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by Glenn Young

Often President Trump and his style of campaigning and rule are compared to “alien” demagogues and dictatorial rulers and regimes. While there is justification for pointing out these similarities, I think we don’t need to look overseas to understand the Trump approach and its popularity. We just need to look at our own history; especially the history of the American South after the Civil War. There we can clearly find an American model for Trump’s style of campaigning, governance and proposed agenda; this role model was something called the “Redeemers.” If we fail to see the similarities of Trump of now, and the Redeemers of then, we actually fail to see the severe risks his rule presents to the “progressive” America that has been developing, slowly and painfully over the past century.

The term Redeemers is applied to those in our history who wanted a wholesale “deconstruction” of what was called “Reconstruction” (of the Post- Civil War era): Trump and his followers actually seem to want a wholesale deconstruction of so much that has been gained in the area of social justice and equality (as well as science and learning, etc..) While the Redeemers were basically regional (the South) – through Trump, the “Redeemer mentality” threatens to dominate the whole nation.

We, as a nation, have deep divisions on how to understand the place of the Redeemers in American history. People’s feelings about the Redeemers (for those who do remember the term), or the historical era they dominated, are largely based on their social, racial and regional perspective. People tend to think of the Redeemers as either:

  • The people who “saved the South” after the Civil War, from “carpetbaggers and scallywags” and from rule by governments dominated, by the “ignorant ex-slave,” determined to ruin the honest whites Christians of the South; or

  • The people who destroyed all efforts to fully integrate the Freedmen (Blacks) of the South into American culture; established Jim Crow, and ruled as repressive racist governments, with the Klan as their terrorist arm. In addition, their policies also condemned generations of poor whites in the South to a lifestyle only slightly better than the newly freed slaves.

While these two options seem to be both extreme views, they really state the only really developed historic ways to views the outcome of the Redeemer era. Our split views on Redeemers fit well into our general national pattern of debate and politics of division.1 As part of our national contradictions, we are still a country who can’t fully agree on what to call the war that took place between 1861 and 65; and again the terms used for this conflict are also mainly based on people’s social, racial and regional perspective. 2

For the most part, for nearly one hundred years, throughout most of the nation, the pro-Redeemer “side” won the propaganda wars; so the first option offered, of them “saving the South” was for many years triumphant. As a result of that win, the efforts of Reconstruction were eventually seen by most (white) Americans as a failure and one filled with corruption; or exactly as the Redeemers wanted Americans to see the post-Civil War efforts around “the Freemen.”

The Redeemers not only won the propaganda wars, they actually achieved their main political goals as well; they wanted and got single-party rule by the white elites, for the benefits of the white elites only. It took nearly a second civil war, during the 1950’s and 60’s to break their monopoly on power. 3 Now the goal of Trump and his group seems similar - a single party rule for the benefit of the white elite.

The parallels between the Redeemers of then and now (Trump) should seem very obvious; including who made up the leadership of the post-Civil War movement, and who makes up the follower of Trump.

As defined on Wikipedia -

Redeemers were the southern wing of the Bourbon Democrats, the conservative, pro-business faction in the Democratic Party, who pursued a policy of Redemption, seeking to oust the Radical Republicans, a coalition of freedmen, "carpetbaggers", and "scalawags" (poorer non-slaveholding whites). They generally were led by the rich landowners, businessmen and professionals, and dominated Southern politics in most areas from the 1870s to 1910. 4

Instead of the Radical Republicans being the target of the Redeemers; today it’s the policies of the “liberal (or radical) Democrats;”

We can also see that both Trump and the Redeemers were movements of the very rich. In addition, old and new Redeemers both gained their political power by using overt racism to appeal to the “poor” whites of their times. What is clear is that just as the Post-Civil War Redeemers gained power based in the fears of the poor whites of the possibilities and actualities of the incorporation of Blacks as citizens, Trump won over the descendants of those who “voted” the Redeemers into power, by appealing to the fears of poor whites that today’s immigrants of color may gain citizenship.

The Redeemers and Trump voters were also similar in that they felt they were losing both their “right” to good jobs, and perhaps even more so, their status in society. In both cases these voters saw themselves losing out to two groups of non-whites (ex-slaves of then and immigrants of today).

Besides jobs and status - from the view point of the poor whites of then, they saw these Reconstruction governments using extensive percentage of “their taxes” towards supporting the newly (non-white) freed. The modern supporters of the new Redeemers hate the concept of any of their tax dollars being used for “the “other:” the target used to be supporting “welfare queens” and such – now it is any form of support for “illegals.”

  • In both cases the people the whites did not want to support were classified as “underserving needy” (which is code for people of color.) 5

As far as social status - “the poor whites “of today, while complaining of their jobs losses, also see the major change in society as they witness the tremendous success of non-whites – including the descendants of their former slaves – as African Americans make major gains in “pop culture” (music, sports, movies, lifestyle). In the last fifty to seventy five years, there have been so many ways in which the poor whites have been losing options and social status to Blacks, and now also to immigrants. They witness this every day as more and more products advertised on television have Black “pitch” men and women – and all too often the white is presented as the “fool” in need of gaining advice from the Black person.