We are living though one of the most critical moments in American history. Not only are we likely facing a constitutional crisis, but we are facing a moral crisis. We have a president who has made racist comments, and he is challenging us.
When he called African nations shit holes, as well as Haiti and El Salvador, he triggered a crisis of conscience. This crisis it not unlike that faced after Bull Connor used dogs against peaceful protesters. it is also not unlike that faced when American citizens of Japanese origin were sent to internment camps.
As a nation we have both failed and passed those tests in the past. We failed after Pearl Harbor, and anywhere from 110,000 to 120,000 Americans went to those camps. To our embarrassment the most decorated combat unit in World War Two was made up of Japanese Americans. That was the 442nd Regimental Combat Team. The troops were drawn from these camps, and they went to war to fight for the United States while their families languished in camps.
We passed that test when Bull Connor used dogs in the south, and after people like Congressman John Lewis had his head cracked during the march to Selma. Events such as those horrified right thinking moral Americans, and in the end the Congress passed the Civil Rights Act, which was signed by Lyndon Johnson.
Yes, he knew he was going to lose the south for a generation. It has been much longer than that.
We are facing a moral test
We are facing the same kind of test. When the President of the United States, Donald J Trump reportedly called countries, and a whole continent “shit hole nations,” we are facing a moral clarity moment.
If we fail this test, much could be said about what once was the American creed. If we pass it, then we can claim to be the sons and daughters of those who during the civil rights era stood for the civil rights of African American and Mexican American citizens. (Less known is the Cesar Chavez led movement in the grape fields of California.)
Why does any of this matters? How bad can racism get? First, over the early part of the last century many African Americans were lynched in the South. Emmet Till died for looking at a white woman. That was not strange, nor the exception. Like Michael Brown fifty years later, his death sparked moral outrage and a movement. It was a moment that challenged the social order. It called people to take a moral stand
Racism can lead to genocide. We are seeing already the classification of people as less than due to national origins, or skin color. This is part of a process that can lead to the elimination of people.
When the president says that a group lives in huts, and another has AIDS that is what he is doing when he seems shocked to learn that not everybody in Welfare is black, that is what he is doing. Alarms should be going off right about now.
We are already seeing an increase in hate crimes. According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation Unified Crime Reporting data:
Of the 6,121 criminal incidents reported, 6,063 were single-bias incidents (there were also 58 multiple-bias incidents). Of the single-bias incidents:
* 57.5 percent were motivated by a race, ethnicity or ancestry bias;
* 21.0 percent were motivated by a religious bias;
* 17.7 percent were motivated by a sexual orientation bias;
* The remaining incidents were motivated by a gender identity, disability, or gender bias.
This leads to the next question. Why does the Department of Justice refuse to call white supremacy terrorism? They seem to meet the definition. Dylan Roof’s objective was to start a race war. Yet, he was charged with a hate crime, not terrorism. The term is defined as follows:
Terrorism is the unlawful use of violence and intimidation, especially against civilians, in the pursuit of political aims.
Most attacks by white supremacists against minorities have a goal. This is to create a white, separate, ethnic state. At times is to create an Apartheid system. These are political goals. Since this presidency started, we have not just seen an uptick in attacks, but open support of white supremacists. Both Richard Spencer and David Duke applaud the actions of the administration as fulfilling their goals
When Senator Lindsey Graham stood up to the president, he showed moral clarity. The same goes for Dick Durbin. When Jeff Flake called the president on his attacks on the free press he is also calling the rest of us to show that moral clarity.
It is moments like this that test us. Not just in what values we proclaim to follow, but in fact what is the moral makeup of our nation.