White supremacy enjoyed a long and triumphal run, a run that continues, but the American past also includes campaigns against white supremacy, starting with anti-slavery and embodied in the black struggle for civil rights, most visible in the 1950s and 1960s but begun decades earlier and not yet ended. Black Americans led the struggle and paid the price in lives and mental health. And yet, for all that struggle and bloodshed, black Americans could not have enacted crucial legislation alone. Non-black allies also paid a price as they made the difference between an obscure struggle and widely reported campaigns. In the courts, communist allies defended black activists. In Congress, religious leaders taught representatives that black Americans, who were lifting the heaviest loads, were not in the work alone.
Just as Trump and his backers make historic racism newly visible, the American anti-racist past needs to come more fully alive. Racism may be momentarily more visible and better funded, but the 20th-century campaign for democracy is as much a part of American history. Black Americans are in the vanguard, as exemplified in the Moral Mondays campaign led by the Reverend William Barber in North Carolina – where Trump’s supporters yelled “send her back” and one of the state’s senators congratulated him on his good work. Other Americans of colour are already engaged. Progressive Democrats are joining up, as are Democrats whose constituencies are reliably Democratic. Yet among opponents of Trump’s nativism, Republicans are hardly to be found.
The notion that there are two main political parties in the US – one on the centre left, the other on the centre right – no longer holds. For the parties are increasingly defined by their racial politics. Democrats are multiracial multiculturalists. Republicans are the white party.