When I was a teenager I had a friend, two years younger than me, who began a flirtation with white supremacy. After being bullied by a black student in eighth grade, he observed — rightly or wrongly — that black students tended to stick up for each other while the same was not true for whites. The racial solidarity demonstrated by white power groups appealed to him.
Around that time, in 1992, a coalition of the Ku Klux Klan and neo-Nazis held a rally at the state capitol in Frankfort, Ky. Armed with two cartons of eggs, my friends and I showed up at the rally to shout profanity, ridicule and laugh at them. I can’t say my own aim was true, but I have a newspaper clipping with a photograph of a skinhead with egg yolk dripping down his cheek to prove that at least one of the projectiles we distributed found its mark.
My friend who was toying with white supremacy went along with us to the rally, although he tried to talk us out of it, saying he didn’t know what it would accomplish and that the Klan had the right to free speech just like everyone else.
In hindsight, I feel that our stand probably made a greater impression on my friend than the organized racists in robes and paramilitary uniforms. When I visited with him in Lexington, Ky. a couple years ago, my old friend was dating a Chinese woman and remarked to me that the more he experienced life the more his politics drifted to the left. In that light, I think we staged a pretty effective intervention on a kid who at one time was at risk of being recruited into the white-supremacist movement.
I’ve been thinking about the militant tactics we employed to drive a wedge between white supremacists and their potential supporters in light of the frightening political rise of Donald Trump. Maybe it’s time for people to forcefully denounce Trump and make it clear in no uncertain terms to those who are attracted to his message that it’s not cool. In other words, if you’re supporting Trump we can’t be friends anymore.
Trump’s fascist tendencies are beyond dispute at this point. Other media outlets have done the heavy lifting of laying out the evidence, but let’s consider some salient factors.
There is his exploitation of fear and scapegoating of outsiders, as exemplified by his defamatory characterization of Mexican immigrants as “rapists.” There’s his openness to suspending due process and registering Muslims citizens in a national database. There’s his mockery of a reporter with a physical disability. And, again scapegoating the marginalized and exploiting race as a tool of division, there’s the tweet Trump sent out with the outright lie that blacks are responsible for 81 percent of the homicides against white victims. Not least, there is his statement condoning the thuggery of supporters who punched and kicked a Black Lives Matter activist at a rally in Alabama.
As a political reporter whose livelihood depends on the ability to hold mutually respectful conversations with people whose political beliefs might be diametrically opposite of my own, I know it’s perilous to close the door on dialogue with anyone. But, as with the Klan and — sorry — Adolf Hitler, there are certain people who so brazenly cross the line of bullying, lying and demagoguery that dialogue is no longer possible. While you try to reason with them and accord them due respect, they bulldoze past you, all while consolidating power.
It’s time for peaceful protest outside Trump’s rallies and for brave souls, if they feel so moved, to go inside and speak truth to the mob. It’s time for all of us when we go back home for Christmas to tell old friends, uncles, aunts and cousins that it’s not okay for them to support Trump. The threat is so serious that we may have to force people to choose between our friendship and their misguided ideology. Nothing less than the survival of the republic and our very humanity is at stake.