How 2016 Was Like 1916, And How It Was Different

Woodrow Wilson, PhD was elected President of the United States in 1916. Upon taking office, Wilson, himself a southerner, immediately loaded his administration with his fellow Southern Democrats. This resurgence of the heirs of the Confederacy's bequest was shocking, as until then the Democrats had not done well since Lincoln's day. Wilson promptly re-segregated the federal government, and while feted for many of his economic policies, he set minorities back decades. It became hard for African Americans to get high-level civil service jobs. Washington led the resurgence of white Christian supremacy in making "White" and "Colored" restrooms.

Wilson is known for several notable achievements. He created the Federal Reserve, thus freeing the country's economy from being so tied to Wall Street. He also started the Federal Trade Commission to enforce antitrust laws and prevent the unlawful suppression of competition. He was an advocate for women's suffrage, and they won the right to vote while he was in office. It can be argued that Teddy Roosevelt caused the United States to recognized as an emerging global force and that Wilson caused the world to view the U.S. as a global leader. It can also be argued that Wilson helped the atrocious Jim Crow Era gain its footing. President Wilson brought a lot of good to a lot of people, but at the expense of other Americans.

A movie that glorified the KKK, "The Birth of a Nation" was screened at the White House with Wilson attending. Based on a novel, "The Clansman: A Historical Romance of the Ku Klux Klan," it was written by a former classmate of Wilson's at Johns Hopkins University, Thomas F. Dixon. Wilson commented, "It is like writing history with lightning, and my only regret is that it is all so terribly true." A quote of Wilson' appeared in the movie,

"The white men were roused by a mere instinct of self-preservation... until at last there had sprung into existence a great Ku Klux Klan, a veritable empire of the South, to protect the Southern country."

African Americans were portrayed horribly in the film and were devastated, feeling betrayed by their own president and country. One has to have questions about a country that could elect a figure like this after a calamitous Civil War brought us to the brink of extermination.

Wilson was known as a devout Christian. His father had helped found the Presbyterian Church of the Confederacy. He claimed that God had brought him to the Oval Office. In a letter in which he courted Nancy Toy in 1915, he wrote,

My life would not be worth living if it were not for the driving power of religion, for faith, pure and simple. I have seen all my life the arguments against it without ever having been moved by them ... never for a moment have I had one doubt about my religious beliefs. There are people who believe only so far as they understand -- that seems to me presumptuous and sets their understanding as the standard of the universe... I am sorry for such people.

Wilson's testimony makes it clear that no matter how devout a people are seen to be, it is not impossible for their politics overshadow their religious faith.

Wilson rode the Jim Crow wave perhaps more than any president before or after. His administration brought only grief to African Americans. Once again, a century later, while many Americans rejoice, albeit a minority if the popular vote means anything, African Americans are mourning. One of my white friends describes her feelings, "I want to apologize. I want to say 'I'm not one of them,'" when she encounters people of color, to say that she does not co-sign to bigotry. That is how our country differs now from the days of Woodrow Wilson. There is a growing awareness of our mutuality, too.

Because a policy works does not make it right, especially if it works only for the wealthy, while whittling away the hope of the rest. "Those who don't know history are doomed to repeat it," wrote Edmund Burke. It seems we are doing just those two things: not knowing, and repeating. The present threat is more ominous than the pain we felt during the Reagan administration. Still, I am convinced that we are stronger this time. Far too many of us do know our history this time. Far too many of us are aware of our price-paying predecessors, this time.

This is not 1916, and allies of my people are legion. We are combining with indigenous Americans, LGBTQ persons, and people in other countries to say that the days of white Christian supremacy are fading. Our solidarity is unprecedented, and it is exciting, but understandably, still many of us are quite sad. We are the country that elected Barack Obama, and came close to seeing a woman as president. Some of us imagined that we would, in our lifetimes, see more diverse representation at every level of government. We thought that we might see presidents who are Native American, Latino, Muslim, Asian, female and gay.

We feel the loss, the sorrow of the setback, and yet I am hopeful that we are not alone. We know that we are fighting against disinformation, and even no information. There is the reality of "fake news" and yet we believe that we, together, will outlast the lies. In an earlier generation, African Americans had few counterparts in the dialogue.

Before World War II, Negro newspapers drew such little notice from their white counterparts that even when they clearly had the inside track on a story of national importance, the white press tended to ignore it.

We had eyes to see back then, and we are not naïve, now. No matter who ignores us, there are still eyes that see what some deny. We know there are infiltrators, sellouts, and people who have been lulled to sleep by their success, imagining themselves to be insulated from Wilsonian tactics. It will not be easy to move forward toward community, but we knew that there are eyes, and now not only we, ourselves, but the whole world is watching. Who knows what damage was done to the powerless by Woodrow Wilson? Even Reagan's legacy doesn't come close, and that may speak to the sensibilities of justice and humanity that each younger generation embraces to resist racism, preferring love to hate, and community to supremacy.

The cause for justice has cost many lives, and will probably cost more, and yet that is not the reason for mourning. It's the reason for hope, because we have always had allies. We had John Brown, Helen Keller, Juliette Hampton Morgan, Rev. James Reeb, and today we have Father Michael Pfleger and Tim Wise. They are representatives of the millions of people who have a history of speaking up when others are silent. And we have ourselves. We have always had allies because we have always had us, and our existence, our survival, is compelling. We are fascinated with our own story. We are spellbound by our own achievers, our own authors, our own athletes, our own music, our own endurance, our own, creativity, our own inventiveness, our own love, our own language, our own hair... our own faith.

While beautiful, loving people everywhere long to coalesce, it seems like there is a sluggishness among Christians. They'll side with country even if it means siding against God. Instead of leading the way with compassion, they are interested in building walls. It's not too late, though, for us enter the conversation. Just as there are churches that are intentionally segregated, there will be others that are intentionally open and free.

Our Resistance

The world slowly divested from South Africa during Apartheid and banned them from the Olympics. Because the resistance was both external and internal, embodied perhaps most in Nelson Mandela, the era ended without military intervention, although the country suffered decades of violent repression of its black-majority population and frequent volatile pushbacks from freedom fighters.

The global community, including the United States, failed Jews by refusing them refuge, and millions were murdered. Some of the history's greatest Americans were and are today subjugated by their own society, simply because they are not white, and we need allies. We have seen time and again that the community of western Christians are selective in their service. Some of them will certainly rise to the occasion. We cannot afford to wait for their initiative, though, because we can't wait. We must raise our voices and be broadly visible to those who want to know who we are. Humans are famous for coming together, becoming more generous and helpful, when under duress; there's nothing like a disaster to create heroes. We must remain committed to the understanding that community is far superior to empire.

People who are comfortable with the policies of the powers are never satisfied with nonviolent resistance. What they want is no resistance. They are infuriated by Ferguson protestors, Colin Kaepernick, Black Lives Matter, Standing Rock, and pretty much anything else. We can't afford to let their patronizing smirks or pelting sneers put out our flame. Stay strong. You are saving lives. And world? We need you to do all you can. Now.

My Resistance

Patrice Cullors, co-founder of Black Lives Matter, said in an interview with Esquire, "We reflected on the time when marriage was illegal for black people and remembered when it was illegal, just months earlier, for LGBTQ people. We understood our love as an act of political resistance." Love is resistance. Hope is resistance. Joy is resistance. Let's live our lives as fully as we can, and raise our voices when we get the chance.

I have often heard the appeal, "God has a wonderful plan for your life." I hope you know that there are multiple, joyful, pathways before you. A woman asked me once, "Our family is moving to the Midwest, and I don't know if it's God's will," to which I replied, "if it doesn't work out, move back, or somewhere else." Rigid adherence to the idea of "a plan for your life" evades the spontaneity of God. There are surprises out there waiting to be experienced.

My friend Ashley is Afro-Latina, and it is hard for her to think in binary when it comes to race matters. She also sees that people like her are our hope--in sort of a reverse Tower of Babel way--because of sharper chops for diplomacy. An hour with her might convince anyone that she is right, and gives reason for hope. The prerequisite is awareness. When a person is ashamed of herself, or a part of herself, her capacity to enter effectively into the tumultuous and sometimes raging debate will be limited.

People deprived of their social dignity cannot be satisfied. Free people imagine they are satisfied, because their perception is a study in comparisons. Poet Emma Lazarus, is known mainly for her sonnet, "The New Colossus," on the Statue of Liberty's base. She once wrote, "Until we are all free, we are none of us free." We will therefore be in restive motion until that day comes, because those on the bottom will cry, "I can't breathe," and when the stranglehold is not released, their children will have the same chant. It is not a country, but its citizens who will find relief by opening our hearts. I get frustrated, I get tired, I feel like giving up sometimes, and so I am looking for your help.

This is an excerpt from David Moore's upcoming book God Is Not an Asshole: and I am not a loser.