BOB GARFIELDIf historic parallels about white resentment and violence have some use in understanding Trumpism and other expressions of white supremacy, they may also help us to figure out what to do or not to do next. For instance, Republican Senator Ted Cruz thinks there are lessons in the contested election of 1876 when Southern Democrats, then the party of slavery, alleged fraud in the election of Rutherford B.. Hayes, Hayes and his Republican Party, however, alleged massive voter suppression of Southern blacks. And so Cruz told his Senate colleagues Wednesday night in his attempt to delay certification of Biden's election victory. Why not do what his 19th century predecessors did?
[CLIP] TED CRUZThis Congress appointed an electoral commission to examine claims of voter fraud. Five House members, five senators, five Supreme Court justices examined the evidence and rendered a judgment. [END CLIP]
BOB GARFIELDThey sure did. But nobody in Congress paid the slightest bit of attention, resulting in a slapdash compromise on the advent of inauguration in which Southern senators withdrew their electoral objections so long as Hayes withdrew federal troops from the former slave states. The compromise of 1877 meant Hayes got his presidency and the old South regained the freedom to oppress black Americans without federal interference. White Southerners called it redemption, to Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw, executive director of the African American Policy Forum. It was a catastrophe of appeasement end an object lesson in the politics of reconciliation.
KIMBERLÉ WILLIAMS CRENSHAWTo some extent, there might be vague awareness that the disputed election ended reconstruction, but I think people don't have a sense of what that means. It meant that without federal troops supporting the legitimately elected governments of these southern states, that white terrorism - counter-democratic impulses were going to rule the day. What that meant was countless people being killed in political violence. There were coups across the south. This is part of our history. When people say we're better than this I'm often wondering: so what history have you not read?
BOB GARFIELDSo comes now the question with history as our guide, what to do about our current divide? As recently as three weeks ago, amid Stop the Steal violence across the country, the president-elect pledged to foster reconciliation.
BIDENAnd now it's time to turn the page, as we've done throughout our history. To unite, to heal. [END CLIP]
BOB GARFIELDWhat you wrote is, quote, Biden's unrequited national unity overtures to the Trump coalition of anti unionists are indeed a sad echo of ghastly overtures from our nation's past. A long running dystopian fantasy that tens of millions are willing to fight over. Right impulse, wrong strategy?
KIMBERLÉ WILLIAMS CRENSHAWOh, I would say wrong strategy and wrong impulse. I think the impulse comes from the idea that there is a legitimate grievance here, and the only problem is the tactics that are used to express that grievance. The reconciliation between the north and the south after the treasonous acts of the Confederacy. Declaring war, effectively, against the United States was at the end of the day, tapped down to men of honor defending what they believe to be their way of life. So in that, reconciliation is a no harm, no foul judgment on the most deadly war to ever consume the United States. And that instinct to try to put the family back together again, those African-Americans who sacrificed everything to support the union were thrown under the bus. What's so worrisome to students of that history right now is that we are seeing the same kind of treasonous actions being framed as just a difference of opinion that we can kind of work out by negotiating. Well, you can not negotiate with white supremacy. White supremacy has got to be dealt with directly without excuse, without compromise. And that, frankly, given the fact that President Biden now has a Democratic Congress because of African-American voters, because of this history. So it would be irony indeed at the end of the day, if he negotiated the very terms of possibility that put him in the position that he's currently in.
BOB GARFIELDYou don't think Kumbaya, reach across the aisle, reach across the barricades approach is likely to serve this nation very well?
KIMBERLÉ WILLIAMS CRENSHAWNo more than I thought that a Kumbaya moment would have been the solution to the Confederacy firing on Fort Sumter. Some things are non-negotiable in a democratic republic. The idea that there are some people and some rights and some interests that are more important than others based just on who they are, is an idea that was repudiated by the 13th and the 14th and the 15th Amendment. Unfortunately, that repudiation had an expiration date on it. It was 1876 and we are now living in its aftermath.
BOB GARFIELDHistorian Caroline Janney, who we spoke to earlier, was cautious to draw a distinction between the original lost cause and Trump's use of the same symbols and tactics. She noted, for example, that the white nationalism undergirding the original lost cause myth, has a regional identity. It was a thing of the South. The white nationalism of Stop the Steal is more amorphous. Is there a point at which the lost cause analogy fails?
KIMBERLÉ WILLIAMS CRENSHAWAt a certain point, Lost Cause-ism did become more of a national understanding with the framing of reconstruction as having been a tremendous failure because it embraced the idea of multiracial democracy. That became an idea that the North agreed to as much as the South as a cause of disorder, as a reason to be worried about allowing black people in particular to exercise power when they are not, quote unquote ready for it. So I think actually one of the things that has to be corrected is the idea that this was just a conceit of the South. This was something that was affirmed and facilitated by the North and eventually by many political elites. That's the legacy, the fact that there wasn't contestation about these ideas. That's what's so frightening about this moment.
BOB GARFIELDI noticed that Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader and longtime Trump enabler, condemned Wednesday's events as, quote, a failed insurrection. But, you know, another possibility is that it wasn't a failed insurrection, that it will live on as a symbol of patriotic heroism. If you had to guess -- day of reckoning?
KIMBERLÉ WILLIAMS CRENSHAWNot a day of reckoning at all. There is this concept in constitutional law about how the fruit of the poisonous tree should not be allowed to shape legal outcomes. I would say, do we apply the fruit of the poisonous tree to Mitch McConnell and to the Republicans? Are they making any kind of promise to no longer eat from said poisonous tree? That would be a reckoning. If there is an awareness that we played with fire and it has singed our republic. So we are going to have to tap the fire down and out. Which would mean we will no longer allow the party to use these illegitimate grievances to generate the kind of energies that says if we can't rule the republic, we're going to burn it down. Are they willing to repudiate and no longer use this dangerous weapon in politics? That, to me, would be a reckoning. That, to me would be the only condition upon which it would make sense to me to think that there is a possibility of reaching across shaking hands and agreeing that we will no longer go down this path. I don't see that happening right now.
BOB GARFIELDAs we're talking about Biden and his impulse, and you know more about this history than I do, but it does sound like just a revisiting of the Fugitive Slave Act, which Abraham Lincoln countenanced in order to appease the South or the Dred Scott decision that historically calamitous Supreme Court decision. Neither of which prevented, let's say, the civil war.
KIMBERLÉ WILLIAMS CRENSHAWYes. So you can't see me. My head is nodding furiously. The Dred Scott opinion was basically a southern dream come true. We don't have to worry about the courts intervening at all in slavery because Dred Scott decided that black people will never be citizens of the United States. That was a gift to the South. That wasn't enough to appease them. The Fugitive Slave Act was a gift to the South - and talk about state rights. This was an act that basically said free states really had no authority to protect their citizens from being captured -- whether slave or free and taken to the south and sold. And that still was not enough. I think what we have to look at is what allowed the South to believe that notwithstanding all of these efforts to appease them, they had the right to open fire on the United States, and secede. That underlying dynamic is a dynamic that we need to understand very well before we move into another moment of appeasement, because that appeasement probably only encourages more of this treasonous kind of behavior, than taps it down.
BOB GARFIELDKimberlé, thank you so much.
KIMBERLÉ WILLIAMS CRENSHAWThank you for having me.
BOB GARFIELDKimberlé Williams Crenshaw is co-founder and executive director of the African-American Policy Forum.
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