Danny Cardwell's picture

    Dr. King, Donald Trump, And The South

    The last few days have been very interesting in the Commonwealth of Virginia. On Saturday January 16th people attending Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. events in Lexington, VA were greeted by Confederate flag wavers. Since the removal of the flag from South Carolina's state house the Stars and Bars has been ubiquitous in this part of the world. In addition to the gatherings on public and private property there was an unusual amount of traffic on the highways- not exactly a parade, but definitely a strong show of force.

    On Sunday as my wife and I made our trip to the campus of Washington and Lee University to be part of the events, which featured a keynote lecture by Dr, Michael Eric Dyson, we saw an abundance of Confederate flags in places we hadn't seen them before. From a strictly phenomenological perspective, is there any ambiguity in the message being sent by people waving a Confederate flag at someone walking to a breakfast to honor Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.? I try to give our "heritage not hate" brothers a fair shake, but it's hard for me to come up with a motivation other than hatred for this kind of activity. I support their right to assemble, but it's hard for me to take your claims of heritage serious when you are jeering at people who lived through Jim Crow in southwest Virginia.

    On Monday Donald Trump gave us the gift of 2Corinthians at a campaign rally disguised as a MLK convocation at Liberty University. Trump, the self crowned king of Protestantism, didn't just trip over the scripture he read it in such a wooden and laconic way that demonstrated his unfamiliarity with the text. I went back and listened to the whole event, and it dawned on me that he might know more about Jesus than he does Dr. King. His speech was filled with one recycled exhortation about greatness after another. He spent very little time talking about Dr. King. He stood in front of a conservative Christian audience and used the occasion to repeat his desire to grow the military; something that further distanced himself from the legacy of Dr. King. His religious faux pas, like his other transgressions, won't have any bearing on his support. We're at the point in the game where most people in our area have stopped pretending their support for him is based on policy issues. 

    Several weeks ago I went on a rant about the endorsement several prominent black pastors gave Donald Trump. I thought the endorsements flew in the face of what the black church, at its best, stood for. My criticism had nothing to do with his party or policies. I was upset because these pastors overlooked the racial undertones, xenophobia, misogyny, and the overall vindictive rhetoric Donald Trump uses to dismiss his political opponents. I was upset that a legacy built by men and women with scarred backs and busted lips and bloodied noses was so easily co-opted. I was upset because men who claim to hold Dr. King in high esteem provided cover to a man who hasn't shown the ability to engage in civil discourse with anyone who disagrees with him. Donald Trump speaks worse about his political opponents than Dr. King spoke about the people who were trying to kill him. Pastors are people, and people compromise their beliefs, principles, and even the institutions they govern for wealth, prestige, and power, yet it hurt me to see the legacy of the black church traded so freely. 

    The issues beneath the surface of the Trump phenomenon affect me. I'm more interested in understanding the kind of person who supports Trump than understanding Trump himself. I live in a community where often times I’m the only black man in a restaurant, sporting event, or church service- depending on denomination. When you're a black man in a community like this there's no hiding from race. There’s no amount of denial that can change the reality you find yourself in. People who only know me through my writing think I’m obsessed with race, but the reality is: I can't escape it. The election of a black man didn't improve the quality of life for black people in the south; not because there was some legislative omission or failure, but because while it symbolically lifted the spirits of blacks it simultaneously knocked another layer of armor off the myth of white supremacy, and sadly for too many in this area the myth of superiority is all they have left.  I've been told that racism was over, but Barack Obama made things worse. Somehow his two electoral landslides reminded people they didn't like blacks. This was always a disingenuous and elementary argument. I feel the heat from the rhetoric and blatantly racist attacks on him, his wife, and their kids. The Stars and Bars, nooses, and other relics of America’s dark ages are common place in this part of the world.  
    I can't wait til the south's dream of taking their country back comes true. Instead of focusing on that which truly unites us we dissect the culture we share, and use our language to form words we can use as weapons against each other. Until we come to grips with the legacy of racism in America, and the systematic way racist policies have destroyed the bodies of black people, and the minds of white people we'll never appreciate the beauty of Dr. King's dream. I'm not attempting to hold anyone more accountable for the country we inherited. If we're serious about driving racism out of public life we need people willing to address it head on. Refusing to acknowledge race isn't a cure for racism. After President Obama last days in office are over we, in the south, will return to our corners where we will cast our distrusting gazes upon each other, we will fake smiles and engage in the kind of chit chat designed to make uncomfortable situations tolerable. We will do this because that's what we do. We will do this because it's what passes for civility. 


    "Two Corinthians walk into a bar ....."

    Thanks for another excellent column. You are not obsessed with race, you are facing reality. Trump can go before rabid Conservative Christians pander to them, demonstrate that he is a hypocrite when it comes to any knowledge of the Bible, and face no consequences. Yet there will be argument that Barack Obama who gave that spontaneous "Amazing Grace" connection at the funeral of Rev. Clementa Pinckney in Charleston is a "real" Christian. That is racism. Nikki Haley is considered a heroine for bringing down the Confederate flag, yet we know that she wanted to wait until the furor over the Charleston massacre died down before dealing with the flag. Events forced her hand to act swiftly to remove the flag. She was in league with the racists.

    Those who support the Confederate flag support ancestors who wanted our ancestors to remain slaves. Trump and Cruz represent a modern day version of keeping minorities in their place. Trump had over $4.5 billion in business debt. He is the last person to be put in charge of anything important.

    The ideals of the Confederacy has spread North. The Governor of Michigan poisoned a mostly black town by forcing them to drink lead infused water. The local government was usurped by a "Special Master" appointed by the Governor. The Governor has the same moral code as the stereotypical Southern plantation owner.

    Racism is alive and well in the United States. Ask Virginia's former Governor, Douglas Wilder. Wilder faced a rumor campaign that he was having a relationship with a white woman.

    You are not obsessed with race. You are obsessed with reality.


    I appreciate your support. Thanks for reading my work. This community has been an oasis of normality for me. Salute!

    BTW, the British Parliament actually debated whether Donald Trump should be banned from the UK because of his bigotry and stupidity.


    ​The video of that debate along with Trump's "two Corinthians" comment provided humor for the day.

    I saw some of the highlights on MSNBC last night. It looked more like a celebrity roast than a parliamentary debate. I was amused to say the least.

    It was like a "Monty Python's  Flying Circus" skit

    If this is "normality," I'd hate to see abnormality. ;)

    Thanks for this eloquent and moving piece, Danny. While I hold out little hope that we will honestly confront the legacy of America's enduring racism anytime soon, I'd like to think that we do chip away a few pieces every year. Obama's election--and reelection--certainly didn't mark the end of racism in the United States, but it was a sign of progress, a remarkable event that would have been unthinkable not so long ago. I don't know if it will take 10 years or 100 to finish the job, but if we keep fighting and writing and inching forward year after year, we will get there.

    I went to a meeting of a national public service organization today in Little Rock. An interesting discussion occurred at lunch.There is a proposal in Arkansas to separate the Martin Luther King Jr .from the Robert E. Lee birthday in Arkansas. The two birthdays are celebrated together in Alabama, Arkansas, and Mississippi. One of the (white) lawyers agreed with the sentiment to split the celebration, but suggested if Lee was to be celebrated, we should also celebrate Benedict Arnold. It was hilarious!

    That's cute, but Lee defended his state, which was one of the foremost principles of The United States until Lincoln came along, while Benedict Arnold switched sides due to personal pique more than self-sacrificing principle.

    However, I'd never heard that the British offered the colonists self-rule and a Parliament in 1778. Which after all, the colonists were disloyal to the crown, which we look at as a good thing, but disloyal to the Union 85 years later as a bad thing. Moral values are typically malleable and easily adaptable to new situations - usually according to who wins. I think it was some old woman in the Balkans or Caucusus that kept a trunk full of 14 or 15 flags depending on who might invade that year.

    Lee's state supported slavery. Lee's state seceded because slavery would not be expanding in the United States.This is an old, repetitive argument. 

    That has little to do with Benedict Arnold. Perhaps if Robert E. Lee had secretly conspired to surrender Richmond to Lincoln it would. Apples, Oranges & Peaches - all have their own taste, color and texture, despite being relatively round. Anyway, sometimes despite your druthers, there's just one way out.


    As I said an old, repetitive discussion. I agree with Lee's contemporary Frederick Douglas that Lee was a bigot, a terrorist, and a waste of carbon atoms.

    “After Lee’s death in 1870, Frederick Douglass, the former fugitive slave who had become the nation’s most prominent African-American, wrote, ‘We can scarcely take up a newspaper ... that is not filled with nauseating flatteries’ of Lee, from which ‘it would seem ... that the soldier who kills the most men in battle, even in a bad cause, is the greatest Christian, and entitled to the highest place in heaven.’


    I agree with the Mayor of New Orleans that the statue of Lee in NOLA should come down.


    This is a side issue. It's 2016. The blog is about current events. The current event of separating King and Lee birthday celebrations. There was a comment about a joke made in 2016.

    Thanks for sharing these thoughts, Danny. I don't know how a black guy can stomach such racism. I do think that Trump is showing how disgusting racism is and that many will decide that we need to rid ourselves of it.

    I have some cousins in Mississippi who probably waved the Confederate battle flag or something similar to commemorate the day. I think of them when I remember Martin Luther King Jr. insisting that changing the most basic immoral set of laws was just the beginning of the struggle he foresaw.
    I also think of the address he made receiving the Nobel Peace Prize. He spoke of three problems standing in the way of humans surviving for much longer: Racial Injustice, Poverty, and War. As crappy and compelling as problems get with our immediate neighbors, those local difficulties are now all connected to problems throughout the world.
    Against that measure, I cannot look down upon my cousins from a great height. My negation does not amount to anything by itself.

    And there's this.

    If you're white, you don't get it. I live in NC, a much more diverse state than some others, but I don't get it. Not like I could, or likely ever will - but it's not just the South anymore.

    Another good post, Danny.

    It's maddening that so many people talk about race relations in this country in such an abstract, fact-free way.

    A Confederate flag doesn't NOT mean what it means just because YOU say that's not what you mean, any more than a swastika "doesn't necessarily" mean support for Nazism if I say "no, it's just an old Sanskrit sun symbol."

    Thanks Doc! We finished up a long and strange week of celebration. I had a lecture today followed by a prayer meeting. These are interesting times in the south.

    Doc, the Confederate flag can easily mean different things to different people. I've explained before that some people in Europe wave the rebel flag over their weekend cottages or tents as a sign of rebelliousness, country music, symbol of the US. I can tell you that growing up in the south, most of the people I knew thought of the flag simply as a symbol of the south and a trapping of southern music, a bit of rebellious nature, not any nostalgic longing for slavery. Same in western states like Colorado. Yes, it's possible for that to happen even as a Strom Thurmond or George Wallace or the post-Newt Gingrich appeals to white sheet-wearing racists with the same symbol at the same time. What was the breakdown of people who had it as a racist symbol vs. those who simply had it cultural? No clue - maybe someone ran a survey. Did it matter so much to blacks at the time vs now? I also don't know - just because they weren't protesting it doesn't mean it didn't bother them, doesn't mean it did. Strangely enough or not, the use of the rebel flag has become much more racist and political in the last decade than it was in the 70's and 80's - funny what figures like Lee Atwater can do, king of the racist dog whistle.

    If you're a Native American, the US flag coming over the hill hardly stimulates feelings of Democracy and freedom - it likely means the cavalry coming to wipe out your tribe, genocide. If you're in Northern Ireland, the Union Jack or walking down the street wearing orange mean something much different than anywhere else. The US flag at a Trump event looks more menacing than I've ever seen the Stars and Bars. (I did get stopped by a Klan march one time way out in the boonies, but was so surprised & eager to get out of there, I didn't bother to note what kinds of flags or anything else they had)

    Maybe I'm misunderstanding you, but I thought of anyone here you could deal with contradictions and some ambiguity, even knowing that ambiguity doesn't count as absolute proof. It'd be much harder for an Orangeman to deny pro-Brit significance of his color than a southerner to say his flag had no racist intent, though if that southerner is also clamoring about welfare queens and voting fraud and other dog whistle stances, I'd be skeptical.

    From recent flareups in the news, I think we're all informed that Woodrow Wilson was rather a dick towards blacks through reversing progress in government service among other racist actions. That of course doesn't mean everyone who regarded Wilson as a good progressive is also racist, though the more we know about Wilson we will expect people to not gloss over his racist tendencies, and we might find that there's not that much to admire about Wilson after all.

    On the other hand, same-sex marriage has become a goal in LGBT circles in the last 20 years - not so much beforehand. But it's become fashionable to judge people on when they supported gay marriage, as if one's ability to leap off a new bridge without thinking or time for adjustment is the only sane adult reaction to change and new proposals.

    I'm reading some stuff on heuristics, common iffy patterns we use to simplify our lives. One is Confirmation Bias, which with campaign season it's easy to magnify every offense and every attitude as universal, just as with a modern media echo chamber a news story will get repeated in an infinite feedback loop that will harden opinions and trip away any ambiguity in short time - everything's A or B.

    I'm sympathetic to Danny's experiences and the black guy attending the Iowa Trump event (which by the way isn't the south), and others - I would have thought racism would decrease quite a bit by now, but then I see horrid acts that even racist southern cops probably would have been slow to carry out back in the day.

    There were supremacists back then - people who believed stuff they thought the Bible said, that intermarriage was a threat, that they were defending the life. Not equally spread, but huge across the south I really have trouble believing there are so many today - I think it's more fashion, an awful kind of Dukes of Hazzard that pumps up fake emotion past the usual bullshit cowboy boots and hats and exaggerated accents and swagger. Randy Newman did "Rednecks" around 1971, and it's not like there haven't been enough southerners college-educated since then to know the real score, that the south's future isn't a bunch of cotton and corn fields, but in places like North Carolina's Research Triangle, Atlanta's tech & manufacturing, the various NASA branches scattered about the south, the relocated car factories from the Rust Belt... The US is 80% urban or suburban these days, and even the stereotypical dumb Southerner is smart enough to figure that out (even though the south is probably only ~65% urban).

    One area MLK likely would have found common ground to discuss is endemic poverty in the south - they have 9 out of the 10 poorest states. And he was smart enough to know that poverty breeds division, jealousy, hatred. Here's the map - instead of the Cotton Belt, we've got the dirt poor belt. And with the south's leaders determined to keep people poor, bitter, uneducated, it's a bit of a quandary what to do about it.

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