Thoughts on Donald Trump, George Wallace, Frederick Douglass, and the Meaning of the Fourth of July

“The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”– William Faulkner

Donald Trump has decided to make this yr’s July Fourth his own, full with a nationally televised handle in front of the Lincoln Memorial backed by a display of army pressure. As the Washington Publish stories, “plans by President Trump to reshape Washington’s Independence Day celebration now include an area in front of the Lincoln Memorial reserved for dignitaries, family and friends that will be accessible only through tickets distributed by the White House.. . The revamped festivities will include additional fireworks, military bands and flyovers by Air Force One, the Blue Angels and aircraft from all branches of the military.”The New York Occasions reviews that army tanks may even be on show, and that Trump has requested the chiefs of all branches of the U.S. army to be by his aspect as he speaks.

The Fourth of July is the birthday of American freedom, as Frederick Douglass put it in his now-celebrated 1852 “Fourth of July Oration,” entitled “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?” (the speech was truly delivered on July 5, at a gathering of the Rochester, N.Y. Women Antislavery Society).

Many previous Presidents have delivered speeches on the Fourth extolling nationwide unity and widespread citizenship. The day has also occasioned some of the strongest calls to activism in the nation’s history, of which Douglass’s 1852 Handle is unparalleled. In 1876, Susan B. Anthony delivered an uninvited “Declaration of the Rights of Women of the United States” at a public ceremony in Philadelphia; in 1901, Eugene V. Debs declared that “The Mission of Socialism is as Big as the World” at a socialist picnic in Chicago; and in 1965 Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his “The American Dream” speech at the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, Georgia.

It’s doubtful that Trump’s speech will convey these speeches to thoughts. The Publish’s Eugene Robinson put it nicely: “Trump plans to turn the Fourth of July into a political rally in honor of himself.”

Trump’s performance will certainly be “a stain on the Lincoln Memorial.” While final yr he spent the holiday golfing, tweeting and internet hosting a White Home picnic for army families, this yr’s spectacle is clearly designed, like all of his public occasions, to rally his base and energize his everlasting political campaign. If Trump’s boilerplate Nuremberg-type rallies are any instance, this yr’s extravaganza is more likely to echo a unique, extra notorious historic Fourth of July efficiency: George Wallace’s “The Civil Rights Movement fraud, sham and hoax.” Delivered outdoors of Atlanta, two days after President Lyndon Johnson has signed into regulation the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Wallace’s speech, the high point of his campaign for the Presidency, was a vicious assault on the Act, which Wallace described as “an act of tyranny. It is the assassin’s knife stuck in the back of liberty.With this assassin’s knife and a blackjack in the hand of the Federal force-cult, the left-wing liberals will try to force us back into bondage. Bondage to a tyranny more brutal than that imposed by the British monarchy . . . Today, this tyranny is imposed by the central government which claims the right to rule over our lives under sanction of the omnipotent black-robed despots who sit on the bench of the United States Supreme Court.”

Wallace’s speech did greater than condemn federal civil rights laws. It did so in the identify of a boldly neo-Confederate studying of the Declaration of Independence, intentionally omitting any reference to the concept that “all men are created equal”; treating the federal government as a “despot”; and framing his political campaign as a populist defense of resistance to tyranny: “We come here today in deference to the memory of those stalwart patriots who on July 4, 1776, pledged their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor to establish and defend the proposition that governments are created by the people, empowered by the people, derive their just powers from the consent of the people, and must forever remain subservient to the will of the people.”

It’s putting what number of methods the speech anticipates the Trump rhetorical playbook.

Wallace treats civil rights as a left-wing assault on freedom: “. . . It was left-wing radicals who led the fight in the Senate for the so-called civil rights bill now about to enslave our nation . . . . The liberal left-wingers have passed it. Now let them employ some pinknik social engineers in Washington, D.C., To figure out what to do with it.”

He engages in unabashed red-baiting:

It has reached the level the place one might not look to judicial selections to determine what the courtroom might do. Nevertheless, it’s potential to foretell with accuracy the nature of the opinions to be rendered. One might find the answer in the Communist Manifesto.

The Communists are devoted to the overthrow of our type of government. They’re dedicated to the destruction of the concept of personal property. They’re dedicated to the object of destroying faith as the basis of moral and moral values. The Communists are determined that each one natural assets shall be managed by the central authorities, that each one productive capability of the nation shall be beneath the control of the central government, that the political sovereignty of the individuals shall be destroyed as an incident to regulate of local faculties. It’s their goal to capture the minds of our youth with a view to indoctrinate them in what to assume and not the way to assume.

I don’t call the members of the United States Supreme Courtroom Communists. But I do say, and I submit in your judgment the reality that each single determination of the courtroom in the past ten years which associated in any method to each of these goals has been determined towards freedom and in favor of tyranny.

He blames the press for deceiving the American individuals, anticipating Trump’s “fake news” mantra:

. . . it might have been unimaginable for the American individuals to have been deceived by the sponsors of this invoice had there been a responsible american press to tell the individuals precisely what the invoice contained. If that they had had the integrity and the guts to inform the fact, this bill would never have been enacted.

Whoever heard of fact put to the worst in free and open encounter? We couldn’t get the fact to the American individuals.

You and I do know that that’s extraordinarily troublesome to do where our newspapers are owned by out-of-state pursuits. Newspapers which are run and operated by left-wing liberals, Communist sympathizers, and members of the People for Democratic Action and different Communist entrance organizations with high sounding names.

Nevertheless, we won’t be intimidated by the vultures of the liberal left-wing press. We won’t be deceived by their lies and distortions of fact. We won’t be swayed by their brutal assaults upon the character and fame of any trustworthy citizen who dares rise up and struggle for liberty.

And he presents himself as the savior of bizarre People beneath assault from boastful elites:

There’s but a spirit of resistance in this nation which won’t be oppressed. And it is awakening. And I am positive there’s an abundance of good sense in this nation which cannot be deceived. . . I intend to offer the American individuals a transparent selection. I welcome a battle between our philosophy and the liberal left-wing dogma which now threatens to engulf every man, lady, and youngster in the United States. I’m on this race because I consider the American individuals have been pushed round long enough and that they, such as you and I, are fed up with the persevering with development toward a socialist state which now subjects the individual to the dictates of an omnipotent central government.

Wallace’s rhetorical bid for the Presidency was unsuccessful. Shortly after delivering the speech he dropped out of the race for the Democratic nomination, his message ceded to Republican Barry Goldwater, who misplaced the basic election in a landslide to Johnson.

Yet in dropping, Goldwater laid the foundation of Republican ascendancy in the many years to comply with, pioneering a politics of resentment, centered on the rhetoric of white populism, that might then be taken up full bore by Richard Nixon, who embraced a “Southern Strategy” that reworked American electoral politics (On this I highly advocate Rick Perlstein’s 2008 Nixonland: The Rise of a President and the Fracturing of America). This strategy was boldly prophesied by Wallace in his 1964 speech:

I shall never forget last spring as I stood in the midst of an awesome throng of South Milwaukee supporters at one of the biggest political rallies I have ever witnessed. A fine-looking man grabbed my hand and stated: “Governor, I’ve never been south of South Milwaukee, but I am a Southerner!” In fact, he was saying he believed in the rules and philosophy of the southern individuals . . . Of you here at present and the individuals of my state of Alabama.

He was right.

Being a southerner is not geographic. It’s a philosophy and an angle.

One destined to be a national philosophy–embraced by tens of millions of People–which shall assume the mantle of management and steady a governmental construction in today of crises.

One can only marvel what the deliverer of this speech would have thought if someone would have advised him that his imaginative and prescient would attain its apotheosis over fifty years later, and that the bearer of his “Southern” philosophy can be an opportunistic, former-Democrat from New York City named Donald Trump?

Again in 2018 New York Occasions author Clyde Haberman drew the connection clearly in “George Wallace Tapped into Racial Fear. Decades Later, its Force Remains Potent”:

Separated by as much as half a century, the two men’s public lives run strikingly parallel. It’s as if they drank from the similar political cup: George C. Wallace, the Alabama governor who ached to develop into president, and Donald J. Trump, the developer and showman who made it to the prime. They are sure by their streaks of opportunism and by their campaigns tailored to resentful voters brimming with the conviction that society’s deck is stacked towards them. “What both share is the demagogue’s instinctive ability to tap into the fear and anger that regularly erupts in American politics,” Dan T. Carter, a historian and Wallace biographer, wrote in The New York Occasions throughout the 2016 presidential campaign. . .

The 2 men fired up crowds in comparable style. Each appealed to “forgotten” People, stoking worry and loathing of “the other” — blacks in Mr. Wallace’s case, immigrants in Mr. Trump’s (though he additionally has had race playing cards up his sleeve, as together with his embrace of “birtherism” to discredit President Barack Obama). The message from both was that a nefarious other, enabled by a bumbling authorities, was stealing work and wealth from upright People.

In the present day Trump will mark the birthday of American freedom by celebrating brute pressure, autocratic power, and mindless patriotism. Like Wallace earlier than him, he will current himself as the protector and savior of an “American people [who] have been pushed around long enough.” In contrast to Wallace, who spoke as a Presidential aspirant in Atlanta, Trump will converse as the incumbent President of the United States in search of a second term, and he’ll converse before the Lincoln Memorial, and to a nationally televised viewers.

Back in 1852, Frederick Douglass reminded his viewers that “The cause of liberty may be stabbed by the men who glory in the deeds of your fathers.”

I doubt that even Douglass, an escaped slave who experienced his share of brutal racism and cynical hypocrisy, might have fathomed a figure as contemptible, and as harmful, as the 45th President of the United States, who stabs the cause of liberty on a day by day basis before even getting out of bed.

And but Douglass understood the endless wrestle between power and justice. He also understood that whereas American tyrants and imposters may declare possession of the Fourth of July, it finally eludes their grasp:

The 4th of July is the first nice reality in your nation’s history — the very ring-bolt in the chain of your but undeveloped destiny. Delight and patriotism, not less than gratitude, prompt you to have fun and to hold it in perpetual remembrance. I have stated that the Declaration of Independence is the ring-bolt to the chain of your nation’s future; so, indeed, I regard it. The rules contained in that instrument are saving rules. Stand by these rules, be true to them on all occasions, everywhere, towards all foes, and at no matter value.

From the spherical prime of your ship of state, darkish and threatening clouds could also be seen. Heavy billows, like mountains in the distance, confide in the leeward large varieties of flinty rocks! That bolt drawn, that chain broken, and all is misplaced. Cling to today — cling to it, and to its rules, with the grasp of a storm-tossed mariner to a spar at midnight.

It’s onerous to think about Trump holding forth right now about liberty, standing earlier than the Lincoln Memorial while his government separates households and detains youngsters in veritable concentration camps, and to keep away from the feeling that it’s midnight in America.

The rules of democracy are saving rules. But they gained’t save us. Solely we will do this—by taking democracy critically.

Jeffrey Isaac is James H. Rudy Professor of Political Science at Indiana College, Bloomington. He’s the writer of #AgainstTrump: Notes from Yr One, now out there from Public Seminar Books/OR Books. You possibly can speak to him about this essay on Facebook.

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