Looking back on the past 50 years or so of American politics, I can’t recall as horrific a development as the rise of Donald Trump. When Republicans meet in Cleveland this month, they likely will nominate a total nincompoop to head the party’s 2016 presidential ticket.
Of course, during the turbulent ’60s there was a political candidate who, like Trump, riled up crowds with incendiary racist rhetoric. George Wallace, the segregationist former-governor of Alabama, ran for the presidency on the American Independent Party ticket. On July 3, 1968, I attended Wallace’s presidential rally at the Minneapolis Auditorium.
In a year that saw the assassinations of the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Sen. Robert Kennedy, and a variety of riots and insurrections, Wallace toured the country stirring up racial hatred. His stop in Minneapolis was no exception.
I recall that hundreds of protesters in the auditorium became increasingly agitated as a miserable country-western band, Wallace’s warm-up act, played on interminably. Finally, protesters congregated in the front of the stage and they were met by a phalanx of Minneapolis cops (likely some of them were Wallace supporters). The cops sprayed mace on the protesters, even before Wallace came out to speak.
“A Negro youth climbed on the stage at 8:15 p.m. and appeared to be trying to take the microphone,” according to a report in the Minneapolis Star. “Shoving and fist swinging started.”
During the candidate’s oration, a throng of protesters in the seats stage left mocked Wallace by repeatedly thrusting out their arms in the Nazi salute and yelling, “Sieg heil!” It was quite a show.
Earlier in the day, Wallace held a press conference at the airport and verbally jousted with reporters for 75 minutes. “I think relations between the races would be better,” he said, regarding his vision society during a Wallace presidency. “I’m gonna pay more attention to the Indians than you’ve been doin’,” the Minneapolis Tribune reported.
In 2016, we again are faced with a racist, nativist candidate for president – this time, however, it’s a person poised to represent one of the two major political parties in the United States. Trump, a fascistic and bigoted politician, represents a greater danger to this nation than did George Wallace in 1968.
And Trump makes no promise about “gonna pay more attention to the Indians.” In addition to his offensive comments directed at Mexicans, Muslims, women, the disabled, etc., Trump has been a consistent antagonist of tribal sovereignty. His animus against American Indians seems to go back more than 20 years, and stems from tribal competition to his casino holdings in Atlantic City.
In 1993, Trump sued the federal government, maintaining that allowing Indian tribes to open casinos discriminates again him, according to a story in the New York Times. Trump argued in his lawsuit that the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act of 1988, which enabled Indians to open casinos across the country, violated the 10th Amendment, which reserved regulation of such matters to the states. In 1993, Trump owned three casinos in Atlantic City. He also testified before Congress and alleged that Mafia crime families had infiltrated Indian gaming operations; he provided no credible evidence to back up his charge.
“I think for a lot of people of color and indigenous people, they’re not surprised he’s come this far and is now the presumptive Republican nominee,” Rep. Peggy Flanagan, DFL-St. Louis Park, responded to my question about how she accounts for the rise of Trump. “I say that because many of the things that he says out loud we know have been just below the surface.”
Flanagan, a citizen of the White Earth Nation who was elected to the state House of Representatives last year, added that, in Minnesota, “we have a hard time talking about race,” and “we have some of the largest racial disparities” [in areas like education, income, jobs and health].
Regarding Trump’s spew of racist and bigoted comments, Flanagan commented, “Now that you have someone out front, everything that was like a dog whistle before has now become a bullhorn, and has made it okay to say out loud. So, I’m not necessarily surprised, but I am fairly heartbroken and devastated by just where we are as a country.”
Flanagan is supporting Hillary Clinton for president, and commented that the Democratic nomination battle, between Hillary and Bernie, has been quite “divisive” in the Indian community. I wasn’t aware of that; but with the presidential election just four months away, we are going to have to come together behind Hillary Clinton, who is the only credible alternative to a catastrophic Trump presidency.