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The guardrails of American democracy can't contain Donald Trump
Sports as a career is something few people ever achieve. The majority of people in the sporting world don’t earn the large wages of its biggest stars. In the USA, it’s important to encourage people to enter sports as a career. In this essay, I will investigate why the education system should do more to …
On February 17, 1919, the 369th Infantry Regiment famously marched up Fifth Avenue and into Harlem before some 250,000 onlookers. A spirit of determination, inspired by the war, surged throughout black America. Du Bois voiced such sentiment in the May 1919 Crisis editorial "Returning Soldiers," declaring, "We return. We return from fighting. We return fighting. Make way for Democracy! We saved it in France, and by the Great Jehovah, we will save it in the United States of America, or know the reason why."
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These words immediately resonated with many African Americans, who viewed the war as an opportunity to bring about true democracy in the United States. It would be insincere, many black people argued, for the United States to fight for democracy in Europe while African Americans remained second-class citizens. "If America truly understands the functions of democracy and justice, she must know that she must begin to promote democracy and justice at home first of all," Arthur Shaw of New York proclaimed. The black press used Wilson's pronouncement to frame the war as a struggle for African American civil rights. "Let us have a real democracy for the United States and then we can advise a house cleaning over on the other side of the water," the Baltimore Afro-American asserted. For African Americans, the war became a crucial test of America's commitment to the ideal of democracy and the rights of citizenship for all people, regardless of race.
The commentators, in their attempt to normalize this tragedy, will also find ways to discount the bumbling and destructive behavior of , the malign interference of Russian intelligence, the free pass—the hours of uninterrupted, unmediated coverage of his rallies—provided to Trump by cable television, particularly in the early months of his campaign. We will be asked to count on the stability of American institutions, the tendency of even the most radical politicians to rein themselves in when admitted to office. Liberals will be admonished as smug, disconnected from suffering, as if so many Democratic voters were unacquainted with poverty, struggle, and misfortune. There is no reason to believe this palaver. There is no reason to believe that Trump and his band of associates—Chris Christie, Rudolph Giuliani, Mike Pence, and, yes, Paul Ryan—are in any mood to govern as Republicans within the traditional boundaries of decency. Trump was not elected on a platform of decency, fairness, moderation, compromise, and the rule of law; he was elected, in the main, on a platform of resentment. Fascism is not our future—it cannot be; we cannot allow it to be so—but this is surely the way fascism can begin.
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The rigors of combat and labor challenged black soldiers' physical and emotional stamina. Nevertheless, service in France constituted a remarkable experience. African-American troops often interacted with North and West African soldiers serving in the French military, expanding their sense of diasporic belonging. Black soldiers received a warm welcome from French civilians, who, unlike white troops of the American army, exhibited little overt racism. "They treated us with respect," one soldier recalled, "not like the white American soldiers." These interactions further contributed to the image of France as a nation free of racial discrimination and uniquely committed to universal democratic rights. Travel and service in France expanded the boundaries of how black soldiers viewed the world and their place in it. Lemuel Moody, a soldier who served overseas, reflected that his experience was "altogether improving and broadening.…[It] changed my out look on life. I see things now with different eyes."
The war and the pressures of patriotism tested the effectiveness of black political leaders. A number of prominent African Americans worked closely with the government both to rally black support for the war and to address issues such as lynching, segregation, and discrimination against soldiers that exacerbated black dissent. Emmett Scott, the former secretary to Booker T. Washington at the Tuskegee Institute, served as a special assistant to the Secretary of War in charge of matters related to African Americans and the war. His efforts yielded limited results. He did, however, organize a major conference of black newspaper editors and political leaders in Washington, D.C., in June 1918, which produced a statement by the attendees professing their loyalty to the government. The following month, W. E. B. Du Bois wrote the editorial "Close Ranks," in which he stated, "Let us, while this war lasts, forget our special grievances and close our ranks shoulder to shoulder with our own white fellow citizens and the allied nations that are fighting for democracy."
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Most African Americans nevertheless saw the war as an opportunity to demonstrate their patriotism and their place as equal citizens in the nation. Black political leaders believed that if the race sacrificed for the war effort, the government would have no choice but to reward them with greater civil rights. "Colored folks should be patriotic," the Richmond Planet insisted. "Do not let us be chargeable with being disloyal to the flag." Black men and women for the most part approached the war with a sense of civic duty. Over one million African Americans responded to their draft calls, and roughly 370,000 black men were inducted into the army. Charles Brodnax, a farmer from Virginia recalled, "I felt that I belonged to the Government of my country and should answer to the call and obey the orders in defense of Democracy."
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By early 1917, the clouds of war had reached American shores. President Woodrow Wilson initially pledged to keep the country out of the conflict, arguing that the United States had nothing to gain from involving itself in the European chaos. Wilson won reelection in 1916 on a campaign of neutrality, but a series of provocations gradually changed his position. Germany resumed unrestricted submarine warfare in the Atlantic Ocean and sank several vessels carrying American passengers. On March 1, 1917, the Zimmermann Telegram, in which Germany encouraged Mexico to enter the war on the side of the Central Powers, became public and enflamed pro-war sentiments. Wilson felt compelled to act, and on April 2, 1917, he stood before Congress and issued a declaration of war against Germany. "The world must be made safe for democracy," he boldly stated, framing the war effort as a crusade to secure the rights of democracy and self-determination on a global scale.
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Racial violence tested blacks' patriotic resolve. On July 2, 1917, in East St. Louis, tensions between black and white workers sparked a bloody four-day riot that left upwards of 125 black residents dead and the nation shocked. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) responded by holding a Silent Protest Parade in New York City on July 28, 1917. Eight thousand marchers, the men dressed in black and the women and children in white, solemnly advanced down Fifth Avenue to the sound of muffled drums and holding signs such as the one that read, Mr. President, why not make America safe for democracy.
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My argument here is not that Republican believers in American exceptionalism all think like Donald Trump (certainly Ponnuru and Lowry, both NeverTrumpers last time I checked, do not). It’s that Democrats cannot just intone “American exceptionalism” and expect Republicans to swoon. It is already an open question as to whether Team Clinton has exerted too much energy trying to attract elite Republican defectors to her banner, particularly in the that it is earning her rank-and-file Republican votes. And at some point progressives who hear this sort of talk and fear that Hillary Clinton really is more militaristic than Barack Obama may have a legitimate point.
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