In my AP history class in Northern Virginia, we held an annual debate about the Civil War.
I know, right? What’s there to argue about? Slavery bad. Confederacy wrong. I thought captaining the team for the North would be a slam dunk.
I forgot I was in Virginia, Confederate flag central.
The South got to fire the opening salvo. They whined about how much money ending slavery would cost them. They threw out numbers and words like “recession” and “economic hardship.” The math whiz on our side tried to counter, and it turned into an argument on numbers. That morphed into aggrieved Southerners insisting that the North was tyrannically forcing an abhorrent lifestyle change.
The South never conceded that slavery was morally wrong, let alone a horror show of torture, rape, and children being ripped away from their mothers to be sold. Their arguments were all “states rights” and economic hardship.
After class, I cornered the Southern captain and asked him where the hell he got his numbers.
He laughed and said, “We made them up.”
Decades later, I’m still arguing. Conservatives are still making shit up. Our conversations generally go like this:
Me: Trump is terrible. He’s a self-admitted assaulter of women –
Conservative: No, he’s not all those women are liars.
Me: He was caught on tape bragging about grabbing women by the pussy.
Conservative: He only did that once and that was 13 years ago and didn’t you ever do something you were ashamed of 13 years ago?
Me: Clinton got impeached for having an affair with an intern. You don’t think Trump should get the same treatment for a) cheating on Melania with Stormy Daniels, and b) paying her off during the campaign?
Conservative: The Democrats just made it up to sink Trump. And that porn star just wants to make money, she’s hardly credible, there’s no proof. She’s dirt and he’s the President of the United States. (Think I’m making up these excuses? If only!)
Me: But Trump admits he paid her off!
Conservative: Powerful men do that. And if he did, that’s between him and the Lord and it has nothing to do with our country which he’s doing an amazing job running.
Me: Are you outta your goddamned mind? We’re in a trade war, the tariffs are hitting everything from steel to Harley-Davidson motorcycles, we’ve got internment camps for babies, plus racists assaulting and killing people because Trump encourages other racists.
Conservative: He is not a racist!
Me: Yes, he is! He was sued by the government for racist landlord policies. He says that Mexicans are rapists, Latinos in general are animals, and only wants white immigrants! He called the white supremacists in Charlottesville “very fine people!”
Conservative: I read his speech. It wasn’t racist.
Me: You’re saying it’s not racist to support racists?
Conservative: You Democrats. Always with the name-calling.
Me: How is calling a racist a racist name-calling? And the hypocrisy of it all – you support a man who constantly insults anyone who disagrees with him, calling them liars, losers, fat, ugly, stupid, low IQ, etc.
Conservative: He speaks his mind!
Me: So actual insults by Trump are okay, but calling him a racist for his racist insults is not.
Conservative: He’s the President and he’s a great man, and he made so many sacrifices, giving up his privileged lifestyle and his paycheck to be President and we should support him.
Conservative: See? He’s a good businessman!
Me: He’s both unethical and a crap businessman, which is why only Russian banks would lend to him, which is why he’s susceptible to Russian blackmail and why the Russians interfered to make him President –
Conservative: That’s fake news!
Me: No, it’s a real investigation, and all intelligence services agree there was Russian interference—
Conservative: Because they’re all Democrats who hate Trump! It’s just a made-up witch hunt by the Dems!
Conservative: They should be investigating Hillary!
Me: They did investigate Hillary! For Bengazi, like eleven times. Then for her private email server – twice! They found no evidence—
Conservative: Lock her up! Lock her up!
I wish I could say the above argument was a parody. It’s more of a daily occurrence. All efforts to introduce facts that don’t support Trump are met with cries of “fake news!” Debate is impossible. As Obama once said, “One of the biggest challenges that we have to our democracy is the degree to which we do not share a common baseline of facts.”
That’s bad enough, but I’d take it one step further. Trump supporters no longer share a common baseline of MORALITY with the rest of the country. When they can’t write off Trump’s own racist and misogynist statements as “Fake news,” Trumpers excuse or ignore their hero’s racism, misogyny, and even his traitorous stupidity. Men who screamed bloody murder about Hillary’s private email server don’t care that Trump uses an unsecured cellphone or allowed the Russians to have the run of the Oval Office.
And don’t say that “the Democrats would do the same thing.” Democratic Senator Al Franken’s sexual misconduct wasn’t nearly as bad as Trump’s affairs or harassment of women, yet he was forced to resign due to tremendous Democratic pressure.
How is such blatant Republican hypocrisy possible?
Let’s go back to the Civil War.
American culture is centered on winning. We love a winner, right? Trump’s most popular campaign promise was so vague as to be laughable, but it resonated with his people: “We’re going to win so much, you’ll be sick of winning!”
Many Americans ate up his promises, perhaps because we’ve never fully understood the value of failure. You can learn from mistakes, but only if you admit you made them and have the fortitude to analyze your own shortcomings. As a country, we celebrate “the American Dream” of success; rarely do we examine our failures.
Much like Trump, who ran business after business into the ground and survived on million dollar loans from his father before he switched to Russian banks.
Perhaps he is the hero we white people deserve — a giant, grabby toddler who has never been told “no” or faced consequences.
When a child makes a mistake and hurts someone, we teach them to recognize the injury and say, “I’m sorry. I did wrong. How can I make it better?”
Yet the entirety of the United States never managed the self-awareness of a kindergartener. Slaves were freed, but we never actually said to Black America (or the Natives we slaughtered), “My God. That was wrong. We should never have done that. What a moral failure. How can we make amends and never do that again?!”
Without contrition, without apology, without amends, the lesson was lost. The Confederacy was venerated instead of reviled.
There was no admission of guilt.
Statues of slave-owners were built.
Americans learned that rich white men a) aren’t wrong, and b) don’t have to say they’re sorry. We allowed them revisionist history that insisted slavery “wasn’t so bad” and slave-owners were “good masters.” We let them get away with Jim Crow. We let them gaslight generations into thinking that states rights are more important than human rights. We let them fly a traitor’s flag and name boulevards after traitorous generals.
Only in 2009 did Congress issue a federal apology for slavery, immediately followed by, “Nothing in this resolution authorizes or supports any claim against the United States.”
Never mind those kidnappings. Forget about the genocide, whippings, lynchings, the inability to build up assets — there will be no amends made in the USA.
Compare our attitude with Germany’s. Germany apologized for World War II and paid billions in reparations. (In fact, German Chancellor Angela Merkel is still apologizing for WWII.) Because Germans acknowledged both their guilt and the full horror of the Holocaust, there are no Hitler Highways or Goebbels Boulevards in Berlin. Nazi flags and emblems are outlawed. Germany vowed to do better and they did — the Germans were the first European country to open their borders to refugees during the crisis a few years ago.
Meanwhile, in the United States, we’re STILL shifting the blame. Conservatives insist that Black Americans are responsible for their own poverty or even being shot in the back by white policemen. Brown migrants seeking legitimate asylum at our borders are ripped away from their children — and conservatives believe those brown folks deserve it for trying to encroach on white America.
Republicans have given up worrying about facts. Their morality is a sham. Which should surprise no one. For more than one-hundred and sixty years, the majority of white Americans have excused, ignored, or flat-out lied about the horrors we perpetrated on people of color. How can we be shocked when Trumpers excuse, ignore, and lie now?
We taught them it was okay.