[Madison, Wisconsin, “Athens of the Midwest,” circa 1925]
Question: What could President Donald Trump do that would unite Democrats and the ruling Republicans in the U.S. to demand that he change his position on a public issue?
Answer: He could and did blame “both sides” for that violent demonstration in Virginia in August that resulted in the death of a counter-protester and further suggest that some “very fine people” were among the white-nationalist marchers.
That’s white-nationalists whose proud heritage includes Adolf Hitler who gassed six or seven million Jews and other minorities as well as his World War II fascist allies who worked the racist tool to their temporary advantage. That’s white nationalists as in members of the Ku Klux Klan who organized after the American Civil War to undo the work of post-war reconstruction and terrify the newly free slaves into not daring to vote or claim their full citizenship. That’s the KKK, which made lynchings and terrorist bombings of churches and Sunday schools a vivid memory of the 20th Century resistance to the rule of law and decent human values.
And now their ranks in this century include ‘some very fine people.’?
You don’t need to have lived through all of this to know that racism is both a universal and pervasive evil and Trump’s failure to respond with a denunciation of the Klan and its fellow travelers was too much for many members of an American Congress that has become known for a ‘see no evil hear no evil stance’ toward this president.
The Pacific got a very good taste of fascism from World War II Japan and while racism is hardly unknown throughout the region, it is mercifully free from major organized groups holding such views. It’s hard to conceive of any leaders who would be hesitant to denounce such groups if they emerged from their sewer homes to become major influences on public thought.
I can’t say I ever thought the KKK was a thing of past, since they’ve continued to don their white robes and burn crosses on many dark nights throughout my lifetime. It’s just that up until 2017, we’ve had no modern president who felt obliged not to denounce the organization for its actions.
President Woodrow Wilson was different. Wilson caught the revisionist wave which presented the Civil War as not so much about ending the institution of slavery as maintaining states rights for those beleaguered plantation owners and those allegedly happy ‘darkies’ singing Dixie. In 1915 Wilson screened D.W. Griffith’s classic, but appallingly racist to a modern eye film, Birth of a Nation at the White House. The Klan, which had been somewhat moribund at that point, enjoyed a sharp rebound and had a lot of influence over Democratic Party activities in the 20s.
The pro-southern propaganda continued through the 1930s with Margaret Mitchell’ best-selling novel Gone With the Wind and the subsequent and even more successful movie version.
Growing up in Wisconsin with ancestors who shed blood for the Union side during the war, I was amazed to see photographs of robed Klan members marching on the state capitol in the 1920s. I wish that I could have had the opportunity to talk to veterans of that war regarding how they viewed this ahistorical nostalgia, but they were already part of history.
It turns out that this spirit was more widespread than I would have ever imagined back then. The University of Wisconsin campus, set in Madison, once styled by its boosters, “The Athens of the Midwest,” was home to a Ku Klux Klan fraternity. The best known statue on the campus is of President Abraham Lincoln, but the names of some of those departed KKK frat members remain on rooms at the UW’s student union building.
Bruce Lloyd is a veteran journalist, who has been a longtime resident of Guam and Saipan. Send feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org