The book sits there in the middle of a stack: “Wilmington’s Lie” by David Zucchino.
It’s on the window sill behind my desk. Below it is “The Death of Expertise” by Tom Nichols and above it is “Why People Believe Weird Things” by Michael Shermer.
These are among the books that call out to me: “Read me next! Read me next!” There are about three other stacks like this at home, but they’re more fun; they include some Louis L’Amour and Robert E. Howard, as well as my preferred weird topics, UFOs and ghosts.
The Wilmington book keeps catching my eye, though, in between Zoom meetings and email.
The readers among you already know what it’s about: the successful government coup executed in 1898 in Wilmington, N.C. At the time, that sparkling weekend getaway gem of sandy beaches and softly swaying ships was the state’s largest city, a metropolis of commerce.
Black people were winning elections as well as growing a middle-class lifestyle, much like in Tulsa, Okla., in 1921.
And much like in Tulsa, some local white people just couldn’t bear to see Black folks doing so well. Somehow that success offended them.
So they circulated false stories and accusations. They forced elected officials to resign, at gun point. They chased hundreds of Black citizens out of town. They committed murder, right in the open. They “took their city back.”
So that grim tale waits at my back, while in front of me on my laptop, I’ve joined others in trying to understand the lure of former President Trump’s Big Lie.
“The Democrat-Left stole the 2020 election. We know they stole it, and they know we know,” one correspondent told me last week.
“The 2020 Trump campaign rallies were attended by thousands of followers across the country, while Joe Biden had only a handful at his rallies,” said another — as if only people who attend rallies vote. (I once believed that only people who went to coffeehouses drank coffee in the morning, but I was young.)
There were other letters, too, too racist to print, let alone stomach.
Journalists and government officials keep pointing out that supporting the true election outcome isn’t just a leftist project — many Republicans have affirmed the results, including Democrat-allergic Senate Majority Leader — excuse me, Minority Leader — Mitch McConnell, who worked his butt off to give Trump his conservative judges, and former Attorney General William Barr, the sycophantiest Trump sycophant in all the land.
But the facts, the debunking, they make no difference. No one is swayed.
Last week I watched taped interviews produced by The Bulwark, a conservative news and opinion website, with the insurrectionists, both before and after they tore through the Capitol.
“They’re stealing the election!” several claimed.
But there was another thread running through the tapestry.
“Say our name! Say our name!” some chanted, perverting the cry for racial justice.
“They took an oath to take care of us!” one man declared of Congress. “This is our building! We paid for it! Every penny!”
“We are not stopping until we take our country back!” said another.
I don’t want to read too much into “we” and “us,” but I don’t think it includes me. It probably doesn’t include you.
Back in December, Republican Sen. Josh Hawley was pushing his concern for 74 million Trump voters whose voices, he said, weren’t being heard. He didn’t seem to care much about the voices of 81 million Biden voters.
I don’t think the truth matters much to the insurrectionists, or to the 78% of Republicans who say that Biden stole the election — no more than it did the Wilmington terrorists in 1898. It’s not truth they want — it’s possession. This is their country, damn it. Not the liberals’. Not the socialists’. Not the minorities’. Not anyone’s except theirs. And even after the Jan. 6 coup attempt, which led to death, even after the Jan. 20 inauguration of President Joe Biden, which contributed to hope, some segment of them claim to still be preparing to make war rather than share the bounty of our country.
Call it racism. Call it stupidity. Call it prejudice of all sorts and you won’t be wrong. But it's also simple, selfish greed.
On his way out of office last week, former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, battered and embittered after four years of defending the indefensible, insisted that multiculturalism “is not who America is.”
But my eyes say it is. And poet Amanda Gorman says it can be and should be. On the Capitol steps, she extolled the virtues of striving “to compose a country committed to all cultures, colors, characters and conditions of man.”
Gorman says that can be ours, “If only we’re brave enough to see it. If only we’re brave enough to be it.”
America once again stands at a crossroads, one in which we've worn a rut, trying to determine just who “we the people” are. We do so with a history: We will always do the right thing — once we’ve exhausted all other options.
Have we exhausted them yet?