“I think tonight of the Greatest Generation.
We look back and marvel at their courage — overcoming the Great Depression, fighting Nazi tyranny, standing up for freedom around the world.”
“We have never been victims of destiny.”
Of all the lines delivered by New Jersey Governor Chris Christie in his keynote speech last night at the Republican National Convention, these two stand out to me as representative of the imaginary past of today’s GOP. The governor took a nostalgic trip down memory lane to an America that never existed but is now embedded in folklore, school textbooks and underlies the patriotic, flag waving rhetoric conservatives love to embellish their false narrative. It was disappointing to hear Governor Christie last night use the word “truth” because it is precisely the lack of it in America that has our nation teetering on the ledge with no civic safety net at the bottom of the canyon. The lack of truth displayed on the stage in Tampa last night is the precise cause of so much discord in our nation.
While referencing the “Greatest Generation” the governor conveniently forgot the struggle of African-Americans for human rights, a moment in time in which for part of that century his party stood on the right side of history. Governor Christie could have called attention to the strides his state has made since shedding its baggage as the last northern state to abolish slavery. The governor could have mentioned how the fight for voting rights was fought on the boardwalk in Atlantic City when a courageous Black woman from Mississippi, Fannie Lou Hamer, took a stand – against the Democratic Party – and used their convention in 1964 to put on display the nation’s hypocrisy. Governor Christie could have included in his greatest generation E. Frederic Morrow, a Black Republican and New Jersey native who became the first African-American to serve in the executive office of the President under Dwight Eisenhower. He could have been really bold and linked his father’s pedigree as a graduate of the state’s university with that of perhaps Rutgers University’s greatest alumni – the late Paul Robeson, a scholar, athlete and human rights giant.
Instead, Governor Christie relied on the tired narrative of a “Greatest Generation” that saved the world while failing to account for those who helped the country save itself from itself. We get the World War II storyline but we also know that Black soldiers, like my father, who helped vanquish Hitler came back home as second class citizens. So, yes, a bit of truth would have made the speech go down a bit easier.
More disturbing to me than the false narrative of American exceptionalism embedded in his speech was Governor Christie proclaiming “We have never been the victims of destiny.” It is a line that is now seared in my memory. Is the governor suggesting to the nation that some of us are simply destined to suffer? Are African-Americans, women and other ethnic groups being crushed by destiny? It is a line that can only be delivered from a position of political and economic advantage. When your opportunity is shaped by the free labor of others, the denial of human rights, violent suppression and economic exploitation destiny is a slippery slope. Did the governor’s speech writers intentionally send a signal to Republicans that some of us are merely victims of our own predestined fate so there is little that can be done to uplift the race? Was this an unintentional faux pax driven by the subconscious of a corner of America that simply cannot see that its good fortune stands on a mountain heap of human misery? It was such a jarring line that I had to go back and view the video and read the transcript of the speech twice. In no small way that line was a coded message to much of white America that the predicament of its Black population is beyond fixing; it is predetermined.
Some months ago I wrote that this election was really about race. Yes, there is a lot of anxiety among voters over their economic security but at the root of much of that angst is the resentment of seeing an African-American in the Oval Office while their economic advantage withers away. Forget the fact that African-Americans have taken an economic beating during this downturn; that’s our destiny anyway. While Republicans paint President Obama as the proverbial “angry Black man” what I see on display in Tampa is white resentment. Talk of ‘taking our country back’ seems to me a way of sounding the alarm over the America that demographers have indicated is taking shape faster than any of us could have imagined – a nation of color as populations of Latinos (immigrants) grow and the birth rate of whites significantly slows. The irony is conservatives are trying to take back something that was not theirs in the first instance. So, maybe they are the victims of their destiny?
Walter Fields is Executive Editor of NorthStarNews.com.