“Race, Class & the Future of Democracy”

(Panelists Carol Anderson, Jose Cruz, Juan Gonzalez, Adrian Nicole LeBlanc; moderator Gilbert King)

“Make America Great Again” — and when was it great before? When blacks and other minorities were repressed. That’s the slogan’s subtext. Trump’s announcement speech, calling Mexicans “rapists” and so forth, set the tone — of stopping the “brown tide.” But he cannot. Trumpism is really that mindset’s “last gasp.”

In 1896, Plessy v. Ferguson legalized Jim Crow. But Justice Harlan — a Kentuckian who had once supported slavery! — dissented, calling the constitution color-blind. His grandson joined in the unanimous 1954 Brown v. Board decision, overturning Plessy. That sparked a big backlash of southern resistance and the disappearance of moderates. But it also gave rise to the civil rights movement.

The 2008 election drew 15 million new voters who believed they had a stake in this democracy. Most voted for Obama. But his election provoked another white backlash, which indeed Trump has empowered. And he’s delivering the goods to those supporters — like “throwing chum to sharks.”

This includes policy reversals like militarization of police; backtracking on post-Ferguson initiatives; attacking affirmative action; and reigniting the drug war. Previous drug epidemics (heroin, crack) affected mainly minority communities, so the drug war really amounted to a war on those communities. However, today’s opioid crisis is largely white, so the response is different — many people (though not Jeff Sessions) realize that the drug war and criminalization approach is not the right one.

Anderson said the white working class must understand that their interest is not in whiteness but in having a better society overall. Gonzalez meantime suggested that today’s young people are not carrying the ethnic baggage of prior generations.

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