Are there any queers in the theater tonight?
Get them up against the wall!
There's one in the spotlight, he don't look right to me
Get him up against the wall!
That one looks Jewish!
And that one's a coon!
Who let all of this riff-raff into the room?
There's one smoking a joint
And another with spots!
If I had my way,
I'd have all of you shot!
Roger Waters - Pink Floyd’s The Wall
The Donald Trump campaign has made it impossible to ignore the Nazi analogy. His rallies summon memories of the fascist movement in 1930’s Germany. He demands that his followers raise their right hands to take a pledge of loyalty, recalling the infamous Nazi salute. He instructs his security forces to remove from the gathering anyone who fails to fall in line, many of them unmistakably with darker skins than the loyal brood.
To anyone of my generation who remembers Pink Floyd’s epic rock opera, a metaphor for the Third Reich on British soil, the analogy could not be clearer.
Donald Trump is not a joke. Not any more. He’s pushed this movement, grounded in the Deep South where racism and bigotry are not so subtle, a step too far for any American who believes in diversity, tolerance and the founding principles of the republic to ignore.
Donald Trump is right about one thing: He made the wall a defining issue in this presidential campaign. The Republicans, having learned from their defeat in consecutive elections, were poised to let immigration recede into the background of public discourse. They had three minority candidates (two prominent Latinos and one token African American) teed up and ready to go. They only needed to boost their numbers in the minority vote by a five or ten percent margin to give themselves a chance.
Donald Trump undid the grand strategy of the Grand Old Party in his opening salvo. He accused the government of Mexico of deliberately sending criminals and rapists north of the border. Despite an absolute lack of evidence to support his accusation, he staked claim to the anti-Mexican immigrant vote. When he delayed his disavowal of David Duke and the Ku Klux Klan on the eve of the Louisiana primary, he erased all doubt as to the nature of his campaign.
Bigotry is a defining characteristic. A candidate cannot play for the racist vote so boldly and directly without being a racist. A voter cannot vote for a bigoted candidate without being a bigot. White supremacists do not unite behind a single candidate unless that candidate has delivered a clear message.
Anyone who voted for George Wallace in 1968 (Stand Up for America!) was not excited about his education policy and anyone who votes for Donald Trump today (Make America Great Again!) is not moved by his trade policy.
So this is where we are in the year 2016: A large as yet undetermined segment of our electorate is openly racist. This segment of the population does not care about reforming the criminal justice system. This segment does not care about rounding up ten to twelve million undocumented immigrants, ripping them from their homes and families, and sending them back to their country of origin. They don’t care about the water crisis in Flint, Michigan, and they don’t care about the mass disenfranchisement of Latinos or African Americans.
What does the Trump movement care about? They care about sticking it to the establishment politicians who have allowed their America to slip away. They care about reclaiming their place at the head of the ruling class table. They care about white America.
When I was in high school, though I attended school on the Westside where virtually all black and Hispanic students were enrolled, racial epithets were commonplace. The white students who ruled the campus were virtually required to tolerate bigotry. This was after Watts and the summer of flames when we really should have known better.
When I left high school I left attitudes of tolerated bigotry behind – or I thought I did. In the 1990’s I lived in Nashville for five years and witnessed enduring segregation and economic discrimination on a grand scale. Predominantly black schools were poorly funded while predominantly white schools enjoyed the financial blessings of their surroundings. Racial bigotry was a constant underlying all issues and policies.
Thirty years later I wonder if anything has really changed. In a new America where bias and bigotry have been left behind, the repeated documentation of black Americans shot down by white cops should have united us. Instead, it has divided us. The mind-numbing statistics on the disproportionate mass incarceration of black and Hispanic Americans should have shocked the entire populace into corrective action. Instead, it only motivated a segment of our society. Whether the Black Lives Matter movement translates into long-overdue reforms remains to be seen. It seems just as possible at this juncture that a backlash will occur.
Certainly, if Donald Trump finds his way to the White House, we can say goodbye to any progress on civil rights, voting rights, affirmative action or equal treatment under the law.
I have come to this conclusion: Human beings are inherently prone to bias. This inherent bias will manifest itself in racial, religious and cultural discrimination unless it is addressed, recognized and condemned.
I was recently invited to play golf at a local country club as a guest of a member. After the round, the members gathered in the clubhouse to consume libations and engage in verbal interplay. I felt like I was back in high school. Racial epithets flowed into the open air and I perceived, just as I did in high school, that those who used them were testing my willingness to tolerate their bigotry.
I did not challenge them though I should have. I’m fairly certain they know I did not belong among them. If by chance I should be invited back I will decline with a frank explanation.
I believe that racism and all forms of bigotry persist and are allowed to spread because good people refuse to call it out.
So the next time you encounter someone who confesses sympathy for Donald Trump, remind them of his comments regarding Mexican rapists and his apparent ambivalence toward David Duke and the KKK. You don’t have to be angry. You don’t have to accuse. Just let them know that you know, that we all know, what lies beneath their support for the Donald. Are there any queers in the theater tonight?