The Pew Research Center recently issued a report that found 6% of American adults––equaling around 15 million people––attended summer rallies to protest racial injustice. That finding falls in line with a Washington Post/ABC News poll, conducted in mid-July that found that 70% of Americans believe that Blacks and other minorities are not treated equally with whites in the criminal justice system. These findings fly in the face of what President Trump termed, “a symbol of hate,” referring to a Black Lives Matter mural. Of course, the fact that it was painted directly in front of Trump Tower may have pushed the issue, but with this president, left-leaning protesters are anarchists. To him, they represent mob rule. And, he delights in stoking the fear of whites with warnings (although unproven) of caravans of Hispanics trying to enter this country and Muslim terrorists infiltrating our communities. His senior adviser, Stephen Miller, even appeared on the “Tucker Carlson Tonight” TV show to justify a federal crackdown on protesters in Portland, Oregon, by saying the often brutal actions by law enforcement was about the “survival of this country.” Right-wing extremists—such as the KKK and QAnon––have been given a free pass. He says that there are “good people on both sides.” In fact, in the recent presidential debate, Trump refused to condemn white supremacists, and said that if the election results are not immediately decisive (or, in other words, it appeared that he may not win) the Proud Boys, a far-right hate group, was to: “Stand back and stand by.”
But this administration is not the first to use the weapon of fear to intimidate its citizens. As The New York Times journalist Charles Blow tells us, founding father Benjamin Franklin, concerned that the British would try to reconcile with the colonists after the Revolutionary War and “sought to inflame passions of the colonists and embarrass the British by concocting a report of packages containing 8 large scalps taken by the Senneka Indians from inhabitants of the frontiers of New York, New Jersey Pennsylvania and Virginia,” including scalps of women, boys and infants. Stoking white fear continued throughout American history with spikes during Reconstruction, the Great Depression, the Civil Rights Movement, to the current day. Sometimes its expression was more subliminal, like the Willie Horton presidential ad George Bush used in his 1988 campaigns, to the more violent showings in Trump ads of looters vandalizing local businesses and bashing police officers, admonishing voters that chaos will reign if Biden wins, making the untrue claim that Biden wants to defund law enforcement.
The question of by-passing or skirting truth and morality to win or succeed in any context, has been a matter of debate throughout the ages. The concept that “the ends justifies the means” is attributed to Niccolo Machiavelli, who authored “The Prince,” which was published in the first half of the 1500s. Today’s political climate is drenched in the debate. Which way to go to win? The Michelle Obama adage “when they go low, we go high” is often dwarfed by the cruelty of an administration which uses every chance to instill fear in the citizenry. Frame and defame, is the current tactic. No one is too sacred. War heroes like John McCain, Gold Star parents like the Khans and dedicated, long-time career civil servants like Alexander Vindman and Marie Yovanovitch are demonized and discarded.
If you don’t like what you see, what are you to do?
By so doing, your voice is heard. Your ballot is a picket sign. Your protest is felt.
And don’t be put off by lies that the vote is rigged; or that the voting process is fraudulent. Clearly, this pandemic crisis presents many obstacles. Traditionally, Republicans prefer in-person voting, at 54%, and Democrats prefer to vote by mail or early voting, at 71%. But, by whatever means you need to use, get beyond the hype and the manipulation. Get into the game. Request a mail-in ballot or personally pull the lever. Very often we’ve heard the warning that this election is the most important one in a lifetime, with its outcome impacting future generations. This is not just a debatable warning like calorie contents on a label…do you eat the cupcake anyway? This warning, if not heeded, can poison you.
Gregory Floyd is president, Teamsters Local 237 and vice president-at large on the General Board of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters