If you’re going to read anything I write about the election this week, make it this piece for De Correspondent — on white supremacist mobs, political violence, and a crisis in US journalism:
It is a terrible feeling to sense a threat coming, and know that many are abetting it by promoting the man who propels it. It is worse when the threat reveals itself to be real, yet complacency remains, and you do not know whether this reaction is rooted in apathy or cowardice. Cowardice toward Trump has been epic: in the media, among the GOP, and even in organizations like the American Bar Association, who last week studied Trump’s use of lawsuits to silence opponents, then refused to publish the study out of fear he would sue them. While in recent months journalists have run critical coverage of Trump, most dismissed him as a joke or indulged him before and during the primaries, facilitating his rise. His fellow Republicans, even when they criticize him, still endorse him.
The same phenomenon is taking place all over the Western world, as demagogic white nationalists rise, elites falsely predict their loss or play down the ramifications of their win, and hate crimes explode once victory is achieved, as witnessed in post-Brexit UK. It was all predictable, but now there is no clear organized process to stop it. Instead, victimized populations wait for their hardship to be taken seriously, and wait, and wait. Meanwhile, in the confusion and inertia, white nationalists consolidate their power.
I do not know what kind of America I will wake up to November 9. But I know that the result of the election does not hinge on Election Day. What happens to the U.S. will be the cumulative effect of a campaign that has mainstreamed bigotry and is now mainstreaming – or at least severely playing down – white supremacist violence.
Trump never specified what era he was referring to when he said he would “Make America Great Again.” Many assumed it was the 1950s, when job growth for whites was high and civil rights were denied. But when I visit Lovejoy’s grave across the river, I am reminded of life in St. Louis in the 1830s, of the mob violence that preceded the Civil War, of the way Lovejoy tried to convince people that non-whites were human and white mobs were a dangerous problem, and how he anticipated his own death as a result of these toxic politics. His era was in which white men could attack non-whites with impunity, and those who defied them faced terrifying consequences. It would have been a great era to be Donald Trump.
The tyranny of the mob is enabled by those who refuse to recognize the threat, who rationalize the mob’s aims, or who – like the elites of the 1830s – avoid discussion of the racial enmity at its core. That same deep denial is occurring today, over 180 years later. We have a moral obligation to oppose it and document it, as others have in dangerous eras, in the hopes of negating threats to the most vulnerable.
As Lovejoy proclaimed, there is no excuse for deserting your post.