With all of the mayhem surrounding Donald Trump and his bid to represent the Republican Party in 2016, there’s been this rush to denounce Trump by the faces on news stations, celebrities on Twitter etc. The phrase is familiar, “I just cannot believe in 2016 we’ve let Trump get this far. That this would be accepted in America in this day and age.” Pretty standard. How in this great land of freedom and equality can a candidate run on a platform of white nationalism, with a smidge of sexism and homophobia? As a student of history, this questioned is a little stupid. How is this not MORE common? Trump has been the President of the United States of America multiple times. When people cite America’s history with (insert group that isn’t straight, white males), we avoid the pieces of legislation that encouraged violence and hate. The individuals who were in charge. The Donald Trumps.
- Andrew Jackson, POTUS 1829-1837.
Andrew Jackson was a jackass. He is easily one of the most racist commanders this country has ever had. The fame that led him to the presidency can be found in his time destroying Seminole and runaway slave villages in Florida, and illegally seizing Spanish territory (occupied mainly by women and children) in Pensacola. What a hero huh? He can be credited with signing into law the Indian Removal Act, one of America’s many, many racial blunders. This act essentially gave President Jackson the power to grant “unsettled lands west of the Mississippi” (WHICH DID NOT BELONG TO THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT) to tribes in exchange for their lands in American territory. Unsettled land assumes nobody lived west of the Mississippi. The hundreds of Plains tribes living in those “unsettled lands” would disagree, and would showcase their disagreement by warring with tribes that were placed on their lands.
In attempting to remove tribes, Jackson would famously, and publicly, disregard a Supreme Court ruling (Worcester v. Georgia) dealing with the Cherokee Indians. Gold was found on Cherokee land in Georgia. The Cherokees refused to move, but had Americans come on their land and fight/kill for the gold. The Supreme Court sided with the Cherokee Indians. Jackson said their decision would fall “stillborn” because he had no intention of enforcing it. Instead, he would have representatives sign an illegal treaty with an unelected group of Cherokees signing away their land. When the Cherokees leader sent a petition with 16,000 signatures stating this treaty was illegal and was not representative of their government, the federal government ignored them. The Trail of Tears would follow.
- Andrew Johnson, POTUS 1865-1869
When the Civil War ended, and slavery was abolished, it would have made sense to see multiple generations of former slaves be granted rights over time. Equality shouldn’t take but a generation or two to phase in right? WRONG. Because we had Andrew Johnson. Johnson should have never been President. He was only Vice President because Lincoln wanted a southerner on his ticket to make sure he would win the 1864 election. Then he was assassinated. So Reconstruction, the period where America would try to repair itself after the Civil War was left to a southern man who had previously owned slaves. If the mountains of irony are not apparent, let me spell it out for you. By 1866, Andrew Johnson had pardoned 7,000 Confederate soldiers and officers and returned all of their property. Seven. Thousand. Pardons. Half of the country committed treason and waged war with the federal government. Former governors and congressmen leading Confederate troops against the United States. We blow up countries just for thinking about warring with the U.S. These men who had just attempted to create their own country and destroy the United States, had just been put back in power by Andrew Johnson. Very few of them saw trial for their treason.
Let that sink in. A series of events would lead to former slaves being lynched and burned, former slaves who, per the Constitution, were American citizens as was their birthright. This series of events begins with Johnson’s presidency. Many former Confederate officers and soldiers would go on to form hate groups targeting black politicians in the South. The Klu Klux Klan was one of many. What better way to mobilize a group of racist white men in the south than to pardon them and their former Confederate leaders. Now military bands could change their name from Confederate Army to Klu Klux Klan, the Red Shirts, White Knights of the Camellia etc. and so forth.
- Woodrow Wilson, POTUS 1913-1921
How did we go from freeing the slaves in 1863 to not having basic civil rights promised by the Constitution until 1957? For this one, we can look to the famously religious man that was President Wilson. Under Wilson, the federal government would copy southern policy and enact segregation in many of its departments, including in Washington D.C. Jim Crow had spread to the capital. The government in the land where all men are created equal was reinforcing the racial hierarchy.
Wilson had met with many black activists during his run for presidency, and was thought to be an ally to the black community. Many activists were now being called traitors to their people as Wilson not only did not help black Americans, but made their situation worse. Now, the blame could be spread around and Wilson may not even be labeled a racist by historians had he pleaded ignorance. But, when meeting with civil rights activist William Monroe Trotter, Wilson famously told Trotter that segregation was best for everybody. It kept white people happy, and black people safe. Wait, pick your jaw up. He’s not done. He also told Trotter that the humiliation black people felt at being treated as second class citizens was up to them, they didn’t have to take it as embarrassing. Yes. Yes he did, and no this is not conspiracy. It was plastered on the front pages of newspapers nationwide. While black bodies were being mutilated and economic advancement was being made impossible, Wilson told a group of Americans to suck it up because he didn’t want to make white people mad.
- Roanald Reagan, 1981-1988
Reagan. Reagan strikes a chord with most minorities and poor people (see “welfare queen”). Conspiracies run rampant, some even believe he was the Anti-Christ or the Devil. But, none of those have stable enough ground for me to argue without mountains of research, obviously. No, Reagan’s Trump-like move would actually be against a different subset of American society, the LGBTQ community.
HIV/AIDS struck like a plague in the late 1970s. Researchers rushing to figure out what was killing off men and women, and looking frantically for a cure. When a disease begins to spread globally, America has often sent help or offered support. When that disease touches American soil however, we have historically done all that is needed to keep our citizens’ safe (see Bird Flu, Ebola etc in the last decade). HIV/AIDS was treated a little bit differently. Actually a lot bit differently. Think back to how many Americans had Ebola before a cure was discovered. 2, maybe 3? 16,301 Americans had died, not just been diagnosed, but died from complications related to HIV/AIDS by the end of 1986. Reagan’s first time ever saying the word AIDS in a public forum was in February of 1986 to Congress (as part of a greater speech, not the main topic), it wouldn’t be until April of 1987 that Reagan would address the American people regarding the HIV/AIDS epidemic. A plague was spreading amongst the LGBTQ community, not that the disease was exclusive to them but they were hit the hardest. Now people will argue for ignorance on Reagan’s part, that he wasn’t ignoring them. But how much leeway does he get? People knew about AIDS, not much, but they knew it existed. Organizatons for research and funding were popping up nationwide to save American lives. A damn play was written about AIDS. All before Reagan would ever mention the disease. An accident? Maybe, but this is the same man who said American society could not condone the gay lifestyle. The same man who’s communications director said AIDS was “nature’s revenge on gay men”. In 1983. In the New York Post. Reagan knew about AIDS and what it was doing, he didn’t care.
Now, with the exception of Andrew Jackson (who also owned slaves), each of these presidents either targeted, or ignored certain sects of American society. That’s what we usually lose in the shuffle. The LGBTQ community inside our borders, are all Americans. Former slaves after the Civil War, all Americans. Black people seeking protection by their Constitution from Jim Crow and the lynch mob, all Americans. The President of the United States is the President of ALL Americans.
Take any of these situations and insert Donald Trump as president, would you expect him to do anything different? Could he have done anything worse? Trump’s rhetoric has inspired a fervor of white nationalism. Making America great again right? Let’s go back to the days when a president could tell black people that their bodies don’t matter or could play ignorant to the cries for help by gay men. Let’s turn the clock back, and make sure everybody knows their place, that the hierarchy is as it was before we had a President who culturally resonated with a group that wasn’t white dudes. That is what I hear from Donald Trump when he speaks. President Obama seemed to be a turning point for us as a country, hopefully the first of many to right the centuries of wrongs done by this country to its own citizens and those tribes with whom we share this land. Donald Trump is asking to be put in the lineage of men who have done the opposite. He isn’t the first, in fact he’s probably the 20th or 30th if we start doing our Googles. Any member of a marginalized community in America will tell you that Trump is only reflecting the hate American society has for them. He is only a shock to those who believe in the “post-racial society” and those who don’t know he has run this country for most of its history.
“Our history, black history, no president ever did shit for me”
-Nas, My President (By Young Jeezy)