In 1989, a billionaire New York real estate mogul called for the execution of 15-year-old Yusef Salaam, three other young African American men, and one Latino. The Central Park Five, as they came to be known, were accused of a horrific rape they did not commit. After the case hit the national media, Trump called for the reinstatement of the death penalty in New York through a full-page ad in one of the city’s largest newspapers. This action was not uncharacteristic of a man who was sued by the Justice Department for discriminating against Blacks, claiming he wasn’t going to rent to “welfare recipients.” The story became front-page news around the country and was our official public introduction to the man who, decades later, would call for a ban on Muslims entering the United States, the expulsion of all undocumented migrants, and brand Mexicans as “rapists.”
The rise of Donald Trump, the Republican nominee for President of the United States is, in part, made possible by politics based on race and division. Following the election of the first African American president, White nationalists around the country devised a strategy to “take the country back” and infiltrate their movement through political means. While nationalists groups led by ex-Ku Klux Klan Grand Wizard David Duke and his godson, Derek Black (who many call the “heir” of the movement), may have no apparent direct ties to Trump, but they were working to make such a rise possible by pushing their ideology from the radical fringes to the far conservative right. They wanted the Republican Party to stake its claim as the “White party” because, to them, White nationalism would drive a political revolution, and would make possible the “great intellectual move to save White people.” Trump furthered the efforts of this group by publicly questioning the legitimacy of the nation’s first Black president through his poisonous, corrosive and false birther theory.
Years later, they have somewhat succeeded. White nationalism has fought its way into American politics at the largest scale. And Trump he won’t flatly deny his ties to White nationalists. And, much like his White nationalist supporters, he talks instead about the ravages of political correctness, affirmative action, and unregulated Latino immigration.
In a country that is becoming less White, Trump’s America is an ominous one for people of color and other groups who faced discrimination during an earlier era in our history. His campaign slogan, “make America great again” hits a very nostalgic button in the hearts of those it’s designed to target. And, coming from a man who rarely means what he says, we cannot take this slogan on face value. For the folks who want to see America made “great again,” Trump is a projection of their anger towards President Obama, a leader who, in their view, has been bad for this country. This group has a strong belief that Obama has deliberately weakened the country’s power around the world by being an apologist to Muslim extremists and allowing undocumented immigrants to enter and thrive, all while giving African Americans special treatment and oppressing White people.
To his supporters, Trump would fight to reclaim a country that is on the decline. But, to Trump, when was America truly great? When women weren’t allowed to own property? When African Americans were property? When the Ku Klux Klan was a powerful social and political force? When lynching African Americans was de facto legal?
There has been no better time to be a woman or a person of color in this country than now. If we truly desire for every American to live in a country that values them as citizens, one that truly upholds moral values, it is our responsibility to support the candidate that will continue the legacy of our progress.