The BDN Opinion section operates independently and does not set newsroom policies or contribute to reporting or editing articles elsewhere in the newspaper or on bangordailynews.com.
Alison Beyea is the executive director of the ACLU of Maine.
Inauguration Day should be a day of celebration for every American.
We do not celebrate a particular politician’s victory. We celebrate the fact that a government of the people, by the people and for the people has not perished, despite enormous efforts to ensure its demise.
In the past four years, we have seen how fragile and precious our democracy is. Our democratic principles and institutions have been battered, but they endure. Our representative system has survived a direct assault.
But we cannot be satisfied simply with the transition of power. We cannot move on without reckoning and accountability.
The ACLU’s national board of directors endorsed impeaching President Donald Trump for a second time, citing his pattern of anti-democratic actions. The ACLU is also calling on the U. S. Department of Justice to appoint a special counsel to investigate Trump, his associates and federal officials who may have been involved in attempting to subvert the outcome of the election, including inciting a mob in an attempted coup.
Why a call for impeachment? Why a call for investigation and accountability? As the legal scholar Kimberle´ Crenshaw said, “You cannot negotiate with white supremacy. White supremacy has got to be dealt with directly, without excuse, without compromise.” Crenshaw was comparing the Compromise of 1877 and the evolving response to the Jan. 6 coup attempt.
In 1877, our nation accepted a compromise that unleashed a century-long reign of terror on newly freed Black Americans in the South. Southern Democrats, alleging voter fraud and challenging the result of the 1876 election, agreed to withdraw their election challenge, but only if northern politicians would remove federal troops from the South and end Reconstruction.
Our country had just fought a brutal war to end slavery, but we weren’t ready to confront white supremacy. Indeed, 21 years after the compromise, a white supremacist mob did stage a successful coup — burning down the office of a Black newspaper, killing dozens of Black residents, and overthrowing the city government of Wilmington, North Carolina. The end of Reconstruction made way for other coup attempts, along with the daily white supremacist violence of Jim Crow laws, lynchings and denying Black voters the right to vote.
In the context of our nation’s history, our nation’s compromises and our nation’s unwillingness to confront white supremacy, what happened on Jan. 6 was not a surprise. But it was disgraceful. A mob that included white supremacists — goaded by the president and his enablers who unabashedly stoke white nationalism and white resentment — stormed the Capitol to overturn the outcome of a legitimate election.
For too long we’ve been willing to accept or ignore white supremacy, rather than acknowledging it as a violent ideology. The efforts by elected leaders to overturn the election result and the Jan. 6 attempted coup were not isolated incidents, but part of a long American project to uphold white supremacy and silence the voices, votes and power of Black communities and other communities of color.
White supremacy is more than racial prejudice. White supremacy is, as the legal scholar Frances Lee Ansley described it, a social, political and economic system designed to consolidate and uphold white people’s power, and subordinate people of color.
Unless we stop negotiating with white supremacy, as Crenshaw said, and confront it head on, we will never be able to extend this country’s promises of equality, liberty and justice to all Americans. We will be doomed to repeat our past.
The work to undo white supremacy won’t take place only in Washington. It has to happen everywhere in this country, including here in Maine. Let this be the moment where we choose to live up to the promises of our Constitution: The promise of equal protection, the promise of justice, the promise of forming a more perfect union. Let this be an Inauguration Day when we renew our commitment to that work.