A cultural war rages in America.
A white America, increasingly concerned about its eventual minority status, is struggling with the past of a nation substantially built on the backs of slaves, brought here, degraded, on ships’ sweltering sub-decks.
The first 20 slaves arrived in British America in 1619, according to Jill Lepore, author of a new history of the United States. The sorry institution exploded after the invention, in 1793, of the cotton gin, making the manufacture of cottons and linens extremely popular and requiring an exponential increase in slavery in all of the 13 colonies.
The number of slave states expanded as the American union spread over the continent. The doctrine of Manifest Destiny, allowed for theft of the lands of native Americans, Mexicans and of Hispanics in the American West. It’s frightening that Hitler conceived the idea of lebensraum from the American model, writing about it in Mein Kampf.
The consequences led to the Civil War, being, as most wars, driven by economic forces used to further justify preserving a “way of life, and individual liberty” — of white men.
Now, the chickens have come home to roost. The whiteness of “Leave it to Beaver” and “Father Knows Best” is reluctantly surrendering to the political realities of a woke generation. The dispossessed, the robbed and the abused portion of the American population are demanding reparations for the back-breaking servitude and social discrimination they endured through much of the history of the republic, while also creating much of its wealth and infrastructure.
Therefore, there is currency to the argument that America owes a monetary debt to the descendants of slaves.
The current white nationalist backlash is no different than that of the traitorous Jefferson Davis, Robert E. Lee and Nathan Bedford Forrest, founder of the Ku Klux Klan. They defended the Southern aristocracy perpetuating itself on the treasure created by black slaves, continuing unabated through an aborted Reconstruction fulminated by the impeached, but not convicted, racist Andrew Johnson. There was, in addition, the resegregation of the South and the military by the former president of Princeton University and of the United States, who believed that black men were inferior, the heroic Woodrow Wilson. He envisioned a peaceful world order and campaigned for a League of Nations, gaining a Nobel Peace Prize for his failed effort.
Racist men such as the current president and his base of white supremacists will not succeed in suppressing demands for economic equality, immigration justice, and more American diversity. Finally, after centuries of struggle, the world of white dominance of our country is being dragged, kicking and screaming, into a more diverse American 21st century.
Despite the last gasps of an anachronistic, aberrational president, disenfranchised minorities are defining their own future. Republican gerrymandering and voter suppression in the heartland are being challenged not only by a new generation of Americans, but also by many whites who understand the economic disparities created by racial prejudice and economic deprivation and an electoral system engineered to perpetuate the status quo of rural overrepresentation.
We are a national entity, a people, not geographical state boundaries alone. Although our economic and federal systems ensure more freedom, they also provoke economic disparities, and even tribalism, the ultimate enemies of a free republic.
The Electoral College is the single most undemocratic institution in the federal system, allowing states such as North Dakota two senators for 500,000 people and California with its 39 million the same number in the Senate. It must go the way of the proverbial horse and buggy. It was a successful compromise among disparate states not yet a country to ratify a new Constitution. Now it must be eliminated.
The middle class is beginning to realize that it is not scapegoated immigrants and minorities causing job loss, it is unparalleled technological change creating the disorder.
Trump’s America is trembling beneath his feet, despite Twitter rages, petulant attacks on adversaries and the chaos of an incompetent administration.
The technological forces pushing major international corporations and the uber-wealthy to new, gilded-age disparities between them and the middle class are self-evident as a threat to our republic. Equally, the thinly veiled disguise of whites being abused by the descendants of slaves or immigrants is no less a hoax than P.T. Barnum’s appeal in the carnival midway of a freak show.
David Wieder is an attorney based in Miami Beach.