Governor George Wallace of Alabama is most known for his 1963 inaugural speech in which he said, “segregation now, segregation tomorrow and segregation forever!” Wallace was a segregationist and under his administration, several civil rights workers were brutalized and killed as a result of his apathy.
What most people don’t know is that Wallace was once a “liberal” judge who even showed respect to black attorneys: a rarity in his day. In fact, when Wallace first ran for governor in 1958, he was endorsed by the NAACP as a racial moderate while his opponent was endorsed by the KKK. Wallace lost the race and vowed to “never be outniggered again.”
Wallace was successful when he ran for governor in 1962. In a quote attributed to him, Wallace said,
“You know, I tried to talk about good roads and good schools and all these things that have been part of my career, and nobody listened. And then I began talking about niggers, and they stomped the floor.”
Truth is, politicians are simply a mirror; they merely reflect us. George Wallace didn’t come out as a staunch segregationist because he felt it was the issue of the day. Rather, the people dictated to him that it was the only way to get their votes and so he acquiesced.
In the same way, Donald Trump is catering to the market of today. His comments about Mexicans, blacks and Muslims have very little to do with the convictions that helped him become a celebrity entrepreneur. Further, while we may condemn him and wish he would bring more substance to the debate, more substantive candidates like John Kasich will tell you that such an approach will only net you two percent in the polls. Kasich’s experience right now proves that substance doesn’t matter; we don’t care about that. What Trump understands is where the American people are (or at least likely Republican primary voters) and he mirrors that well; in turn they respond.
Our anti-Trump sentiment is linked to our refusal to believe that we as a country are really in line with the poll numbers. Could it be that we are a racist, xenophobic, anti-intellectual nation? We’d rather not know the truth and when confronted by it, often we balk and insist that these things simply cannot be. Is it true that just decades ago, two black boys under the age of ten were pursued with shotguns, beaten and arrested because white girls in the neighborhood kissed them on their cheeks in a “kissing” game? We couldn’t possibly be that bad, right? It’s not possible that police departments plant evidence on innocent black men, destroy their lives and simply cover it up, right? Black kids in Chicago aren’t simply shot sixteen times while walking away from cops, right? No way banks still discriminate against loan applicants because of their color, right? WRONG.
Is this current version of Donald Trump ridiculous? Of course. Even so, he’s not the problem. The problem is now and has always been that we as a country are very flawed. Even worse, we continue to pretend otherwise. Yes, our history really is that bad. Yes, our present reality is very disturbing. You may not believe me but just ask Trump: numbers never lie.