By Rudy Barnes, Jr.
The fabric of American democracy is coming apart at its seams. Racism is a major factor in our social malaise, making racial justice a moral priority; and it requires more than law and order to prevent racial violence and the enforcement of civil rights laws that prohibit racial discrimination. Lasting peace and justice requires reconciliation to improve race relations.
Law provides enforceable standards to maintain order and prevent racial discrimination, while reconciliation depends on shared moral values. Christianity once provided the moral values needed for reconciliation, but in 2016 the church lost its moral compass when most white Christians elected Trump, whose egregious morality is the antithesis of that taught by Jesus.
The altruistic moral teachings of Jesus are summarized in the greatest commandment to love God and to love our neighbors, including those of other races and religions, as we love ourselves. In America’s polarized partisan politics the spirit of altruism is needed to balance individual and partisan interests with providing for the common good.
Black Lives Matter illustrates the issue. BLM had widespread public support when its focus was on eliminating police brutality, but that changed when it began advocating no peace without racial justice and defund the police. That was an invitation for Trump and his supporters to stoke racial discord at BLM protests, making them magnets for racial violence.
Justice must be blind to race, religion and sexual preferences to provide equal protection under the law; but racial issues in BLM protests have pitted the freedom of expression of BLM supporters against the freedom of their opponents to openly bear arms in public protests. In such volatile situations, police are essential to provide law and order and prevent violence.
Justice depends on police enforcing the law, and law enforcement without justice is a recipe for political oppression. Both law enforcement and racial justice are essential in a healthy democracy, and political reconciliation requires compromise not only in Congress but also in local communities, where tempers have flared over efforts to remove Civil War monuments.
Trump’s divisive politics are poisoning race relations, and overcoming racism is essential to racial justice. Jim Clyburn (D, S.C.) understands the importance of race relations and has advocated non-racial standards for economic relief to avoid racial preferences, while Charles Blow has asserted that better race relations are irrelevant to racial justice.
Law and order are prerequisites for all forms of justice; but racial justice requires that law and order are combined with civil rights remedies against discrimination and with reconciliation to improve race relations. That’s a daunting moral challenge for America’s racially polarized democracy, but it’s essential to achieve racial justice with ballots--not bullets.
On the differing viewpoints of Congressman Jim Clyburn and New York Times columnist Charles Blow on the relevance of race relations to racial justice and systemic racism, see Barnes, Musings on Racism, Reparations, Racial Disparities and the Federal Reserve and Notes (August 15, 2020) posted at http://www.religionlegitimacyandpolitics.com/2020/08/musings-on-racism-reparations-racial.html.
Dana Milbank has described Trump as cornered and trying to foment a race war. See https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2020/08/31/cornered-trump-tries-foment-race-war/?utm_campaign=wp_todays_headlines&utm_medium=email&utm_source=newsletter&wpisrc=nl_headlines.
The Editors of America Magazine consider Donald Trump a unique threat to the Constitution. “The principal concern here is not with Mr. Trump’s positions on various public policies, some of which are right and some of which are wrong, but with the president’s disregard for the system of laws and customs that establish the necessary conditions for debate, decision-making and public accountability in this republic. ...No doubt many of the men who have occupied the White House have at times skirted or shortchanged constitutional principles. But there is a difference between those presidents of both parties who at times tested or bent the boundaries of constitutional action in pursuit of their self-interest, and Mr. Trump, who time after time has demonstrated that his framework for decisions is merely transactional and that he has little regard for constitutional norms or the common good.
...As President Gerald R. Ford said upon assuming office during a moment of constitutional peril, “Our great republic is a government of laws and not of men.” That means that the rule of law, the work of a vital free press, constitutional use of the military and a basic, operative respect for the separation of powers are not optional. For without those safeguards, this country will devolve into prolonged factional conflict—the outcome our founders feared most—which would mark the beginning of the end of a republican form of government.” See https://www.americamagazine.org/politics-society/2020/09/15/president-donald-trump-threat-constitution-election-2020?utm_source=piano&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=5488&pnespid=mbhurfJCGQqN82UdT3PY9PJe08MnOx8DxyYhyb7P.
Rachel Kleinfeld has asserted that the U.S. shows all the signs of a country spiraling toward political
violence and listed myriad factors that make America vulnerability to dissolution. She notes: “In the past 16 weeks, more than 50 drivers have plowed into peaceful protesters all around the country. Armed militants shut down Michigan’s legislature. Unidentified law enforcement officers heaved demonstrators into unmarked vans. Security forces in Washington used low-flying helicopters to harass citizens decrying police brutality. Protesters and police alike have brutalized journalists. Ideologues from left and right have been accused of killing political opponents. Should Americans be worried about widespread violence? Yes. The United States is now walking the last steps on that path. Partisans who would never commit violence themselves are transforming from bystanders to apologists, making excuses for the “excesses” of their side while pointing fingers across the aisle. Particularly striking have been the inflammatory statements of Republican politicians, given the influence leaders’ words carry. Of course, they are simply mimicking President Trump, who is most responsible for setting the kindling aflame.
...Political violence tends to strike in countries where it has happened before. It feeds on discrimination, social segregation and inequality — which provide reasons for grievance while making it hard for divided populations to understand each other. Polarization exacerbates these conditions while blocking societies from solving their problems.
...All the ingredients are here: America’s political violence traces back to our Civil War, the causes of which were never really resolved. The Union won the war, but the Confederates prevailed in the peace. The wound of racism deepens America’s deep inequality and our political polarization. See https://www.washingtonpost.com/outlook/america-political-violence-risk/2020/09/11/be924628-f388-11ea-999c-67ff7bf6a9d2_story.html?utm_campaign=wp_todays_headlines&utm_medium=email&utm_source=newsletter&wpisrc=nl_headlines
On the dangers of racial and ethnic diversity to America, Robin Wright has asked: Is America a Myth? “‘The idea that America has a shared past going back into the colonial period is a myth, said Colin Woodard, the author of Union: The Struggle to Forge the Story of United States Nationhood. ‘We are very different Americas, each with different origin stories and value sets, many of which are incompatible. They led to a Civil War in the past and are a potentially incendiary force in the future.’ The crisis today reflects the nation’s history. Not much, it turns out, has changed. The cultural divide and cleavages are still deep. Three hundred and thirty million people may identify as Americans, but they define what that means—and what rights and responsibilities are involved—in vastly different ways. The American promise has not delivered for many Blacks, Jews, Latinos, Asian-Americans, myriad immigrant groups, and even some whites as well. Hate crimes—acts of violence against people or property based on race, religion, disability, sexual orientation, ethnicity, or gender identity—are a growing problem. A bipartisan group in the House warned in August that, “as uncertainty rises, we have seen hatred unleashed.’ In Washington, D.C., last week, a group commissioned by the city’s mayor, Muriel Bowser, recommended, in a report, that her office ask the federal government to “remove, relocate, or contextualize” the Washington Monument, the Jefferson Memorial, and statues to Benjamin Franklin and Christopher Columbus, among others. The committee compiled a list of people who should not have public works named after them, including Presidents James Monroe, Andrew Jackson, and Woodrow Wilson, the inventor Alexander Graham Bell, and Francis Scott Key, who wrote the national anthem. After a deluge of criticism, Bowser said on Friday that the report was being misinterpreted and that the city would not do anything about the monuments and memorials. But a question remains, not just because we live in the era of Black Lives Matter: What is America about today? And is it any different from its deeply flawed past?
...In some ways, the election, now only eight weeks away, will be a temporary relief, at least in ending the current agonizing uncertainty. But it will play only one part in deciding what ultimately will happen to our nation. ...‘Are we a myth? Well, yes, in the deep sense. Always have been,’ The Yale historian David Blight said. To survive, America must move beyond the myth.” See https://www.newyorker.com/news/our-columnists/is-america-a-myth.
According to Larry Bartels ethnic antagonism, or racism, is the strongest motivating factor in Republican partisan politics, and it has produced anti-democratic tendencies. “In a January 2020 survey most Republicans agreed that ‘the traditional American way of life is disappearing so fast that we may have to use force to save it.’ More than 40% agreed that “a time will come when patriotic Americans have to take the law into their own hands.” (In both cases, most of the rest said they were unsure; only one in four or five disagreed.) ...The strongest predictor by far, for the Republican rank-and-file ...is ethnic antagonism, especially concerns about the political power and claims on government resources of immigrants, African-Americans, and Latinos. The corrosive impact of ethnic antagonism [racism] on Republicans’ commitment to democracy underlines the significance of ethnic conflict in contemporary US politics.” Larry M. Bartels, Ethnic Antagonism erodes Republicans’ Commitment to Democracy, at https://www.pnas.org/content/early/2020/08/26/2007747117.
Both the Wright and Bartels articles (above) were cited in recent commentary on Musings on theDemise of American Democracy: Is It Deja Vu All Over Again? (September 12, 2020) posted at http://www.religionlegitimacyandpolitics.com/2020/09/musings-on-demise-of-american-democracy.html.
At Black Lives Matter protests, clashes between armed groups and leftist protesters have turned deadly, and police face complaints of tolerating vigilantes. Raol Torex, a district attorney in New Mexico, said, “I don’t think a lot of Americans understand how fragile democracy is. “One of the early signs of a troubled democracy is when people decide that they’re no longer going to address their political differences at the ballot box — or in elected legislatures or in Congress — but they’re going to do it on the street, and they’re going to do it with guns. Police officers, district attorneys, leaders in law enforcement here and across the country have to make it unambiguously clear to anyone that it is not their job — it is the role of law enforcement — to” defend property, Torrez said. Militia groups are “not hearing that message from enough leadership in law enforcement. And this takes us down a very, very dangerous path.” "While racial justice protests typically condemn police behavior and include calls for defunding police departments, militia-style groups are predominantly pro-police and often rally behind slogans such as ‘Blue Lives Matter’ and ‘Back the Badge.’” See