Perhaps no better example of people coming together was during the recent Southern tornadoes. Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour pointed out that emergency shelters went virtually unused because neighbor took in neighbor. All elements of Southern society came to embrace each other regardless of race, religion or social class. It represented America at its very best.
Contrast this to the recent activity of Donald Trump, whose brazen play to prejudice and suspicion represented the mirror opposite of what transpired in Dixie. Like Joseph McCarthy, he claimed that he had people working on trying to prove if President Barack Obama was born outside the United States. When Obama produced the long birth certificate, Trump took credit for clearing the matter up. If nothing else, "the Donald" displayed the audacity of sophistry. As with the anti-communist purges of the 1950s, Trump employed a broad brush suitable for inference rather than proof. Given that plenty of Republicans had played the issue, Trump gave it a whirl. But unlike his colleagues, he did not know when to stop.
Since Obama's election, the insidious attempt to undermine his legitimacy has been relentless. Some don't recognize the genuine birth certificate even when it is before their eyes. Fanatics, racist and haters know no reason or proof. They only trust their own tortured logic. Nevertheless, Obama's actions might satisfy the more reasonable, if there is such a thing, of "birthers." More cynical Republicans figure that the issue has reached the point of diminishing returns and now smartly propose abandoning the shop worn charge of non-citizenship.
But Trump's crusade demonstrated a darker side based on his assessment of the gullibility of the American people. Raise hackles on collective necks, appeal to their worse instincts and maybe you'll have something going politically. He did not introduce an issue such as opposition to health care. He led off with the "birther" angle. You can violently disagree with Obama without resorting to such a tactic. Mitt Romney has scrupulously avoided the issue as has Sarah Palin. Only Mike Huckabee dangerously came close when he suggested that Obama was born in Kenya.
Most of the Southern governors in states affected by the storms are Republican. When the catastrophe happened, they were all generous to Obama and banded together. Particularly Barbour, whose warmth for his constituents was moving, quickly demonstrated a spirit of unity. Unlike Rick Perry of Texas, he did not carp about the federal approach toward the tornadoes, as his counterpart did about wildfires. Alabama's Republican Sen. Richard Shelby displayed a similar generosity. When disaster hits, we are all Americans regardless of party.
Southerners, because of their history, have good reason to fear demagogy as displayed by Trump.
Politicians have long tried to exploit the raw realities of race in the South. Barry Goldwater called it going "where the ducks are." George Wallace referenced it as "putting the hay down where the goats can get to it." The "birther issue" was unadulterated racism from the beginning, and Trump's questioning of Obama's academic legitimacy put the bow on the package. As bigoted appeals go, Trump's was very clumsy but nevertheless potentially effective. Many people of goodwill oppose Obama for what they believe to be reasons. But those who try to play the race or legitimacy card endanger the legitimacy of the conservative cause. These elements used to be read out of the movement. William F. Buckley certainly rejected Robert Welch and the John Birch Society in 1963.
Perhaps responsible spokespersons of the right will collectively throw the fanatics out for the common good and allow people of good sense and reason to embrace their cause.