I had fully intended to ignore President Trump’s latest round of racially charged taunts against an African American elected official, and an African American activist, and an African American journalist and a whole city with a lot of African Americans in it.
I had every intention of walking past Trump’s latest outrages and writing about the self-destructive squabbling of the Democratic presidential field, which has chosen to shame Joe Biden for the sin of being an electable, moderate liberal.
But I made the mistake of pulling James Cone’s “The Cross and the Lynching Tree” off my shelf — a book designed to shatter convenient complacency.
Cone recounts the case of a white mob in Valdosta, Georgia, in 1918, that lynched an innocent man named Haynes Turner.
Turner’s enraged wife, Mary, promised justice for the killers. The sheriff responded by arresting her, and then turning her over to the mob, which included women and children.
According to one source, Mary Turner was “stripped, hung upside down by the ankles, soaked with gasoline and roasted to death. In the midst of this torment, a white man opened her swollen belly with a hunting knife and her infant fell to the ground and was stomped to death.”
It is hard to write the words. This evil — the evil of white supremacy, resulting in dehumanization, inhumanity and murder — is the worst stain, the greatest crime, of American history.
It is the thing that nearly broke the nation. It is the thing that proved generations of Christians to be vicious hypocrites. It is the thing that turned normal people into moral monsters, capable of burning a grieving widow to death and murdering her child.
During 300 years of routine horrors — the slave ships, the brandings, the separation of families, the beatings, the lynchings, the constant flood of humiliation, the racist ads for soap and toothpaste, the anti-black riots, the segregation of buses and pools and schools and suburbs, the sundown towns, the kangaroo courts, the police dogs and water cannons, the church bombings, the cruel and petty tyranny of whites, reinforced by the most prominent politicians in the country — during all of this, none of the descendants of Europe were able to stamp this evil out.
As James Baldwin said in 1963, “The only people in the country at the moment who believe either in Christianity or in the country are the most despised minority in it.”
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Racism is the fire that left our country horribly disfigured. It is the beast we try to keep locked in the basement.
When the president of the United States plays with that fire or takes that beast out for a walk, it is not just another political event, not just a normal day in campaign 2020. It is a cause for shame.
It is the violation of martyrs’ graves. It is obscene graffiti on the Lincoln Memorial. It is, in the eyes of history, the betrayal — the re-betrayal — of Haynes and Mary Turner and their child. And all of this is being done by an ignorant and arrogant narcissist, reviving racist tropes for political gain, indifferent to the wreckage he is leaving, the wounds he is ripping open.
Like, I suspect, many others, I am finding it hard to look at resurgent racism as just one in a series of presidential offenses, or another in a series of Republican errors. Racism is not just another wrong. The Antietam battlefield is not just another plot of ground. The Edmund Pettus Bridge is not just another bridge. The balcony of Room 306 at the Lorraine Motel is not just another balcony. As American history hallows some causes, it magnifies some crimes.
What does all this mean politically?
It means that Trump’s divisiveness is getting worse, not better. He makes racist comments, appeals to racist sentiments and enflames racist passions.
The rationalization that he is not, deep down in his heart, really a racist is meaningless. Trump’s continued offenses mean that a large portion of his political base is energized by racist tropes and the language of white grievance.
And it means — whatever their intent — that those who downplay, or excuse, or try to walk past these offenses are enablers.
Some political choices are not just stupid or crude. They represent the return of our country’s cruelest, most dangerous passion. Such racism indicts Trump. Treating racism as a typical or minor matter indicts us.
Eugene "Mean Gene" Okerlund
Eugene "Mean Gene" Okerlund, whose deadpan interviews of pro wrestling superstars like "Macho Man" Randy Savage, The Ultimate Warrior and Hulk Hogan made him a ringside fixture in his own right, died Wednesday, Jan. 2, 2019. He was 76.
Bob Einstein, the veteran comedy writer and performer known for "The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour," "Curb Your Enthusiasm" and his spoof daredevil character Super Dave Osborne, died Wednesday, Jan. 2, 2019, according to his brother, filmmaker Albert Brooks. Einstein was 76.
Daryl Dragon, the cap-wearing "Captain" of Captain & Tennille who teamed with then-wife Toni Tennille on such easy listening hits as "Love Will Keep Us Together" and "Muskrat Love," died Wednesday, Jan. 2, 2019. He was 76.
Carol Channing, the lanky, ebullient musical comedy star who delighted American audiences over almost 5,000 performances as the scheming Dolly Levi in "Hello, Dolly!" on Broadway and beyond, died Tuesday, Jan. 15, 2019. She was 97.
James Ingram, the Grammy-winning singer who launched multiple hits on the R&B and pop charts and earned two Oscar nominations for his songwriting, died Tuesday, Jan. 29, 2019, according to a close associate. He was 66.
Country Music Hall of Fame guitarist Harold Bradley, who played on hundreds of hit country records including "Crazy," "King of the Road" and "Crying" and helped create "The Nashville Sound" with his brother Owen, died Thursday, Jan. 31, 2019, at the age of 93.
Kristoff St. John
Kristoff St. John, who played the struggling alcoholic and ladies' man Neil Winters for 27 years on "Young and the Restless ," died Sunday, Feb. 3, 2019. He was 52.
Hall of Famer Frank Robinson, the first black manager in Major League Baseball and the only player to win the MVP award in both leagues, died Thursday, Feb. 7, 2019. He was 83.
Albert Finney, the charismatic Academy Award-nominated British actor who starred in films from "Tom Jones" to "Skyfall," died Thursday, Feb. 7, 2019. He was 82.
Swiss actor Bruno Ganz, who played Adolf Hitler cooped up in his Berlin bunker in "Downfall" and an angel in Wim Wenders' "Wings of Desire," died Friday, Feb. 15, 2019. He was 77.
Ganz, a prominent figure in the German-language theater world, shifted into movies in the 1970s, appearing in Werner Herzog's "Nosferatu" and Wenders' "The American Friend" among others. In one of his more recent appearances, he starred as Sigmund Freund in "The Tobacconist," released last year.
Karl Lagerfeld, Chanel's iconic couturier whose designs had an unprecedented impact on the entire fashion industry, died Tuesday, Feb. 19, 2019, in Paris, prompting an outpouring of love and admiration for the man in the trademark white ponytail, high starched collar and dark enigmatic glasses who dominated high fashion for the past 50 years. He was around 85 years old. His age was a point of mystery for decades, with reports he had two birth certificates, one dated 1933 and the other 1938.
Peter Tork, who rose to teen-idol fame in 1966 playing the lovably clueless bass guitarist in the made-for-television rock band The Monkees, died Thursday, Feb. 21, 2019. He was 77.
Clark Gable III
Clark James Gable III, host of the reality TV show "Cheaters" and grandson of late Academy Award-winning actor Clark Gable, died Friday, Feb. 22, 2019, in Texas. He was 30.
Actress Lisa Sheridan, best known for her roles on shows such as "Halt and Catch Fire," "CSI," and "Invasion," died Monday, Feb. 25, 2019, according to several online reports including
People. She was 44.
Andre Previn, the pianist, composer and conductor whose broad reach took in the worlds of Hollywood, jazz and classical music, always rejecting suggestions that his bop 'n' blues moonlighting lessened his stature, died Thursday, Feb. 28, 2019. He was 89.
Actress Katherine Helmond, an Emmy-nominated and Golden Globe-winning actress who played two very different matriarchs on the ABC sitcoms "Who's the Boss?" and "Soap," died from complications from Alzheimer's disease Saturday Feb. 23, 2019, at her home in Los Angeles. She was 89.
Nathaniel Taylor, the actor best known as Rollo Lawson, the street-smart best friend of the son on the 1970s sitcom "Sanford and Son," died Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2019, at the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center in Los Angeles after a heart attack. He was 80.
Keith Flint, the fiery frontman of British dance-electronic band The Prodigy, was found dead Monday. March 4, 2019, at his home near London, the band said. He was 49.
Prodigy co-founder Liam Howlett said in an Instagram post that Flint killed himself over the weekend.
Luke Perry, who gained instant heartthrob status as wealthy rebel Dylan McKay on "Beverly Hills, 90210," died Monday, March 4, 2019, after suffering a massive stroke, his publicist said. He was 52.
Actor Jan-Michael Vincent, the "Airwolf" television star whose sleek good looks belied a troubled personal life, died of cardiac arrest Sunday, Feb. 10, 2019. He was 73.
A death certificate shows that Vincent died of cardiac arrest on Feb. 10, 2019, in an Asheville, North Carolina, hospital. The certificate signed by a doctor says he died of natural causes and no autopsy was performed. It wasn't clear why it took several weeks for news of the death to surface before it was first reported Friday, March 8 by TMZ.
Dick Dale, whose pounding, blaringly loud power-chord instrumentals on songs like "Miserlou" and "Let's Go Trippin'" earned him the title King of the Surf Guitar, died Saturday, March 16, 2019. He was 81.
R&B singer and songwriter Andre Williams died Sunday, March, 17, 2019, at age 82. Williams co-wrote "Shake A Tail Feather." He moved as a young man from Alabama to Detroit, where he signed with Fortune Records and, later, with Motown Records. His early hits also included "Bacon Fat" and "Jail Bait."
Rapper Nipsey Hussle was fatally shot Sunday, March 31, 2019, outside the clothing store he founded to help rebuild his troubled South Los Angeles neighborhood, police said, cutting short a career that earned him a Grammy nomination this year for his major-label debut. He was 33.
Georgia Engel, who played the charmingly innocent, small-voiced Georgette on "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" and amassed a string of other TV and stage credits, died Friday, April 12, 2019. She was 70.
The cause of death was unknown because she was a Christian Scientist and didn't see doctors, her friend and executor, John Quilty said Monday.
Bibi Andersson, the Swedish actress who starred in classic films by compatriot Ingmar Bergman, including "The Seventh Seal" and "Persona," died Sunday, April 14, 2019. She was 83.
Ken Kercheval, who played perennial punching bag Cliff Barnes to Larry Hagman's scheming oil baron J.R. Ewing on the hit TV series "Dallas," died Sunday, April 21, 2019. He was 83.
Filmmaker John Singleton, who debuted with the Oscar-nominated "Boyz N the Hood" and continued making movies that probed the lives of black communities in his native Los Angeles and beyond, died Monday, April 29, 2019. He was 51.
Singleton's family said Monday that he died after being taken off life support, about two weeks after the director suffered a major stroke.
Peter Mayhew, the towering actor who donned a huge, furry costume to give life to the rugged-and-beloved character of Chewbacca in the original "Star Wars" trilogy and two other films, died Tuesday, April 30, 2019. He was 74.
Peggy Lipton, a star of the groundbreaking late 1960s TV show "The Mod Squad" and the 1990s show "Twin Peaks," died of cancer Saturday. She was 72.
Lipton died surrounded by her family, her daughters, Rashida and Kidada Jones, said in a statement.
Doris Day, the honey-voiced singer and actress whose film dramas, musicals and innocent sex comedies made her a top star in the 1950s and '60s and among the most popular screen actresses in history, has died. She was 97.
Day is shown here with actor Steve Cochran and his pet dog named Tschaikowsky in Los Angeles, USA on May 2, 1950.
Jim Fowler, a naturalist who rose to fame on the long-running television program "Wild Kingdom" and who famously bantered with Johnny Carson on "The Tonight Show," died Wednesday, May 8, 2019. He was 89.
Tim Conway, the impish second banana to Carol Burnett who won four Emmy Awards on her TV variety show, starred aboard "McHale's Navy" and later voiced the role of Barnacle Boy for "Spongebob Squarepants," died Tuesday, May 14, 2019. He was 85.
Conway died in a Los Angeles care facility after a long illness, according to Howard Bragman, who heads LaBrea Media. Conway's wife, Charlene Fusco, and a daughter, Jackie, were at his side.
I.M. Pei, the versatile, globe-trotting architect who revived the Louvre with a giant glass pyramid and captured the spirit of rebellion at the multi-shaped Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, died Thursday, May 17, 2019. He was 102.
Herman Wouk, the versatile author of "The Caine Mutiny" and the World War II epics "The Winds of War" and "War and Remembrance," died Friday, May 17, 2019. He was 103.
Bart Starr was an ordinary quarterback until teaming with Vince Lombardi on the powerhouse Green Bay Packers teams that ruled the 1960s and ushered in the NFL as America's most popular sport. Starr died Sunday, May 26, 2019, at age 85 in Birmingham, Alabama, the Packers said. He had been in failing health since suffering two strokes and a heart attack in 2014.
Leon Redbone, the blues and jazz artist whose growly voice, Panama hat and cultivated air of mystery made him seem like a character out of the ragtime era or the Depression-era Mississippi Delta, died Thursday, May 30, 2019. He was 69.
'Dr. John' Rebennack
Dr. John, the New Orleans singer and piano player who blended black and white musical styles with a hoodoo-infused stage persona and gravelly bayou drawl, died Thursday, June 6, 2019, his family said. He was 77.
Sylvia Miles, an actress and Manhattan socialite whose brief, scene-stealing appearances in the films "Midnight Cowboy" and "Farewell, My Lovely" earned her two Academy Award nominations, died Wednesday, June 13, 2019.
Accounts of Miles' age vary widely. Her friend, fashion-industry publicist Mauricio Padilha, and other sources say she was 94. Past reporting from the AP puts her age at 86.
Italian director Franco Zeffirelli, who delighted audiences around the world with his romantic vision and extravagant productions, most famously captured in his cinematic "Romeo and Juliet" and the miniseries "Jesus of Nazareth," died Saturday, June 15, 2019. He was 96.
Gloria Vanderbilt, the intrepid heiress, artist and romantic who began her extraordinary life as the "poor little rich girl" of the Great Depression, survived family tragedy and multiple marriages and reigned during the 1970s and '80s as a designer jeans pioneer, died Monday, June 17, 2019. She was 95.
Jim Pike, co-founder and lead singer of The Lettermen, whose lush vocal harmonies made the Grammy-nominated trio one of the most popular vocal groups of the 1960s, died Sunday, June 9, 2019. He was 82.
Writer Judith Krantz, whose million-selling novels such as "Scruples" and "Princess Daisy" engrossed readers worldwide with their steamy tales of the rich and beautiful, died Saturday at her Bel-Air home. She was 91.
Dave Bartholomew, a giant of New Orleans music and a rock n' roll pioneer who with Fats Domino co-wrote and produced such classics as "Ain't That a Shame," "I'm Walkin'" and "Let the Four Winds Blow," died, Sunday, June 24, 2019. He was 100.
This Dec. 10, 1999, file photo shows Fats Domino, center right, shaking hands with Dave Bartholomew, left, amid a crowd of former colleagues at the 50th anniversary observance of Domino's first recording session in New Orleans.
Beth Chapman, the wife and co-star of "Dog the Bounty Hunter" reality TV star Duane "Dog" Chapman, died on Wednesday, June 26, 2019.
A family spokeswoman, Mona Wood-Sword, said in a statement that Chapman died early Wednesday at Queen's Medical Center after an almost 2-year battle with cancer. She was 51.
Actor Arte Johnson, who won an Emmy for comedy sketch work on the television show "Laugh-In," died early Wednesday, July 2, 2019, in Los Angeles. He was 90.
Actor Cameron Boyce, best known for his role as the teenage son of Cruella de Vil in the Disney Channel franchise "Descendants," died Saturday, July 6, 2019. He was 20 years old.
An official cause of death has not been announced, but his family released a statement Sunday saying Boyce "passed away in his sleep due to a seizure that was a result of an ongoing medical condition for which he was being treated.
Rip Torn, the free-spirited Texan who overcame his quirky name to become a distinguished actor in theater, television and movies and win an Emmy in his 60s for his comedy turn on TV's "The Larry Sanders Show," died Tuesday, July 9, 2019. He was 88.
Valentina Cortese, an Italian post-war screen diva who was nominated for a best supporting actress Oscar but lost out to Ingrid Bergman, died Wednesday, July 10, 2019. She was 96.
Jerry Lawson, who for four decades was the lead singer of the eclectic cult-favorite a cappella group the Persuasions, died Wednesday, July 10, 2019. He was 75.
Lawson's smooth baritone led the group of five and later six singers, who were revered as the "The Kings of a Cappella" by their small but devoted fan base.
Actress Stephanie Niznik, who's best known for her role in the WB's "Everwood," died Sunday, June 23, 2019. Her death wasn't reported publicly until mid-July. She also appeared in "Exit to Eden," "Star Trek: Insurrection," "Murder, She Wrote," and was a series regular on "Diagnosis: Murder."
She's shown here at the "Everwood" panel during The CW portion of the 2017 Summer TCA's at the Beverly Hilton Hotel on Wednesday, Aug. 2, 2017: Greg Berlanti, back row left, and Rina Mimoun, Justin Baldoni, front row from left, John Beasley, Stephanie Niznik, Vivien Cardone, Treat Williams, Gregory Smith, Emily VanCamp, Tom Amandes and Debra Mooney.
On July 15, authorities in Oregon announced that they believe they found the remains of Charles Levin, an actor who appeared in television series like "Seinfeld" and "LA Law." He was 70 years old, according to IMDb.
Levin appeared in one episode of "Seinfeld," in 1993, according to his IMDb page. He also appeared on shows such as "Alice," "NYPD Blue," and "Hill Street Blues."
Johnny Clegg, a South African musician who performed in defiance of racial barriers imposed under the country's apartheid system decades ago and celebrated its new democracy under Nelson Mandela, died Tuesday, July 16, 2019. He was 66 and had pancreatic cancer.
Art Neville, a member of one of New Orleans' storied musical families, the Neville Brothers, and a founding member of the groundbreaking funk band The Meters, has died Monday, July 22, 2019. He was 81.
Dutch film actor Rutger Hauer, who specialized in menacing roles, including a memorable turn as a murderous android in "Blade Runner" opposite Harrison Ford, has died. He was 75.
Hauer's agent, Steve Kenis, says the actor died July 19 at his home in the Netherlands.
Russi Taylor, an actress who gave voice to Minnie Mouse for more than three decades, died Friday, July 26, 2016. She was 75.
Harold Prince, a Broadway director and producer who pushed the boundaries of musical theater with such groundbreaking shows as "The Phantom of the Opera," "Cabaret," "Company" and "Sweeney Todd" and won a staggering 21 Tony Awards, died Wednesday, July 31, 2019. Prince was 91.
D.A. Pennebaker, the Oscar-winning documentary maker whose historic contributions to American culture and politics included immortalizing a young Bob Dylan in "Don't Look Back" and capturing the spin behind Bill Clinton's 1992 presidential campaign in "The War Room," died Thursday, Aug. 1, 2019. He was 94.
Nobel Prize-winning author Toni Morrison died Monday, Aug. 5, 2019, at Montefiore Medical Center in New York. She was 88.
She was the first black woman to receive the Nobel literature prize, awarded in 1993. The Swedish academy hailed her use of language and her "visionary force."
Her novel "Beloved," in which a mother makes a tragic choice to murder her baby to save the girl from slavery, won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1988.
Actor Peter Fonda, the son of a Hollywood legend who became a movie star in his own right after both writing and starring in the counter-culture classic "Easy Rider," died Friday at his home of complications from lung cancer. He was 79.
Jack Whitaker, whose Hall of Fame broadcasting career ranged from the first Super Bowl to Secretariat's Triple Crown to short essays from major sporting events, died Sunday, Aug. 18, 2019, CBS reported.
The network said Whitaker died of natural causes in his sleep in Devon, Pennsylvania. He was 95.
Washington Post columnist Michael Gerson can be reached at