BY KEVIN STEELE
The Constitution is under attack by the long-existing practice of racism, and by the attempt to take away free speech, said the featured speaker at the Constitution Day event on Wednesday.
Beyond All Reason: White Nationalism, Trump & the Spirit of the Law, was sponsored by the American Democracy Project in association with the provost’s office.
Students, faculty, and other guests listened as Stephen Eric Bronner, the Board of Governors Professor of political science at Rutgers University, discussed topics that revolved around the current state of the country. He spoke about different movements that President Donald Trump has been criticized for representing, such as the white nationalist movement, pointing out that they have been around long before Trump became president.
“This kind of movement that President Trump represents has existed from the beginning of America. It’s been part of the fabric of our politics, and part of the fabric of our society,” said Bronner.
He talked about the similarities between America then and now, referring to the Tea Party, the Ku Klux Klan, and the Know Nothing party, which was a party opposed to immigration.
Several times Bronner spoke about racism, and how deeply rooted it is in American society. He told a story about someone he knew who refused to support the American Health Care Act, also known as Obamacare, even though it would work out better for him.
“Why?” Bronner asked him. “He said, ‘It’s better that I don’t get it than they [African-Americans] get it.’”
Bronner also noted how big a role racism plays in America as he spoke about Harry Truman, the 33rd president of the United States.
“Harry Truman, who was said to have been a member of the Klan in Missouri, was asked, ‘Why were you in the Klan?’ He said, ‘Look, you can’t be an elected dog-catcher in Missouri without being in the Klan’,” said Bonner.
Bronner, who is the author of books such as Reclaiming the Enlightenment, A Rumor about the Jews, and his most recent work, The Bigot: Why Prejudice Persist, believes that the idea of furthering the institution of racism for political gain is something that isn’t often considered.
The mistake comes, he said, when people view white nationalism as something that is far from Americas foundation, even though it was there from the start.
Although Bronner talked in opposition to racism, he also believed that there should be a fine line between eliminating racism, and denying people the right to free speech.
“It seems to me, on Constitution Day, that we also have to defend notions of free speech,” said Bronner. “It’s up to you to be brave enough to say, ‘I disagree completely with what you’re saying, but you have the right to say it’.’”
It does not matter, he noted, if what is being said is racist or blasphemous, but it is the American way to allow people to speak their mind even if it may seem immoral.
He ended his discussion by referring to the title of the event, and defining what the Spirit of the Laws truly means.
“The Spirit of the Law means that you’re willing to call the laws of any country, and any oppressive regime into question,” said Bronner. “It’s not a matter of me being an American or a white male. It’s a question of standing for an idea of law that is merciful and compassionate.”