By Mario Alexis Portella | Last Friday in Golden State Park, San Francisco, a statue of former President Ulysses S. Grant—the Union general who led his army to victory against the Confederate States during the Civil War—was toppled on as hundreds to celebrate Juneteenth. In like manner, Junípero Serra, an 18th-century missionary who was declared a saint in the Catholic Church, and Francis Scott Key, the composer of the national anthem, “The Star-Spangled Banner,” were also brought down—and we all thought it was just about the Confederate statues.
Ever since the George Floyd killing our nation has seen its civil order crumble. Unable to contain sporadic acts of violence or organized riots that have thus far resulted in more than a dozen deaths and hundreds of millions in theft and property damage, the lack of moral leadership from both Democrat and Republican government officials—on all levels—has been despondent.
What tends to be even more disturbing in this socio-cultural war that is the unharmonious reaction of white and hispanic protesters with their fists raised—symbol of black nationalism popularized by the militant Black Panthers in the 1960s; in Europe its a symbol of Communist solidarity—or brought to their knees before the mobs, asking for forgiveness for sins they did not commit. This has been highlighted by politicians, such as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senators Church Schumer and Tim Kaine kneeling on the ground as if they were hostages. Such acts do not express a will to reform or fight discrimination, but rather assuming personal liability for someone else’s crimes.
What this means is that the definition of racism is being expanded. If I do not “take a knee” in protest for some flawed act of a politician, which may not be in any way shape or form racist, I am characterized as a bigot. Why? Because my skin color is different I am guilty of how blacks were mistreated?
The racial capitulation, however, has gone beyond taking the knee or raising the fist:
- In Webster, Massachusetts, Police Chief Michael Shaw, was coerced to lie face-down on the ground for eight minutes.
- In Cary, North Carolina, a group of whites washed the feet of black organizers to “ask for forgiveness.”
- In Minneapolis, Mayor Jacob Frey, despite saying all the “right” things to the radical leftists, was still heckled out of a public square for refusing to defund the police department.
When Did This Begin?
The present phenomenon in our country may have erupted under President Donald Trump but it did not begin with him. As per Stephen F. Knott’s The Lost Soul of the American Presidency, today’s civil was has been brewing since Richard Nixon took office.
Nixon, notwithstanding the healing rhetoric of his campaign and his inaugural address, never sought to reconcile his opponents, especially the anti-Vietnam protesters. Instead, he solely reached out to his so-called ‘silent majority’—just as Donald Trump did in his Tulsa rally last Saturday. Simultaneously, Nixon chose to exacerbate the tensions so that he could pose as the knight in shining armor for his political base—he even welcomed ‘Hard Hats’ to the White House who had beaten up antiwar protestors in New York City on the steps of Federal Hall in 1970 where George Washington had been inaugurated as the nation’s first president.
Nixon’s vice president, Spirew Agnew, further escalated the rhetorical war arguing that a divided nation was something positive: “If in challenging we polarize the American people, I say it is time for positive polarization.” The end results were further divisions in the country and hatred towards a president who was forced to resign. And this is what President Trump partially risks in repeating unless he changes strategy.
Normally, whenever Trump has a rally for example, he points out a dilemma—whatever it may be—and a villain, which is normally the media and any politician who refuses to agree with him. Thereby presenting himself as the knight in shinning armor to salvage the situation. This is counter-productive, at best. To continually target his opponents as “the enemy” will not heal the wounds of our country.
A Possible Solution
If there is a politician that Donald Trump can learn from in order to start turning the tide it is President Abraham Lincoln.
Lincoln, for example, never called the Confederates his enemies, though he had ever reason to do so—neither did Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Lincoln never exploited partisan divisions, and when he won the Civil War, thereby preserving the Union, he ordered that the Confederate politicians and officers were not to be tried for treason or insurrection.
Lincoln, as Knott points out, also succeeded in recruiting political adversaries to be his cabinet members, including Secretary of State William Seward and Secretary of Treasury Salmon P. Chase. Knott writes: “When asked why he had appointed his rivals, Lincoln responded ‘these were the very strongest men…. I had no right to deprive the country of their services.’”
At the same time, he not only pressed obstinate members of the House of Representatives to vote for the for the 13th Amendment that abolished slavery, he also paved the way to reconstruct American society—the reason he was assassinated—policies that were followed up by President Ulysses S. Grant, notwithstanding the vehement opposition from the southern states.
Common sense would tell us that most Americans are against the anarchists’ destruction of society, be it Antifa, Black Lives Matter or numerous biased elected officials. That being said, we as Americans do not need to be continually reminded who the enemies. Instead, in these times that try men’s souls we need infrastructure programs to rebuild our socio-economic economic society, just as the Marshall Plan did for Western Europe after World War II—the thugs and hooligans will eventually dissipate if this is implemented.
It is up to Trump alone to lead us out of this cultural civil strife we are in and he only has five months to get it done if he hopes to be reelected. It may be wishful thinking to think our country will unite under Trump overnight, but it does not mean he cannot start planting the seeds that will eventually do so.
Mario Alexis Portella is a priest of the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore and Chancellor of the Archdiocese of Florence, Italy. He has a doctorate in canon law and civil law from the Pontifical Lateran University in Rome; he also holds a M. A. in Medieval History from Fordham University, as well as a B.A. in Government & Politics from St. John’s University. He is author of Islam: Religion of Peace – The Violation of Natural Rights and Western Cover-Up.