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"And if it is a despot you would dethrone, see first that his throne erected within you is destroyed..."

–Khalil Gibran

I love Donald Trump! Yes, of course, I disagree with most everything he says, and his sensibilities remind me of every racist I have ever met; but I love that he is arrogant enough to believe that telling the truth about how/what he feels is somehow a smart thing to do.

In his book, The Prince, Niccolo Machiavelli suggested that those who wield power should ''be evil but pretend to be good, sincerely believe in the value of sincerity, but never be frank.'' Apparently Trump didn't get the memo. And isn't it interesting how those who support him in private have come out to disavow him in public, as if his race-baiting rhetoric is inconsistent with the divide-and-conquer policies that keep them all in power. But I get it. As Machiavelli warns, ''honesty is the worst policy,'' especially when your power rests on a foundation of duplicity and exploitation.

What happened in Charlottesville was tragic–on that, we can all agree. That such hate and ignorance can exist in the twenty-first century is truly astonishing. And yet, it is precisely this hate and ignorance (or ''lnnocence,'' as James Baldwin called it) that must be brought to the surface. Those who hate blindly, who allow themselves to be used as pawns to unwittingly prolong their own subjugation, must be confronted. However, instead of returning hate for hate, we who consider ourselves ''thinking people'' must find a way to stand with, not against, our befuddled brothers and patiently point out the truth; ''for these innocent people have no other hope. They are, in effect, still trapped in a history which they do not understand; and until they understand it, they {we} cannot be released from it.''

Truth: Donald Trump did not win the popular vote, but was elected through and by the Electoral College, a system that was originally designed to protect the power of slave owners. This fact is significant for two very important reasons: one, it tells us that the majority of people in this country do not subscribe to the racist views that keep so many of us divided; and two, it informs us that we still essentially live in a country that is ruled by slave owners. Hence, the question we should all be asking ourselves is: if this country is ruled by slave owners, who are the slaves?

If we still lived in the 1700s–as some people seem to believe we do–the answer to this question would be easy. One would only need look to the poor and dejected black slaves picking cotton on one of the many plantations that populated the South; even the poorest, most degraded white person was better off than they. Travel several centuries into the future, however, where the forces of globalization have obliterated all barriers to the truth (the truth being: green is the only color that matters), and we find the same poor, degraded white people grasping at straws, chanting ''blood and soil'' and invoking their supposed heritage as a last-ditch effort to hold on to something that was never truly theirs in the first place.

Truth: when the Constitution of the United States was drawn up and ratified into law, ''We the People'' did not mean all white people–then, as now, it meant white men with money, those who owned property (read: slaves). History also tells us that America was inhabited by indigenous people long before Christopher Columbus ''discovered'' it–and that it was through the genocidal spilling of their BLOOD that this SOIL was ultimately confiscated and colonized by Europeans. This is the ''horrific heritage'' that our innocent brothers claim to be so proud of–a history of rape, murder, and theft. But if being in prison has taught me anything, it has taught me that just because you take something doesn't necessarily mean it's yours.

In truth, this country has never, in reality, belonged to any single set of individuals, a fact that indigenous people well knew and understood. In A People's History of the United States, Howard Zinn tells us that when the Arawak Indians ran out to greet Christopher Columbus, they came bearing food, water, and gifts–not weapons. And how did Columbus respond to this expression of a shared humanity? He saw it as weakness. ''They would make fine servants,'' he wrote in his diary. "'With fifty men we could subjugate them all and make them do whatever we want.'' Sadly, it is this fundamental misunderstanding of what it means to be a human being that has caused so much pain and unnecessary suffering in the world. The reduction of human beings to THINGS–to be used, sold, and subdued–has forced us all to live degraded lives, lives devoid of any real meaning or value. Somehow, at some point, we have to move away from this sordid history, towards a future that revolves around a more emergent–as opposed to divergent–narrative of what it means to be alive in the twenty-first century.

When I mentioned at the outset that I disagreed with ''most'' everything Donald Trump says, I was leaving room for the rare occasion when he says something that actually makes sense. For instance, in comments shortly after the Charlottesville tragedy, Trump (responding to whether or not we should be removing statues) asked: "What's next? Are we going to remove the statues of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Abraham Lincoln?” Here, of course, he was speaking in rhetorical terms, arguing for, not against, white supremacy; nevertheless, he made a valid point. If it is an evil tree we seek to cut down, shouldn't we also see to its roots? I mean, as Trump so self-righteously pointed out, most of the Founding Fathers owned slaves and supported a system that was–and remains­­–reliant on the exploitation of a permanent underclass (white and black)! Shouldn't we seek to dismantle this as well?

For any of this to mean anything, we have to move beyond symbolism; taking down a few statues does not change the fact that the wealthiest 10 percent own 89 percent of all the wealth and resources. It also does not change the reality that the burning of fossil fuels, which is the main driver of capitalism, has brought us to the brink our existence! And this is the real crux of the problem, isn't it, the part of the story that Donald Trump and his cronies don't want to acknowledge: capitalism is destroying the planet.

When confronted with evidence that climate change is causing irreparable harm, Trump claims it's all a hoax, an elaborate conspiracy perpetrated by the Left to redistribute wealth. Does he really believe this? I doubt it. But even if he does, it only proves that Upton Sinclair was right when he said, "It's difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it.'' This, in psychological terms, is what is referred to as cultural cognition, the act of seeing only what you need to see, regardless of what is there.

But we all saw the damage that Hurricane Harvey caused, and the general consensus is that it's the warming of the planet that is increasing the frequency and intensity of these kind of weather events. So maybe what is meant by ''redistribution of wealth'' is the outpouring of donations from the rich to aid the poor and stranded. Pretty soon, according to climate scientists, we'll all be stranded.

In light of these very real and present dangers, it seems silly to still be talking about (let alone dying about) the removal of this or that statue. I mean, at the end of the day, who really gives a damn about Stonewall Jackson or Robert E. Lee–or Martin Luther King, Jr. even? They're all dead, and it doesn't really matter if we believe they stood on the right or wrong side of history; what matters now is where WE stand. Current crises are calling us to create new heroes, people who, as Heather Heyer did, have the courage of their convictions, and who are not afraid to stand up to speak truth to power or the powerless.

The rich do not have a monopoly on the truth; in fact, their wealth often prevents them from seeing what's right in front of their eyes. But we don't need their permission to act. As Naomi Klein (This Changes Everything) said, ''politicians aren't the only ones with the power to declare a crisis. Mass movements of regular people can declare one too!"

So let’s stand up and be counted. Resist!

Keith LaMar
Ohio State Penitentiary
7 September 2017

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