I have Muslim friends. I have Jewish friends. I have Christian friends. If you were to poll all my friends, acquaintances, and colleagues I suspect you would find people of every religion and non-religion. Mostly you wouldn’t know what religion they are or aren’t, though some are more obvious than others.
For reasons described in a previous post (Facebook in Translation), I have a broad worldview. That is one of the reasons I’ve become less tolerant of bigotry. People are people no matter what their background, and that background is a function of the vagaries of birth more than anything else. No one chooses their nationality; it is “chosen” by our parents, most of whom didn’t get much of a say in it themselves. People do sometimes change their religion, but mostly people remain through life the religion they were taught in youth.
I cry when I think of someone like Donald Trump. The man was lucky enough to be born as a white man into a wealthy family in New York City, grew up with largely unearned and unequaled privilege, was handed a real estate business and his Daddy’s contacts, and despite being an incredibly poor money manager remains wealthy to this day (mostly by leveraging other people’s money). Had Trump been born into less advantageous circumstances we most likely would never have ever heard of him.
Instead we have a man well-known as a bloviating buffoon with a near pathological propensity for lying. As he’s flirted with politics his racist and flagrantly bigoted side has become more noticeable to the masses. Naturally he found a home in the Republican party.
As an independent historian focused on Abraham Lincoln, the blatant bigotry of the Republican party has striking similarities to the antebellum South. Prior to the Civil War the wealthy plantation owners largely controlled politics in this country. Back then they were mostly Democrats. They went to war to protect and expand the enslavement of men, women, and children of color. Today, those racists are Republicans. During the civil rights era most of the bigotry-driven Democrats switched over to the Republican party, which is why the KKK, white supremacists, “tea partiers,” and others who want to protect white privilege and deny Constitutional rights to women, minorities, immigrants, gays, veterans, the elderly, and other Americans all find themselves comfortable in today’s Republican party.
The Republican party is no longer the party of Lincoln. It has become the party of bigots.
Not all Republicans are bigots, of course, just as not all Democrats are not bigots. As my interactions with people have broadened, so has my realization that there are some horrid people out there. Some of those horrid people are Muslims. Some of them are Jewish. Because most of the people living in the United States are Christian, most of the horrid people in this country are Christian. But…and I must emphasize this emphatically…most people are not horrid. In fact, most people are incredibly kind and liberal in their interactions with others.
The number of people who are good people far outweighs the number of horrid ones. Sometimes it seems the opposite but that’s only because the loudest voices drown out the modest ones.
Which gets me to my point. We must all speak up against bigotry. Not just against Donald Trump. He represents the arrogant loud end of the spectrum but he has led the Republican polls for so long because he represents exactly the overwhelmingly bigoted base of the Republican party. The rest of the Republican candidates for president are not so overt, but their words and their proposals are not particularly different. The fact that all Republican candidates have chosen to pander to the fears of their most bigoted, anti-science, and uninformed members is no less dangerous to Americans and the world than the more bloviate Trump. The Republican party has resurrected the “Know-Nothing” party of the 1850s, which sought to deny rights to non-whites, Catholics, the Irish, and others that didn’t fit their narrow vision of “the right kind of American.”
Of course, we must speak up against bigotry from Democrats too. And Independents. And family and neighbors and co-workers and people on the street. To tweak Abraham Lincoln’s famous comment about slavery: “If bigotry is not wrong, nothing is wrong.”
The United States was built on the premise that all men are created equal and endowed with the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. That “all men” includes ALL men, women, and children, whether those men, women, and children are white, black, Asian, Latino, Muslim, Christian, Jewish, Buddhist, Republican, Democratic, Independent, rich, poor, middle class, working class, and every other category you can pigeon-hole people into.
I’m proud to say that I have friends and acquaintances that span every demographic you could categorize. I’m prouder to say that most of the time I don’t even think about them as belonging to any category other than “friend.”
David J. Kent is the author of Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity (2013) and Edison: The Inventor of the Modern World (2016) (both Fall River Press). He has also written two e-books: Nikola Tesla: Renewable Energy Ahead of Its Time and Abraham Lincoln and Nikola Tesla: Connected by Fate. His next book, Lincoln: The Man Who Saved America, is due out late July 2017.