Harper Lee died before the reckoning, but she saw it coming. I’m betting she even foresaw Donald Trump’s ascendancy. She was a realist about race in the United States, you see.
At least she was in her first book, “Go Set A Watchman”; she tried to stifle that realism in the book that made her famous, “To Kill A Mockingbird.” But even there a sense of sober realism seeped through the cracks.
Lee would understand why Hillary Clinton’s newfound dominance in the Democratic primaries is a boon for Trump. Angry and scared white folk have to go somewhere. If Bernie’s socialism comes a cropper, than maybe Donald’s fascism will be just the thing.
Yes, you heard me right. Now that Hillary’s got a lock on the Democratic nomination for president, I am predicting some of Bernie’s supporters will migrate to Trump.
How is that possible?
Step back for a moment and ask first how it is possible that Donald Trump is leading the Republican pack. The establishment hates him, the media scorns him and the politically correct, those who benefit from mouthing the right sentiments in the right way, deplore him.
Yet Trump is appealing to voters throughout the country.
So much the worse for the media, the Republican elite and the politically correct — the cultural 1 percent are tone deaf to the sound of despair.
It’s no mystery to me that Trump draws from an angry and alienated base of white voters, typically older, working-class folk who have lost a sense of hope. Members of this same demographic are reported to be committing suicide at a rate higher than members of other groups.
Why the suicides? The country is fracturing all around us, breaking up into various identity groupings. In an age of identity politics, every orientation, every life matters, unless, of course, you’re white, male heterosexual. In that case, you bear the scar of “white male privilege.” You’re suspect, and you owe a debt to the world. Try paying that debt in a broken economy when your own bills go unpaid.
Trump’s appeal is that he doesn’t buy the victimhood narrative. When he says he wants to “Make America Great Again,” what he’s really trying to do is turn back the clock to a time in which, at least for Caucasians, their accidents of birth didn’t make them into moral suspects.
When Hillary says we’ve always been great, but she wants to make us whole by eliminating barriers, it sounds to many like she’s preaching a gospel in which it is a sin to be white, a sin for which white folk need to atone. Hence, her campaign rhetoric about what “white people need to do.”
Hillary knocked ’em dead at the polls on Super Tuesday. She captured an overwhelming percentage of the black vote. That won’t be lost on angry white folk.
When a white guy defends himself, he’s a racist. When others defend themselves, they are claiming what’s theirs. Trump’s appeal is that he won’t apologize for who he is — the consummate white male too busy to notice, or even to care much about, what others want from him.
We’ve always had an uneasy conscience about race in the United States. A nation founded on slavery is necessarily divided in soul. But the old masters are slipping into minority status.
Yesteryear’s oppressed stretch their demographic muscles. We talk little of “Americans” these days, but lots about what type of American each of us identifies as.
It’s time to ponder Augustine’s “City of God.” Behold the American political landscape — we’re all of us in love with the wrong things, a product, Augustine warned us, of sin whose wages can only yield death.
There aren’t enough black entertainers getting awards? Then let Chris Rock host the Academy Awards. But did he dis Asians? There is no end to racial, no, make that identity, pandering. Our politics are becoming pure farce.
Is Trump the white man’s answer? Is he calling the bluff of those who want their identity to be a badge of moral superiority?
Perhaps there’s no escaping the lure of the tribe. But there’s a reckoning coming, and upheaval, perhaps even violence.
Harper Lee saw it all. But her publisher knew the American public wasn’t ready to read the truth half a century ago. So her first novel was sent back for a rewrite. The result was saccharine Atticus Finch of “Mockingbird,” first published in 1960.
You will recall Atticus Finch as the courageous lawyer defending a black man wrongly accused in the deep South. Atticus spawned a generation of lawyers, all dedicated to doing the right thing. All wanted to be Gregory Peck, cutting a lonely figure, a man of integrity in a world of hate.
“To Kill a Mockingbird” was a Manichean farce. Good and evil aren’t poles apart. We’re all sinners in need of grace.
In “Watchman,” which she wrote first, but which was not published until just last year, Atticus was a member of a White Citizen’s Council, a group dedicated to protecting white folks against a rising black tide that threatened their way of life. Back then, identity politics in the form of white dominance was a way of life.
In “Watchman,” Atticus’ sister was blunt in her assessment of race relations: “Keeping a (black man — her actual term is too caustic to print in a general circulation newspaper today) is like catering to a king.” I’m guessing Trump knows a thing or two about this sister.
In “Watchman,” Atticus’ brother was terrified. Whites were outnumbered in their small town. He hoped the fire next time would be bloodless, but he had his doubts. I suspect many Trump supporters struggle with the same fear, hence the white suicide rate.
All this racial realism was left on the cutting room floor in “Mockingbird.”
But one piece did slip through: “Don’t fool yourselves — it’s all adding up and one of these days we’re going to pay the bill for it. I hope it’s not in you children’s time,” Atticus tells Scout in “Mockingbird.”
The bill is now due. Payment is demanded. Donald Trump says no, and he has the support to make a stand. On the other side of this chaos awaits something as yet unseen.
God help us survive the bridge we are now required to walk.