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Enough is enough

Oscar H. Blayton

In 2015, then-Minnesota Democratic Congressman Keith Ellison predicted on ABC’s Sunday program “This Week” that if Republicans were not careful, Donald Trump would become that party’s presidential nominee.

This bit of political realism was met with derisive laughter by host George Stephanopoulos and the other guests. And herein lay the first major clue of the downward spiral of American democracy that would follow.

The laughter of everyone on that panel, except Ellison, came from white people. Like most white Americans, they refused to recognize the degree of racial hatred that has simmered below the surface of our society for decades.

White people are not required to recognize the dangerous rot that is white supremacy and systemic racism in America. But for people of color, being able to recognize and avoid or deflect these phenomena is a matter of survival, and often, literally a matter of life and death.

Ellison, like many people of color, saw the appeal Trump held for millions of white Americans. Trump, an unabashed racist, constantly and loudly blew dog whistles of bigotry. His name became the rallying cry for white grievance politics.

To a certain segment of white America emerging from the confusing eight years of a Black presidency, Trump was the medicine they needed to relieve them of their perceived assault on whiteness. They believed in their hearts that if all else failed them, at least they were white — and that gave them worth.

With white discontent stirring, Trump stepped forward, claiming that Obama was not born in the United States and making highly charged attacks against the Black president and his administration. In Trump, white supremacists found someone who would right their whites-only ship of state so that they could continue their dominance.

Trump was so strident in his racism and misogyny, and presented his unethical and antisocial behavior so brazenly, that many people came to believe he was an aberration. But the truth is, Trump is a product of today’s hate-filled America, not the creator of it.

The people who stormed the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 were wound up and emboldened by Trump, but the sentiments that led them to attack the seat of democracy had been stewing for years. And now, whipped up into a lather and tasting blood, this segment of American society intends to press its attack on everything they consider to be “un-American:” Critical Race Theory, abortion, immigrants, liberals and their institutions, people of color and their cultures, and anything contrary to the mid-20th century notion of a white, male-dominated America.

As these hate-fueled Trump supporters run amuck, political leaders are either enabling them for the sake of their own personal ideology or a hoped-for political benefit, or standing aside, clucking their tongues and assuring a horrified public that things are not as bad as they seem and will work out in the end.

Facing the dire consequences of inaction, it is the time for the people to act. We must tell self-serving and timid politicians that enough is enough. If the majority of people in this country believe in justice and the right of all people to live with dignity, then it is time we stand and be counted. The level of vitriol is rising in this country, and positive action is required to turn this tide.

The federal government, under the current Biden Administration, acknowledges that white supremacists and the militia groups they spawn are the top national security threats, but these extremists are finding friends in the state and federal legislatures, executive mansions and courts. The arc of the moral universe may bend toward justice, but the current trend of American politics is bending towards enabling racists, misogynists and xenophobes while strangling the rights of anyone who does not fit easily into their America narrative.

It is time to get serious. We must get rid of weak, ineffective politicians instead of returning them to offices where they have done so little for so long. It has been said that prayer without action is no prayer at all. And voting without action is no vote at all. If we do not take action to create the society we want, we must blame ourselves.

It is impossible for us to simply be witnesses. We must be activists, or we will be victims. We can no longer wait to decide which we will be.

Oscar H. Blayton is a former Marine Corps combat pilot and human rights activist who practices law in Virginia.