Dear Republican Politicians …
My education in hard-core white supremacy happened fifty years ago when an Air Force assignment took me from my Ohio home to a famous and beautiful city in the South. On weekends, I formed a band with other servicemen and played jazz and bluegrass at airbase clubs.
One night, we had a gig off base at a large dance hall, but as we were setting up, the owner, who was also the county High Sheriff, told me, in no uncertain terms, we couldn’t use our drummer because he was black. In my youthful innocence, I thought what mattered was that he was a good musician, but that’s not what mattered there. We left, but the episode awakened me to the evil I could see off base any day in separate “colored” drinking fountains, separate restrooms, and separate schools.
The physical beauty of the city couldn’t hide the moral ugliness. I remember telling my father that some people there were still fighting the Civil War and that it wouldn’t end until the ruling generation died off. I was too optimistic: Some of that generation passed on their resentment and their racism to their children and grandchildren who are with us now.
You know our history. The Civil War wasn’t a noble cause on behalf of Southern culture. It was treason in the cause of some people owning other people. Rather than distort our past, better to honor it not with statues of traitors but by remembering their victims and those who sacrificed to free them.
There are no Nazi monuments in Germany. Instead, there are memorials to the war’s victims and museums that tell that nation’s dark story, including the belief in a Master Race that grew from a bigoted distortion of German history.
It’s long past time we get serious about America’s promise of equal justice under law, and you, my Republican friends, have an obligation — and an opportunity — to lead the way. In the wake of a Republican president’s racist rants after Charlottesville, many of you have properly spoken out against bigotry in its many forms. Good for you, but yours are empty words until you act to undo injustices your Party — the Party of Lincoln — has sponsored.
Your first job is to delete Voter ID laws in Kansas and elsewhere. Those laws are based on the lie that voting fraud was widespread and a threat to America. It wasn’t and it isn’t. The real threat is in purposely making it harder for some people to vote than for others. You passed these laws to suppress the votes of groups who tend not to vote for you, and, if you mean what you say about justice and equality, you are obligated to undo them. If you don’t mean what you say, step aside and let an honest person replace you.
Your next job is to respect voters by making voting convenient. Make registration automatic, as it is in ten states, and make national elections holidays out of respect for workers.
You need to strengthen the Voting Rights Act to stop state officials who rig their voting systems against minorities. Texas, North Carolina, and other states have repeatedly schemed to deny equal justice and have lost a series of court cases proving so. In every case, Republicans are to blame, so it’s your responsibility to help fix.
Let your conscience be your guide to other injustices, but those above will be a good start. Wisdom suggests making headway well before the 2018 elections.
Your opportunities abound. Instead of scheming to discourage people who might vote against you, how about favoring policies that would encourage those same people to vote for you? Be positive, not negative.
There’s nothing citizens can do just now about a racist President — his fate is in other hands. We can, however, vote against Congressional and state candidates who talk about equal justice but work against it. I’m looking at you, Republicans. And I’m not alone.
Jim’s columns are online at http://greatsociety2point0.blogspot.com.