didn't dare call out his racism until it was too late.
This led the Boston Globe to opine: "It's the coddling of Trump himself by the Republicans, dating back more than four years that truly created this monster. They looked the other way as Trump courted white supremacists and encouraged vigilante violence in the streets, even as he threatened to send in the military to quell peaceful protests."
When the peaceful protesters of Black Lives Matter gathered at Lafayette Square in Washington D.C., law enforcement officers used tear gas to disperse them to make a path for President Trump to hold up a Bible in front of St. John's Episcopal Church. Before visiting the church, he had urged US governors to use the National Guard "to dominate the streets."
On Wednesday before the US Congress met to count the presidential votes, he urged his followers to march to the Capitol to show their strength. He promised to join them there even though he felt more comfortable viewing the action from the comfort of the White House. His incitement to the rioters led to the monstrous spectacle that was seen across the globe.
Why was the Capitol guarded so poorly?
In the US Black people are seen as bestial whereas white people are depicted as saintly which explain why the latter could walk into the Capitol, ransack the Speaker's Office, create mayhem, and walk out of the building untouched. They were white and, within the scope of the republic, they possessed certain privileges which no one could threaten.
Michele Obama, an astute observer of American racial relations, reflected as she watched "gang-organized" white people invade the Capitol. "They set up gallows. They proudly waived the traitorous flag of the Confederacy through the halls. They desecrated the center of American government. And once authorities finally gained control of the situation, these rioters and gang members were led out of the building not in handcuffs, but free to carry on with their days."
She asks: "What if these rioters had looked like the folks who go to the Ebenezer Baptist Church [black] every Sunday? What would have been different?"
Then she compares: "This summer's Black Lives Matter protests were an overwhelmingly peaceful movement….And yet, in city after city, day after day, we saw peaceful protesters met with brute force. We saw cracked skulls and mass arrests, law enforcement pepper spraying its way through peaceful demonstrators for a presidential photo op" ("On the Insurrection," January 7).
That is the story of America: one law for whites, another for Blacks. This is how it has always been. Trump wished to keep things that way but a new generation has begun to see things differently as the victories of Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock in Georgia demonstrated on the same day that the insurrection was taking place in Washington.
Winston Dookeran has noted: "It is tragic the United States, which is seen as the country where freedom flourishes, would have seen an episode of that nature taking place….We in the Caribbean should be proud that we have always maintained the fundamental values and principles of democratic governance" (Express, January 8).
I wouldn't celebrate so quickly if I were Dookeran. Democracy, as he says, is a fragile thing. We, in Trinidad and Tobago, should examine our society to see how well we are attending to race and racism, the basic fault lines in our democracy.
My mother used to say: "When yo' neighbor house is on fire, wet yours." We would do well to heed this advice.
Prof Cudjoe's e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org. He can be reached @ProfessorCudjoe.
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The Slave Master of Trinidad by Dr. Selwyn R. Cudjoe