June 7, 2017

What Does Trump Mean for Athens?

Pub Notes

If you’re like me—and I know a lot of you are, and a lot of you aren’t—your everyday life has an overlay of dread and helplessness at what is happening to our country because Donald Trump is our president. Each day brings some fresh hell, the most recent being his withdrawal of our country from the worldwide agreement to try, belatedly and insufficiently, to slow global warming.

Trying to gain perspective on this chaos in our country, I wonder if those of you who are not like me felt the same kind of hopelessness when Barack Obama was our president. Did you then live in dread of what he might do next? Were you embarrassed by our president and ashamed of how he represented our country abroad? Were you afraid for your life, liberty and pursuit of happiness? Did you wake up every day with a sense of dread at what he might do next? I guess you did, and I guess you’re a Republican, and sure enough, before your folks got total control of the House and Senate, Obama realized your worst fears by providing health insurance for millions of people who were without it.

The truth is that here in Georgia, people like me have for most of our lives lived with a built-in dread of our state and national government. There’s the historical perspective that our nation came about by grabbing the land and killing the bodies of the native Americans who lived here before us and that we in the South doubled down by building our economy and the nation’s on the labor of enslaved workers ripped from Africa and forced to work here on land taken from the Creeks and other tribes.

Our whole society here in the South was built on the savage fact of wealth derived from the dehumanization of men and women, and once slavery ended, the dehumanization continued through economic, legal, educational and social deprivation of basic rights. You either made your peace with that society or you got out. And, of course, the South has continued to drive national politics—as Democrats and as Republicans.

So, it is not surprising that Donald Trump is widely popular in Georgia and the South, because he personifies that disdain for human empathy necessary to building a society and an economy based on riches derived from inequality and tyranny. Trump speaks for Georgians, and he doesn’t have to couch his words in the veneer of gentility that we Southerners have used to soften the harsh truths of our situation here.

Richard Nixon solidified Republican power in the South with his “Southern strategy” that acknowledged and accepted the Southern way of dealing with race; Reagan and the Bushes continued it—as of course they would, because the Solid South still sets the tone for the nation.

What does that mean to us here in Athens? We have the potential, as many other American cities are doing, to take care of our own people, including immigrants, and we still have a lot of work to do, given our endemic poverty and the continuing struggle for equal rights. Our first task is to be sure that in the next round of elections we elect a mayor and commissioners who want Athens to be a city that embraces all its citizens, not just the privileged. While we’re at it, some changes in our legislative delegation, though more of a stretch, are not impossible. All over Georgia, the truth is that our governor and our legislature have favored the corporations and those who profit from them, while denying to those most in need the help, such as Medicaid expansion, that is available but is politically unacceptable.

That’s the story of our state and our South, and Donald Trump is now our champion, like it or not. Those of us who do not like it must continue, in our own land, to use in our defense “exile and cunning,” but not silence.