For every American who chanted “send her back” at last week’s Trump rally in Greenville, North Carolina, there are millions who were repulsed, saddened or both.
Count me among the latter group.
Various theories are floating around about why Trump supporters started those vile chants. Most suggest chanters were simply trying to show support for the president, not urging deportation of an American citizen serving as an elected member of the U.S. House of Representatives. Perhaps the chanters have never heard of simply clapping or cheering, or perhaps they do not understand our Constitution.
Video footage does not show Trump chanting, but he does stand quietly by while the audience chants behind him. No video shows him asking for the chants to stop. Various news outlets report some Republican officials, as well as Trump’s wife and daughter, have urged him to tone down the rhetoric, so we shall see how that goes.
The chanting was instructive, however. It reveals what his re-election campaign will be like for the next year-and-a-half. It will repeat his 2016 maiden voyage — filled with racist language, hateful rants against people he perceives as the “other,” impulsive and hurtful remarks. It will be aimed again at appealing to working-class whites, his core constituency, and designed to whip them into a voting frenzy.
The handwriting is on the wall for Trump and his party. They are not attracting women, minority or younger voters, so the idea is to turn out every Trump supporter they can corral and suppress the votes of those voters not attracted to Trump or not motivated enough to go vote against him.
Trump and his campaign strategists may be right. Racist and hateful language designed to bring his voters out may well work as it did in 2016. It is also true that every election is different — no one election can ever be duplicated, as thousands of incumbents tossed out of office every year can attest. Our American landscape is littered with losing candidates who were convinced the formula that elected them the first time would work every time.
What happened in Greenville says a great deal about Donald Trump and how he perceives our nation, but it also says a great deal about the rest of us. North Carolina has long prided herself as being different from other Southern states — more caring about public education, more nurturing of business ventures, more welcoming of social diversity. Since the chants, many among us have comforted themselves by saying things like “this is not who we are” and “we are better than this.”
But, in fact, this is who some of us are. The Charlotte Observer editorial board put it like this. “… it is, of course, part of who we always have been in America. And in North Carolina. It’s who we were in Wilmington in 1898. … It’s who we were when we redlined blacks out of white neighborhoods decades ago. It’s who we were on a July night in Greenville, and it could be what’s coming to Charlotte next summer.”
At some point, Trump will no longer be president. It may be by 2021, or it may be in 2025 after a second term. Whenever he fades into history, Americans will have to come to terms with not only his sometimes shameful behavior but our own. Some of us have kept silent when we knew we should speak up. Some of us may have chanted. Some of us may have taken more overt actions.
All of us should remember the words attributed to philosopher Edmund Burke and made famous by John F. Kennedy. “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.”
From top to bottom: Rep. Ilhan Omar, President Donald Trump.