Before you start reading, I don’t know. I’m just guessing. And I’m not going to start by defining fascism. Go look it up if you don’t think it’s happening.
If you’re reading this and you think I’m wrong, tell me. Argue with me. I would love to be wrong about this. But right now, we’ve got full-fledged white nationalists in the White House and I’ve seen more proof than I thought would be necessary for my fellow Americans to realize how dangerous fascism is.
I want to share some words from my personal heroes in American history. These are people whose actions I admire, who I look up to and find resonance with… the kind of people I always knew I should aspire to emulate if I ever found myself in similar circumstances.
These are those circumstances.
Martin Luther King, Jr. has been someone I admired intensely since I first heard him speak. Being a child raised in the American public school system was the perfect setting to understand how vital it is to provide equality of opportunity to people here. I was just a kid in a classroom, but learning about the Civil Rights Movement made me realize that a lot of other people fought and died to put their kids in American public schools.
Obviously that’s not the only thing the Civil Rights Movement was about, but it’s something that stuck with me as a kid, made me appreciate the opportunity to educate myself in a different way. And it made me realize that people like MLK were on one side of the fight, and people with hateful, racist ideas were on the other.
Part of America’s fundamental problem with race is that’s it’s like a childhood trauma we never recovered from or healed properly. Hundreds of years of slavery led to the Civil War, and the wounds have festered ever since. Lincoln’s assassination in 1865 put the pro-slavery Andrew Johnson in power, who turned what could have been a successful Reconstruction of post-slavery America into the Jim Crow era. (This led to the first impeachment of a US President in history, but Johnson was found “not guilty” when put on trial in the Senate by only one vote.) Laws enforcing racial segregation were enforced until the 1965 Civil Rights Act.
100 years. How different would America look if those 100 years had been spent recovering from slavery instead of remaining in denial of the fact that all people deserve an opportunity to live up to their highest ideals? This is part of the ugly truth of American history, the part we don’t like to see. But it’s essential to understand that racism in this country wasn’t solved when the slaves were freed, wasn’t solved when the Civil Rights Act passed, wasn’t solved when America elected our first black President.
Racism is right here, it always has been, and it’s our responsibility to as Americans to recognize it and fight against it.
This quote from Martin Luther King, Jr. comes from his Letter from Birmingham Jail, in which MLK addresses criticism of his efforts to stir up civil disobedience in order to address unjust segregation laws. Some people felt he was being impatient, creating chaos and disorder when he should simply have waited for things to improve on their own.
“We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people. Human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability… The time is always ripe to do right.”― Martin Luther King, Jr., April 16, 1963
There is no better time to stand up than right now. We have to protest. Keep yourself informed, and figure out what news sources you can trust. (My personal favorite is Democracy Now!) And vote against Republicans in November because that’s the only way any sort of legal action against Trump is going to have teeth. We have to vote people into power who will legitimately try to help this country, and in my opinion that’s the populist left–people like Bernie Sanders who want to make positive changes for working families instead of giving money to corporations and billionaires.
This conflict of capitalism–the poor vs the rich–is another old, festering wound in this country, which leads me to my next hero: another American I have a fierce admiration for is Eugene Debs. You may or may not have heard of him. He was the candidate for President of the United States from 1900-1920 of the Socialist Party, and he was jailed for making an anti-war speech.
“In every age it has been the tyrant, the oppressor and the exploiter who has wrapped himself in the cloak of patriotism, or religion, or both to deceive and overawe the People.”― Eugene V. Debs, June 16, 1918
“I am not a Labor Leader; I do not want you to follow me or anyone else; if you are looking for a Moses to lead you out of this capitalist wilderness, you will stay right where you are. I would not lead you into the promised land if I could, because if I led you in, some one else would lead you out. You must use your heads as well as your hands, and get yourself out of your present condition.”― Eugene V. Debs, 1906
There were others, too, throughout our history who perhaps should have been in charge but never found their way to the presidency, and our country suffers for it.
Henry Wallace was the 33rd Vice President of the United States during FDR’s second term from 1941-45. Unfortunately, during FDR’s third term Harry S. Truman was picked as VP and became President when FDR died. This choice was at a crucial turning point in our history, very similar to the circumstances of Johnson’s succession over Lincoln and the resulting failure of Reconstruction.
Democratic party leaders knew that FDR’s health was failing and that the next Vice President would likely become President. They didn’t like Wallace because he was too progressive and they didn’t think they could control him, so they hatched a plan to get Roosevelt to pick someone they liked better as VP: Truman.
Instead of getting a strong supporter of FDR’s New Deal who would have carried forward his legacy (and who even seemed more progressive than FDR himself) we got the very middle-of-the-road Harry Truman. He was a safe, moderate Democrat who continued the New Deal programs but lacked the passion for humanity that someone like Henry Wallace felt. I see Truman’s presidency as a missed opportunity for American progress.
“Men and women can never be really free until they have plenty to eat, and time and ability to read and think and talk things over.”― Henry Wallace, 1942
Wallace fought against fascism in his time, too–against the Nazis and against American fascists at home. “America First” is a slogan deeply rooted in fascist ideology, and the fact that we’re hearing it again from Trump is no coincidence.
“The American fascists are most easily recognized by their deliberate perversion of truth and fact. Their newspapers and propaganda carefully cultivate every fissure of disunity, every crack in the common front against fascism.”
― Henry Wallace, 1944
Sound familiar? Here’s a political cartoon written by Dr. Seuss during WWII, protesting the “America First” campaign to turn away refugee children fleeing the Holocaust.
vote.gov to register for November.
Protest June 30.