American scholar and writer Thomas Cahill has spent much of his life considering the ”hinge” times in Western civilization, such as the fall of the Roman Empire, times when everything was up for grabs and the old world was yielding to some other way, not yet known.
In a 2007 interview with Bill Moyers, Cahill discussed America and race. He said, “All societies have a dream and a nightmare. And our nightmare has been, I think, our racism. We practically committed genocide on the people who were here, the Native Americans. We enslaved another race of people, the Africans. And then we dropped the atom bomb on Asians. ... And I think that’s what proves the racism of it. That’s the nightmare of America. The dream of America is enunciated by the great speech by Martin Luther King, ‘I Have a Dream.’ The dream is that there is no country on earth that has tried to actually embrace all the people that we have tried to embrace. ... We could be called the most racist. Or we could be called the least. We are both. And it always remains a tension and a question as to which side of us, the good side or the bad side, will win out in the end. ...”
We are alive in one of America’s hinge moments. The battle between our good side and our bad side is now, and each of us has choices to make.
We have a president with a lifelong trail of racist and xenophobic statements and actions (tinyurl.com/Atlantic-Oral-History and tinyurl.com/PBS-Oral-Hist), and a major political party that has nurtured his darkness — and the party’s base — through fear-mongering, gerrymandering, race-based voter suppression, and mirroring Trump’s often petulant denial of objective reality.
Republican strategists and wiser heads in the GOP know Trump’s racist rhetoric is damaging to the party of Abraham Lincoln. Last July, when the president attacked four minority Democratic congresswomen, telling them to “go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came,” the right-leaning Washington Examiner asked Republican insiders to assess the damage: “Granted the protection of anonymity ... some said the president had committed an egregious, self-inflicted error that could haunt him all the way into next year. A veteran Republican consultant said this latest episode was a bigger political problem for Trump than his controversial response to a violent gathering of white supremacists in Charlottesville, Virginia, two summers ago.”
And how do Americans feel about Trump’s approach to the nation’s diversity? According to a July 2019 Fox News poll, 57 percent of voters disapprove of the way the president handles race relations.
But it’s not just the president’s tweets and the upcoming elections that make this a hinge moment, when Americans need to decide where they stand on race.
• According to the Pew Research Center, the most common age of whites in America in 2018 was 58. For blacks, 27, for Hispanics, 11.
• The U.S. Census Bureau estimates that America’s population will have a nonwhite majority by 2050. The white population of Colorado’s Adams County has already dipped below 50 percent.
• Based on U.S. Census Bureau data, whites are projected to account for only two-thirds of the eligible electorate in this election year, a share of the vote that is in decline.
Gauging Americans’ feelings about these changes in the country’s ethnic and racial makeup, the Pew Center has found that, “about half of Americans say this shift will lead to more conflicts between racial and ethnic groups. And about four-in-ten predict that a majority nonwhite population will weaken American customs and values, larger than the shares who say it will strengthen them (30%) or will not have much of an impact (31%).”
So it’s gut-check time.
Where will you stand in the battle between our good side and our bad side?