After former soldiers have twice in recent days launched lethal attacks on police, the Republicans are testing the national civil rights coalition’s ability to turn adversity into advantage.
The Democrats have Black Lives Matter, the Republicans chant “Blue Lives Matter.” In past elections, the law and order theme has won battles of this sort, forcing Democrats to embrace draconian criminal laws, but this election should have different results
The Republicans have gone back to their playbook, seeking to unite whites into a majority. Trump promises he is the strong leader who can bring law and order both against terrorists and against the shooters who have twice killed cops. Trump pledges to “Make America Great Again,” and on the first night in Cleveland, the Republican swore to “Make America Safe Again.”
Rudy Giuliani, New York’s law and order former mayor, spoke, blaming, in the most inflammatory terms, Black Lives Matters for the police deaths. His formulation, on national television, was that the new civil rights organization has put a “target on the backs” of the police.
Republicans and police unions refuse to accept responsibility for the police causing any problems. Their bad guys are the protesters who falsely claim police are racists. It is one thing to criticize Black Lives Matter, it is quite another to say cops are blameless.
In this as in so many other matters, the Republican are talking arrant nonsense. BLM made the better argument, deploring the shooting of the Dallas and Baton Rouge police and staying firm in their demand that police stop slaying African Americans. The group reminds us, “Black activists have raised the call for an end to violence, not an escalation of it.” This manifest truth is frequently ignored in the aftermath of former soldiers using their training to attack police.
Trump has a ready audience for his blame-the-messenger reaction, but the civil rights coalition in the Democratic Party has never been stronger and the Republicans haven’t nominated such a weak candidate since Barry Goldwater in 1964.
Stopping the racist momentum that helps Trump is critical to Hillary Clinton’s success. Civil rights supporters have powerful assets to mobilize. This potent coalition was barely in its infancy in the 1960s. Queers weren’t organized. Blacks were just starting to make the kind of money that would allow them to finance Jessie Jackson’s presidential runs in 1984 and 1988. Corporate America and universities hadn’t yet embraced diversity. Feminism was beginning its rebirth, and women did not hold high public office. The civil rights coalition is stronger today than it was in 1968 — when Richard Nixon rode a law and order message to the White House — and crucial to the success of the Democratic Party.
Of equal importance, racist whites have left the Democratic Party, so the civil rights coalition is no longer fighting pitched battles with its fellow Democrats. The party is united on civil rights, and queers have made progress as part of this larger movement.
The LGBT community is a vital part of that coalition and our response can help the nation avoid a divisive shift in which white voters in large numbers demand tough enforcement measures and, in the worst case scenario, decide Trump is the strong leader who can bring law and order.
Black Lives Matter is the most gay-friendly black civil rights organization in history, broadcasting on its website that it is “transgender affirming” and “queer affirming.” It bases its demands on developing international norms of human rights. Modern nations incorporate a charter of human rights and freedoms, but in the US debate continues about the original meaning of a constitution adopted in the 18th century, with judicial conservatives insisting the intent in the 1780s is the be all and end all in framing our rights. BLM is cutting new ground for activists and it has been growing rapidly. If it becomes identified in the public mind as a dangerous renegade outfit, the setback will endanger Hillary Clinton’s chances.
These same theories of human rights, of course, buttress the arguments for gay rights, better treatment of prisoners, respecting the rights of drug users, and protecting transgender people from violence by the police and the public. This approach to the law could end the criminalization of people with HIV, which CDC researchers have found consisted, by 2011, of 67 laws in 33 states explicitly focused on liabilities faced by those who are poz. This is another reminder that this election decides the future of the Supreme Court.
The Democrats are standing strong. On the second night of the Democratic Convention, “Mothers of the Movement” will be featured, including the moms of Trayvon Martin killed in Florida while returning to a friend’s home after buying candy and Eric Garner suffocated in Staten Island during an arrest for selling loose cigarettes. The Democratic Party embraces this civil rights coalition; the Republicans vehemently reject it.
The South today includes many urban centers with cosmopolitan atmospheres not dissimilar from East and West Coast cities. Geeks in the arts and technology embrace diversity. College campuses espouse human rights. Those attitudes are no longer something confined to blue states. Republicans attacks on gays have moved North Carolina from a sure bet for Republicans into a toss-up or better. The GOP adoption of a bathroom bill to attack transgender Americans will likely backfire.
Accepting the idea that history will repeat itself can undermine the potency of this civil right coalition. The New York Times is misleading us when it states, as a matter of fact, that “racial tensions are clearly rising… only 46 percent of whites surveyed thought that race relations were generally good, a sharp drop from the 66 percent who held that opinion in June 2009, shortly after Mr. Obama took office. For blacks, the corresponding decline — to 34 percent last month from 59 percent in 2009 — was even steeper.”
This perspective ignores the growth and resilience of the civil rights coalition. Not every white person concerned about race relations is a reactionary.
The Republicans will pound the drums of law and order, but the cry of peace and justice is louder than it has ever been.