The Confederacy is rising but its leader hails from New York City, not Mississippi. Donald Trump whistles Dixie with perfect pitch although a Southerner never taught him the tune. That irony should signal to us all that while the North never took up arms in rebellion, it certainly marches to the same cadence of white supremacy as the Confederate states that did. Donald Trump is a modern day Confederate if we’ve ever seen one; his New York roots suggest people of color are vulnerable to white supremacists in power not just in Dixie but Manhattan, Boston and Chicago, too.
A massive riot in 1863 left many blacks lynched and over 100 others killed. Hundreds of blacks were forced to flee the city. That riot was not in Birmingham or Charleston but New York City. The city was filled with angry white men, lashing out at a government that sought to draft them to serve in a war increasingly framed as an abolitionist crusade. That same anger engulfed the men of the 128th Illinois Volunteer Infantry Regiment who, after the Emancipation Proclamation, deserted en masse rather than fight for black freedom. The 128th was not alone. This is the heritage of the North in which Donald Trump was shaped and it lives today.
The New York Donald Trump calls home was the incubator of the modern drug war. John Ehrlichman, who served as President Richard Nixon’s domestic policy chief, conceded that the drug war was a tool to terrorize and subjugate blacks. The blueprint from which the federal and other state governments constructed this “New Jim Crow” came from New York’s Governor, Nelson Rockefeller. Mandatory minimums for drug dealers and addicts are the legacy of Rockefeller’s administration, not George Wallace’s. Rockefeller also adopted “stop and frisk” along with “no-knock” laws to strengthen the power of law enforcement, undoubtedly against people of color. This is the public policy context Donald Trump knew as a young man. The dog whistle politics Trump employed during his campaign should not have been terribly surprising — he learned how to whistle Dixie long before the Republic primaries.
History is always written by the victors and as such, we have been taught a sanitized version of it in which the North fought for black liberation and consequently, racial attitudes differ sharply from those in the South. But black people have long been acquainted with grim realities above the Mason-Dixon line, even if others have struggled to properly discern them. We fail to see Donald Trump’s New York clearly because, in part, the North did not codify its bigotry in the same way the South did. The North’s more subtle approach has blinded most Americans to the Confederate spirit alive there; most have only noticed it during the most dramatic of moments. They saw it when parents in Boston were actively protesting busing, intended to integrate schools. Others only only recognized the tune of Dixie up North when Dr. King was being assaulted as he marched for fair housing in Chicago. It lives in the North, even when not readily apparent.
Donald Trump is acting and speaking in ways that do damage to the myth of the good Yankee man. His handling of Charlottesville, especially, made clear for many that the Confederacy is not simply a collection of states but a broader ideology that knows no geographic boundaries. Trump, a New Yorker, resonates soundly with those who cling to the Confederacy and its underlying ideals. He is one of them and we should not think that he, among his fellow Northeners, is alone. While the Northern Confederates may not always wear hoods and carry torches, they often do real estate deals and banking transactions and frankly, that is much more frightening in 2017.