The worst of our past

It was a big party. They had a lot of fun.

The chanting was disturbing and the anger was frightening, but what I noticed most about the president’s rally in Greenville, N.C., on Wednesday night was the pleasure of the crowd.

His voters and supporters were having fun. The “Send her back” chant directed at Representative Ilhan Omar of Minnesota was hateful but also exuberant, an expression of racist contempt and a celebration of shared values.

What values? The values of racist contempt, white triumphalism, belligerent patriotism, paranoid nationalism, generalized anger.

To watch raucous crowds of (mostly) white Americans unite in frenzied hatred of a black woman — to watch them cast her as a cancer on the body politic and a threat to a racialized social order — is to see the worst of our past play out in modern form.

A few decades back it would have been a lynching. Those too used to be exuberant festivals of hatred.

Ah. I typed that before I scrolled to the next paragraph.

To be clear, the Trump rally was not a lynch mob. But watching the interplay between leader and crowd, my mind immediately went to the mass spectacles of the lynching era.

Quite. They really did have a party atmosphere of the same kind as Trump’s foul “rallies.” People used to send postcards of lynchings. Jamelle Bouie goes on to describe one such lynching.

It is important to take history on its own terms. We shouldn’t conflate the past with the present, but we should also be aware of ideas and experiences that persist through time. A political rally centered on the denunciation of a prominent black person demands reference to our history of communal, celebratory racism.

Trump has no understanding of that, and wouldn’t care if he did. You could tell him that his rally had set off a mob that very night and that they had burned down several houses with people in them, and it wouldn’t slow him down for a second.

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