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The Second End of American Democracy

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FILE–Alabama Gov. George C. Wallace is shown in this Oct. 19, 1964 file photo speaking in Glen Burnie, Md. at a rally supporting then Republican presidential candidate Sen. Barry Goldwater. Wallace, the one-time firebrand segregationist who was paralyzed by a would-be assassin s bullet as he campaigned for the presidency in 1972, died Sunday, Sept. 13, 1998. He was 79. (AP Photo/file)

This piece on how whites, especially those without college educations, are willing and happy to end American democracy to protect white supremacy has gotten a lot of attention.

That’s good, but it misses the bigger point.

This is not the first time American whites have ended up democracy in order to protect white supremacy. The only time this nation really had anything approaching what today most liberals would accept as a functioning democracy was the years of Congressional Reconstruction when Black rights were enforced. And whites overwhelmingly rejected that by the mid 1870s. A century of a non-democratic nation resulted.

What is happening now with Trump and his many supporters is the revival of Jim Crow politics. The South did not have anything approaching a functioning democracy between 1877 and 1965. That’s 88 years for those of you not too inclined to the math. And really, we should push that back closer to 1873. In that time, nearly a century, nothing approaching democracy existed in the South. In other parts of the nation, it depended, but quite often there was not anything really approaching democracy either, not with the tribes being denied citizenship rights, other forms of Jim Crow that existed in the North, paramilitary movements to destroy the rights of dissenters that operated without consequence, anti-Asian laws and violence, etc., etc.

At times, whites were like, wait a minute, is this is a bad thing? So you saw the Knights of Labor and the Populists at least sort of try to think about having Black members, but it didn’t work out that well for either. You saw New Dealers try to thread the needle of bringing northern Black Americans into a democratic state without over-alienating either the white South or the increasingly white ethnics who had already figured out that the way forward in America was to hate Black people. But really, the vast majority of this nation’s history has seen nothing like what we like to think of as American democracy. And even when those poorer whites not actually benefiting in any real way from this system began to get uncomfortable, it was easy enough to use the levers of power to destroy their movements, such as fixing elections in the South where the Populists had gained enough momentum to threaten the power structure.

Today, whites around the nation are doing the same thing as their predecessors did. We tried a limited form of multiracial democracy and whites have freaked out about it. In today’s version of this, there are other threats to go on top of the Black guy being president–gay rights, feminism, your outrage of the day on Fox, whatever. Thus, the more explicitly fascist movement that seeks to mold a popular movement against perceived threats to the nation. But those perceived threats start with Black Americans. And this is far from the first time whites have acted this way.

In fact, the rise of white supremacist fascism in the twenty-first century is as American as apple pie or lynching.

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