White supremacy will not end overnight — will another Trump impeachment help?
Former President Trump’s possible conviction by the Senate in the wake of his second impeachment will not only serve as a verdict on his individual actions, but it will also serve as a judgment on the tolerance of white supremacy in our country.
With the threat of domestic terrorism here for the foreseeable future, the wounds to our democracy from the Jan. 6 riots remain raw. The impetus to disrupt and disregard our democracy by some of Trump’s supporters has been predicated on hate, borne out of empty sentimentalism for a now-former president who has worked hard to undermine and subvert our nation’s dearest principles.
It brings to mind something Dr. Martin Luther King said in similarly fraught circumstances — the year was 1957 and it was a deeply divided time in our nation’s history. He said: “nonviolence is [an] absolute commitment to the way of love. Love is not an emotional bash; it is not empty sentimentalism. It is the active outpouring of one’s whole being into the being of another.”
What we saw on Jan. 6 was the antithesis of that notion. It was violence resulting from those who wish not for the success of their neighbor and fellow American, but instead for their own continued privilege at the expense of others.
In the 60-plus years between when King uttered those words and now, far too little has changed. The rallying cry of white nationalism still runs deep. It comes as no surprise that many of those who participated in the riots at the beginning of the month have shared white supremacist beliefs. And it comes as no surprise that those views have proliferated at a time when the then-leader of the free world time and again refused to admonish and disown the support of right-wing nationalists and other extremists. These supporters have been invigorated by his rhetoric. When Trump told the Proud Boys to “stand back and stand by” in the presidential debate last year, their response was euphoric. In their minds, his words championed and validated their cause.
As a result, if the Senate convicts Trump, it will lay out a very clear and unequivocal rejection of white supremacy. It will show that the vast majority of our leaders — Republicans and Democrats alike — are united in purging this despicable sentiment from our lands.
The defeat of white supremacy will not happen overnight. It is a long and arduous task that, unfortunately, will continue to consume our nation for years to come. At the same time, drawing on King’s words, it is a nonviolent pursuit, born out of a commitment to the way of love. A pledge by each and every one of us to defeat white nationalism is, by its very nature, an active outpouring of one’s whole being into the being of another because it is a pledge to ensure that no person is deemed less deserving than another simply for who they are. That belief is at the heart of what it means to be an American and it must stand as an uncompromising principle for our leaders in government to support and abide by. Any individual who does not live up to that standard must be held to account. They betray what our country stands for.
At the same time, we must understand that simply convicting Trump is not the end goal, but it is, instead, a powerful first step toward tackling white supremacy on a systemic level. As we turn the page on the past and President Biden installs the most diverse administration in U.S. history — led in part by the first female, Black vice president — the drive and desire to crush white supremacy is there. Now we need to act on it.
As the Center for American Progress outlined in a report last year, there are four clear actions that Congress — with the support of the new administration — can take in pursuit of dismantling white supremacy. First, it must pass the Emmett Till Antilynching Act, a bill with such broad bipartisan support that only Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) stood in the way of its passage last summer by objecting to its unanimous passage. Second, we must recognize that white supremacy is a global issue and address it as such, with the passage of bills such as the Countering Global White Supremacist Terrorism Act critical to that endeavor. Third, we must root out white supremacy in our military and law enforcement institutions, and fourth, we must improve data collection and analysis on the threat of domestic terrorism. There is no excuse for our law enforcement and government agencies to not be aware of, or act upon, the threat of violent, white supremacy. These steps would build momentum for further action at all levels of government and would also send a clear message that such repugnant beliefs have no home in our country.
But first things first, we must deal with the matter in front of us: Trump’s trial in the Senate. Convicting him is a critical opportunity to turn the page and signal our intent for comprehensive change. It is a chance to respond emphatically to the threats of violence and announce loud and clear that nonviolent solutions, guided by love and goodwill, will instruct our course going forward — and not hate and empty sentimentalism for an impeached president and a vile ideology.
Ben Hatt is the speechwriter for the executive team at the Center for American Progress.
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