I am no fan of Donald Trump, far from it. But he is not to blame for synagogue murders, pipe bombs, or the shootings of people of color. Ours is a savage country with a feral character from the beginning.
1864– A Methodist minister turned colonel in the militia led the massacre of a peaceful encampment of Cheyenne and Arapaho. It was mostly women and children. The soldiers brought home body parts as trophies, including genitalia and fetuses. From Columbus to the present we have savaged Native peoples.
70%– Most of the 12 million Africans brought as slaves were forced to work in sugar cane fields. A recent NYT article by Brent Staples (“A Fate Worse Than Slavery, Unearthed in Sugar Land” 10/27/18) reports the average-life span of such a slave was seven years. Stapleswrites: “Bone-tired slaves — who fed the cane stalks into the mechanical rollers that pressed them into juice — lost hands or were pulled into the rollers and dismembered. This outcome was common enough that a slave was often stationed nearby with a sword to sever the mill feeder’s arm before she could be pulled to her death in the rollers. The death rates on such plantations were compounded by malnutrition and disease, and were so obscenely high that the ranks of the enslaved needed constant replenishment.”
When slavery ended, the states of Louisiana, Georgia, and Texas created a prisoner lease system that allowed sugar barons to purchase inmate labor on lease. This, of course, led to widescale imprisonment of African-Americans for little or no cause, then leased them into the deadly labor program. Recently 95 unmarked inmate graves were discovered in Sugar Land, TX.
From the first slave ship landing on our shores to the present day, dominant white Americans have allowed the savaging of African-Americans and other people of color.
1862-1968– 4,743 people were lynched in America. This savagery was not a secret.
1939– MS St. Louis with 937 Jewish refugees aboard, was refused entrance at Miami under orders of President Roosevelt and sent back to Europe. As a result, at least 254 of them died in the Holocaust. From the first immigration laws to the disgraceful present, our immigration policies have been savagely based on bigotry while mostly indifferent to asylum-seekers.
1968– On March 16thas many as five-hundred unarmed men, women, and children were massacred by US soldiers at My Lai, Viet Nam. From our shores to battlefields across the world, we have engaged in savage war crimes.
Having said Donald Trump is not to blame does not make him blameless. His rhetoric and explicit efforts to salt wounds of bigotry and division may be the worst so far in presidential history. But the privileged and dominant in every generation, not just the direct perpetrators, define our character.
While our country has done and continues to make wonderful contributions to human history, our deep-seated savage character will not find healing and redemption until we look ourselves in the eyes and acknowledge it. Begin by voting for wholesale change next Tuesday.