Editor’s Note: Tara Setmayer is a Lincoln Project senior adviser, resident fellow at the Harvard Institute of Politics and a CNN contributor. Follow her on Twitter @tarasetmayer. Nate Nesbitt is the Lincoln Project national press secretary and a public affairs strategist. The Lincoln Project is an American political action committee formed in late 2019 by several prominent Republicans and former Republicans. The goal of the committee is to prevent the reelection of Donald Trump in the 2020 presidential election. The opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the authors; view more opinion articles on CNN.
Protesting is a quintessential American act of patriotism.
Glorifying the Confederacy is not. It is immoral. It is honoring a symbol of racial oppression and division.
So why does the Confederate flag seem to have a ubiquitous presence among Trump supporters during their protests and at Trump campaign rallies?
For years, the GOP has pandered to and placated racists and white supremacists, willing to sow division and disunion in order to grow and maintain electoral power, particularly in the South.
That was the genesis of the “Southern strategy,” used to describe how the Republican Party exploited racist fears to court white voters during the Civil Rights era. And it’s been a mantle President Donald Trump has been all too willing to take up and co-opt.
It goes without saying that it has had a profoundly negative effect on every dimension of the Republican Party, strategically, policy-wise, in terms of outreach and even the selection of candidates, and it has resulted in the mistrust of the party by an overwhelming majority of black voters for decades.
The age-old Republican rebuttal is to insist the party played a major role in standing up to racism and inequality in the 19th century and early part of the 20th century, and to some extent this is true. But it’s an insufficient history. One that is tangential at best, and belies the underlying truth that the party has created a political reality wherein without giving refuge to racists, it wouldn’t stand a chance at electoral success in what became Republican strongholds in the South, as a result of the adoption and continued implementation of this strategy.
And now, they are reaping what they’ve sown.
This moment we’re in as a country, confronting Trump’s lawlessness, his MAGA contagion and army of elected enablers, seemingly feels like we are at the precipice of a proverbial fight against a modern-day Confederacy.
Black Americans are on the front lines of this battle, and we and our allies are literally and figuratively fighting for our lives. Whether it be against disparate health impacts from Covid-19, a compounded effect due in large part to generations of inequitable health care, or the ongoing, inter-generational struggle against police brutality in communities of color, where the indignities of racial inequality can no longer be ignored and passively accepted by a political party that claims to be the party of Lincoln.
Leading up to the Civil War, Americans had to decide what kind of country they wanted the United States to be. Those who joined the Confederacy made their choice. One of treason, slavery, subjugation and oppression. Fulfilling the promises of our Constitution or Declaration of Independence was not among their goals.
They chose the wrong side of history.
Now, more than 150 years after the Civil War, we are facing another inflection point in America, where we are presented with a choice.
It is time to choose, and choose we must. There is no middle ground on this decision. There is no acceptable excuse of ignorance or cognitive dissonance, as the world observes Trump’s deplorable behavior of rage tweeting while American cities explode in righteous anger and frustration of centuries of oppression. The same day he tweeted that when the “looting starts, the shooting starts,” a racist 1960’s phrase, he was briefly whisked away to his White House bunker by the Secret Service. Though the security measure may have been necessary, it symbolized what many have described as Trump going into hiding during a pivotal moment in America’s history.
At this point, it is morally impermissible to be in between.
Whitewashing the transgressions of Trumpism, and the complicity of the Republican Party in it, is a conscious, deliberate decision to join the ranks of the modern-day “Lost Cause” (a theory that Southern states adopted to show themselves as heroic, while denying that slavery was a central part of the Civil War’s conflict) as co-conspirators.
They will no longer go unnoticed or be granted grace in their enabling of Trump and his band of deplorables who are dishonoring the legacy of Lincoln, working overtime to exacerbate and exploit – not bridge and heal – the racial and cultural divide in this country at the expense of American lives for political power.
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American history will look upon Trump’s legacy with shame and disgust and will not allow feeble attempts to weave revisionist histories and retellings of these tumultuous times to make it palatable for the next generation.
Donald Trump’s actions necessitate this choice.
Now is the time to decide which America we want to be.