LBJ was right, but wrong.
When President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, he said of the Democratic Party, “We have lost the South for a generation.” However, President Johnson’s estimate of the damage done to his party in the eyes of white America was too optimistic. No Democratic candidate for president of the United States has won a majority of the white vote in the North or the South since 1964.
And here we are today. The Republican Party pledges allegiance to a charlatan and trickster, whose lies numbered in the tens of thousands during his presidency, rather than abide by the U.S. Constitution for fear of offending its political base of white supremacists.
Within the 74 million American voters who knowingly cast their ballots for a lying con artist, there is an underground volcano of white resentment superheated by the failure of many white Americans to actualize and achieve the American dream – a failure they blame on people of color. The lack of employment, inaccessible health care and an overall decline in the quality of life for working-class white people has been foremost among their grievances.
Even before the COVID-19 pandemic laid waste to the social safety nets throughout this country, the Trump administration’s mishandling of the needs of the poor and working class had rubbed many white Americans raw. And the only thing that sustained them was the red meat of racial hatred that Donald Trump fed them daily.
They ignored that the wall was not being built along the Mexican border, let alone that Mexico was not paying for it. They were too focused on applauding the caging of little brown children who were being torn from their families after crossing our southern border.
They ignored the absurdity of Trump’s baseless claims that North Korea would limit its nuclear arms program. They were too busy high-fiving each other over the fact that Trump had pulled us out of the Iran nuclear deal, heightening the possibility of an armed conflict.
They ignored the fact that America’s withdrawal from the Paris Climate Agreement had the potential to threaten life on earth. They were too busy pounding their chests over the Trump administration’s allowing an environmentally dangerous oil pipeline to be built over Indian lands.
A howling, rampaging mob of white supremacists descended upon the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 to thwart the democratic process of certifying a duly elected president because people of color had voted in great numbers. This insurrectionist mob was assembled and controlled by Donald Trump. And when the U.S. House of Representatives impeached Trump for this insurrection, 43 Republican senators refused to convict him for fear of the white rage that it would stoke. Now these same senators have the gall to call for “unity” among the American people.
The U.S. Constitution defines treason against the United States as “levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort.” Anyone who says that the mob that stormed the capitol was not an enemy of the United States is lying. Anyone who says that Donald Trump did not assemble and direct that mob is lying also. The mob was comprised of treasonous villains, assembled and led by a treasonous villain, all enemies of the United States.
The 43 senators who voted to acquit Donald Trump for what he did on Jan. 6 gave aid and comfort to enemies of the United States and are guilty of treason.
This call for unity sounds hollow. It is as offensive as the praise given to slaveholder Patrick Henry, who declared “Give me liberty or give me death” when the soil of America was already soaked with the blood of the people of the First Nations, and the backs of Patrick Henry’s own enslaved property were striped from the lash.
For centuries, politicians have feigned a love of unity. But many of the Northern dead left on the battlefields of Gettysburg and Shiloh bled for union, not unity. The states of our federation had to hold together if the nation was to fulfill its “God-ordained destiny,” and slavery stood in the way of that destiny. It was not for the love of Black folk that the North marched against the South. It was the hatred of the economic advantage that slavery provided the Southern states. The ill treatment of the U.S. Colored Troops by the federal government bears witness to this.
As it was a century and a half ago, so it is today: There is no love of Black folk among the many whites who harbor a rage born of a dissatisfaction with their quality of life and direct it at people of color.
While that underground volcano of white rage boils beneath our feet, Republicans loyal to Donald Trump want us to pretend Trump never happened, just like some Southerners pretend the Civil War was not fought over slavery. They are attempting to preach the gospel of peace and unity. But peace and unity cannot come at the price of the existence of people of color.
When LBJ signed the 1964 Civil Rights Act in the face of white rage, he did not do it for peace and unity. He did it because the world had come to condemn the United States for preaching peace and unity while African Americans were suffering horrifically violent injustices. America was shamed into signing the civil rights laws of the 1960s.
Today, many whites still rage on and continue to fight to deny our humanity. And it is incumbent upon us to identify those people, be they low-wage earners or members of the U.S. Senate. Then we must lay the blame for the harmful results of their wrongful actions at their feet. Whether they acted on their hateful and unjust rage, or were just complicit in inciting that rage, we must shame them in the eyes of the world.
Oscar H. Blayton is a former Marine Corps combat pilot and human rights activist who practices law in Virginia.