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OPINION

White fear is on the November ballot

With lies about ‘violent mobs’ and anarchy, Trump keeps inching this nation toward a civil war.

Protesters marched in front of the White House Thursday night as the Republican Party nominated Donald Trump for reelection and fireworks exploded above the Washington Monument.
Protesters marched in front of the White House Thursday night as the Republican Party nominated Donald Trump for reelection and fireworks exploded above the Washington Monument.JOSE LUIS MAGANA/AFP via Getty Images

“What home is safe so long as shiftless negroes are allowed to make the city their rendezvous? What lady is safe on the streets after the twilight hour?”

As quoted in the 2019 Henry Louis Gates Jr. book, “Stony the Road: Reconstruction, White Supremacy, and the Rise of Jim Crow,” that’s from a 1909 Charlotte News article, “White Women in Danger,” which warned of a “Negro problem.” Its ugly perception was that integration inherently endangered white people, and America.

With few changes, it could have been plucked from nearly every Republican National Convention 2020 speech. White fears and anxieties will be on the November ballot — President Trump is staking his reelection on it.

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If anything was made clear during the RNC’s four days of doom porn, it’s that the party does indeed have a platform — it’s convincing white voters that without Trump at the helm, “violent mobs” will “overrun” their suburban neighborhoods, burn and loot their homes and businesses, and rape and kill their loved ones.

Naturally, “violent mobs” mean Black people and their allies fighting to end white supremacy and systemic racism.

“Your vote will decide whether we protect law-abiding Americans, or whether we give free reign to violent anarchists, agitators, and criminals who threaten our citizens,” Trump said Thursday night during his rambling, mendacious acceptance speech. “This election will decide whether we will defend the American way of life, or whether we will allow a radical movement to completely dismantle and destroy it.”

White supremacy is so foundational that protests against pervasive racial injustice are branded as plots to overthrow America. That the needle might move ever so slightly toward progress and equity is more than Trump and his supporters can stand.

It’s why Vice President Mike Pence mentioned “law enforcement” or “law and order” more than a half-dozen times in his own acceptance speech. That’s a dog whistle so worn out, even any self-respecting canine knows to ignore it.

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Violence in Kenosha, Wis., “must stop,” Pence said, but he ignored the violence that preceded it. Neither he nor Trump ever mentioned Jacob Blake, the young Black man left paralyzed after a police officer shot him in the back. And they certainly had nothing to say about Kyle Rittenhouse, the Trump-supporting vigilante charged with shooting three people, killing two, at a Black Lives Matter protest Tuesday night. He was one of a group of heavily armed white men roaming Kenosha’s streets, seemingly with the blessing of local police.

Instead, the RNC featured the McCloskeys, St. Louis’s own barefoot Bonnie and Clyde, who were each charged with a felony after they brandished guns at Black Lives Matter protesters in June. They lied about defending their home from an “out-of-control mob,” and warned that Democrats would “abolish the suburbs,” a racist talking point Trump also amplified. Said a grim Patricia McCloskey, “Make no mistake: No matter where you live, your family will not be safe in the radical Democrats’ America.”

In Trump’s America, it’s about eliminating the protesters, not the entrenched conditions of police violence and institutional disenfranchisement that have compelled Black people into this nation’s streets year after year, decade after decade, century after century.

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Like Trump, his supporters don’t seem to fear COVID-19, which has claimed more than 181,000 American lives in six months, as much as the prospect of Black people exercising the same full rights that white people take for granted every day. It isn’t just that they want Black athletes to stand for the national anthem; Trump and his ilk want to stand on our collective backs.

Infused with power and violence, white fear stoked to perceive Black equality as lawlessness is an American aphrodisiac. Few things are more arousing to a nation that will never atone for its original sin while it continues to perpetuate its vile tenets.

Those tenets, white supremacy and systemic racism, are pillars of Trump’s first term. He won’t abandon them, and these remaining weeks of the campaign will be a hellscape, likely with more Blakes — and Rittenhouses.

Trump believes that if he convinces enough voters that racial justice would cause this nation’s ruination, he’ll get closer to a second term in the White House. At the least, it’s already clear that he doesn’t care if that also pushes this nation closer to another civil war.


Renée Graham can be reached at renee.graham@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @reneeygraham.