The Reckoning cover

The Reckoning - Book Summary

Our Nation's Trauma and Finding a Way to Heal

Duration: 23:05
Release Date: November 9, 2023
Book Author: Mary L. Trump
Categories: Politics, Society & Culture
Duration: 23:05
Release Date: November 9, 2023
Book Author: Mary L. Trump
Categories: Politics, Society & Culture

In this episode of 20 Minute Books, we delve into "The Reckoning" by Mary L. Trump. This stirring examination of modern American society pulls no punches as it constructs an informative bridge between the country's traumas and its present issues. Mary L. Trump, the author of this insightful piece, is a seasoned academic with a PhD in clinical psychology from Adelphi University and a renowned author with a bestseller, "Too Much and Never Enough", under her belt. Notably, she is the niece of former US President Donald Trump. This book is particularly insightful for voters striving to understand the constantly shifting political landscape, concerned citizens fretting over their country's future, and anyone with a thirst for a critical scrutiny of American society. Tune in as we journey through the pages of this compelling narrative.

Uncover the roots of America's turbulence

In the year of 2016, a jolt of surprise hit many as Donald Trump triumphed in the presidential election. However, what was more shocking was the dramatic political and societal disruption that unfolded in the four subsequent years. As we brace for what might come next, it's crucial to understand where we are and how we arrived here.

Let's delve into the intricate matrix of elements that have been shaping present-day America. In our exploration, we'll tie together the threads of historical trauma, unfolding current affairs, and anecdotes from the Trump family saga to present a comprehensive view of the nation's ongoing struggles. We'll also look ahead, hinting at potential pathways to navigate out of this uncertainty.

A word of caution before we commence — the narrative ahead contains intense depictions of violence, particularly in the sections one, two, and four.

During this journey, you'll uncover:

- the groups neglected by the GI Bill;

- the tragic fate of "Negro Wall Street"; and

- the reasons why Nixon should have faced prosecution.

The shadow of racism looms long past the Civil War

Picture a haunting scene in Doddsville, Mississippi. Luther and Mary Holbert, a couple, are tied to a tree amidst a furiously raging mob of more than 600 individuals — men, women, and even children. The mob, driven to fever pitch, vociferously applauds as the couple undergoes gruesome torture before being burned to death.

This chilling spectacle didn't unfold in the era before the Civil War — it happened in 1904, several decades after the war's conclusion. And it was not an isolated episode. From 1865 to 1950, over 6000 Black individuals were slain by white lynch mobs.

While these facts and narratives are gruesome, it's essential to remember them. They epitomize the deeply ingrained blemishes of racism and white supremacy in the United States — blemishes that persist to this day.

The core takeaway here is: The tentacles of racism had a firm grip on American society long after the Civil War had ended.

In the aftermath of the Civil War in 1865, America found itself standing at a crucial juncture. The nation was tasked not only with physical rebuilding but also with remodeling its socio-economic structures. Over the previous two centuries, America's wealth had ballooned, nourished by a brutal racial caste system. Now, more than four million people, who were once enslaved, were to be assimilated into society.

During this transformative phase known as Reconstruction, Northern politicians drove the adoption of the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments. On paper, these constitutional decrees abolished slavery and assured freed individuals of equal citizenship and voting rights. However, in reality, these laws fell considerably short of their promise.

States, predominantly in the south, found avenues to reinstate white supremacy. Legislative bodies enacted poll taxes and literacy tests, effectively disenfranchising Black communities. They also instituted new stringent regulations known as Black Codes. These laws criminalized nebulous actions such as "loitering". Consequently, many freed Black individuals were ensnared by local law enforcement and penalized with forced labor — effectively giving a new legal guise to the institution of slavery.

By 1867, the Reconstruction era had ended, and the post-war sense of optimism and opportunity had dwindled considerably. In 1896, a significant blow was dealt when the Supreme Court pronounced its verdict in the Plessy v. Ferguson case. This verdict endorsed the "separate but equal" doctrine, laying the legal foundation for institutional segregation in the years to come. Thus, despite the end of the Civil War, Black Americans remained prey to oppressive and discriminatory structures that denied them the full exercise of their citizen rights.

Accountability remains elusive for America's disgraced leaders

What does the name Robert E. Lee conjure up in your mind? If we were to go by the plethora of monuments erected in his honor, Lee would appear as a brilliant military strategist who valiantly served the southern states during the American Civil War.

However, historical facts present a starkly contrasting narrative. The real Robert E. Lee was a traitorous slaveholder who exploited his military prowess to uphold the horrific institution of human enslavement and torture. His deeds were insidious and treacherous, leading to the loss of nearly a million American lives.

Despite this, the bitter truth of Lee's history is often glossed over even today. His monuments continue to stand tall, Washington and Lee University still bears his name, and in 1975, Congress took the extraordinary step of restoring his citizenship posthumously. To say that Lee paid the rightful cost for his transgressions would be far from the truth.

The underlying insight here is: All too often, disgraced American leaders manage to skirt any form of accountability.

A critical and ongoing shortcoming of the United States is its reluctance or incapability to confront the darker chapters of its history. To some extent, this can be understood. Societies are prone to glorify their leaders and their past while downplaying unsavory details. However, persistently subscribing to distorted historical narratives paves the way for the repeated errors of the past.

Regrettably, America appears entangled in this troubling pattern. Take, for instance, the case of Thomas Jefferson. His significant contributions, including authoring the Declaration of Independence and his presidency, are widely celebrated. In contrast, his failings, such as his role as a slaveholder and his sexual exploitation of at least one enslaved woman, Sally Hemmings, receive less scrutiny.

Accountability has also remained elusive for recent presidents. In 1973, President Nixon stepped down amidst substantial evidence linking him to the Watergate scandal. Instead of holding the discredited leader accountable in a court of law, incoming President Gerald Ford pardoned him. Historian Douglas Brinkley suggests that this set a dangerous standard that presidents were immune to legal consequences.

Fast forward a few decades, and President Obama refrained from probing into the alleged illegal torture program run by the Bush administration. This again reinforced the troubling notion that certain individuals remain exempt from being held responsible for their actions. If this trend of lack of accountability for leaders continues, they'll keep pushing boundaries — leading to recurring atrocities while justice remains eternally deferred.

Donald Trump's presidency: A catalogue of calamities for America

As Donald Trump took the oath of office on the steps of the Capitol on January 20, 2017, becoming the 45th president of the United States, the skies were grey and overcast. An eclectic group of supporters and bystanders witnessed the ceremony under a mild drizzle.

However, within just a few hours, Trump was painting a dramatically different picture. He claimed the day was bathed in fortunate sunshine, and the crowd was supposedly the most sizable ever seen.

These tales were far from the truth — minor yet clear falsehoods. Regrettably, these were harbingers of larger transgressions that lay ahead. With a Republican party complicit in his actions, President Trump would pull the country into four years of deception, intimidation, and policy blunders.

The central theme here is: Donald Trump’s presidency was a severe debacle for the country.

From its inception, the Trump administration was a turbulent storm. Trump combined a shocking lack of understanding of policy issues with a special flair for divisive and hateful speech. Once in power, he continued to scapegoat immigrants and minorities for the nation's troubles and labeled any criticism in the press as "fake news." Simultaneously, the Republican party exploited Trump's media spectacle as a smokescreen to advance a severe right-wing agenda.

Trump's tenure saw several deeply damaging policy shifts. Early in 2017, he implemented a prejudiced executive order prohibiting travel from numerous Muslim-majority countries. Later that year, he enabled the Republican Congress to pass a colossal, unwarranted tax cut for the wealthiest Americans and corporations. In 2018, he introduced the notorious "zero-tolerance policy," which tore immigrant children away from their parents and housed them in bleak detention centers.

Additionally, Trump sabotaged the effectiveness of the federal government by appointing many political allies to crucial roles, irrespective of their qualifications. For instance, he selected former Texas Governor Rick Perry to head the Department of Energy, a department Perry had earlier campaigned to dissolve. For the Department of Education, he appointed Betsy DeVos, a wealthy heiress seemingly intent on eradicating secular public education across the country.

Yet, the gravest mishaps were still to come. When the world was grappling with the impending COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020, instead of following the Obama administration’s meticulously prepared pandemic playbook, Trump politicized the crisis. He downplayed the virus's threat, questioned the CDC's recommendations, and ultimately let the disease spread unchecked, leading to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Americans.

Past racial prejudice and hostility continue to echo in the present.

At the time of its establishment, the United States already boasted a considerable variety of ethnicities. Not only did it host settlers from the leading European empires, but it was also home to numerous native communities and thousands of Black people who were forcibly uprooted from Africa.

However, in 1770, the fledgling government enacted the Naturalization Act. This biased law restricted immigration and naturalization to “free white persons.” This law remained in place until 1965 when the Immigration and Nationality Act removed limitations based on race, religion, and nationality.

Thus, for nearly two centuries, the US was officially a country exclusive to white individuals. This legislation serves as an exemplification of the many ways the country has marginalized and oppressed entire groups based on race.

The primary message here is: The reverberations of historical racial hostility and prejudice are still palpable today.

Though founded on the assertion that all men are created equal, the United States has consistently stumbled in upholding this ideal. More specifically, its societal structures and legal entities have perpetuated a rigid racial hierarchy. Under this system, individuals classified as “white” were granted access to societal resources and protection, while those considered as “other,” including Black and Native American people, were excluded or forced to forsake their cultures.

When Black communities succeeded within this skewed system, their accomplishments were perceived as menacing. One example is the prosperous Black community in Tulsa, Oklahoma, known as “Negro Wall Street.” However, in 1921, a white mob stormed the neighborhood to lynch a Black teenager. With the support of National Guardsmen and police, the violence spiraled out of control, leading to the complete incineration of the entire 35-block community.

Furthermore, state-endorsed economic policies deepened racial disparities. Post World War II, the GI Bill offered veterans stable employment, affordable mortgages, and free college education. Yet, these benefits were denied to Black veterans. Consequently, while white communities accumulated wealth and rose to middle-class status, numerous Black families grappled with poverty and housing instability.

So, what is the legacy of such disparities? Sociologist Joy DeGruy coined the term “post-traumatic slave syndrome” to describe how historical trauma and adversity ripple through generations. Communities ravaged by injustices and oppression still endure their repercussions long after the original events have faded into the annals of history. Hence, America still has a significant journey ahead in seeking redemption for its troubled past.

Resolute action is crucial to steer the country towards the correct course.

Throughout history, the United States has found itself at various pivotal moments — regrettably, it hasn't always chosen the right path.

During the Reconstruction period, the nation had an opportunity for profound reform within its social and political systems. They had the possibility to label the Confederate leaders as the rebels they were and earnestly allocate land and other assets to the previously enslaved populace. But, sadly, they didn’t.

Similarly, post World War II, the country could have swiftly abolished the Jim Crow laws and extended the advantages of the GI Bill to every American, regardless of racial background. But, yet again, they didn’t.

Now, the nation finds itself at another critical juncture. The newly installed Biden administration has the potential to revoke Trump's most egregious actions and hold the former President liable for his transgressions.

The core message here is: Resolute action is crucial to steer the country towards the correct course.

As Joe Biden uttered his inaugural address on January 20, 2021, America was a country in turmoil. The nation was still smarting from Trump’s tumultuous four-year term, and in the weeks following the election, chaos escalated. Once more, Trump and his compliant Republican party stretched the resilience of America’s democracy to its limits — yet only time will reveal if they'll face any repercussions for it.

All seasoned observers concur that Biden secured the presidency convincingly. Trump’s own Department of Homeland Security vouched that the election was the most safeguarded in American history. Yet, Trump rejected the results and propagated a “Big Lie,” alleging the election was marred by voter fraud. Worse yet, Republican leaders such as Mitch McConnell and Ted Cruz allowed this falsehood to go unchallenged.

Ultimately, Trump’s baseless scare tactics culminated on January 6, when thousands of Trump supporters besieged the nation's Capitol building. Adorned in Trump merchandise and a variety of Confederate symbols, the mob tried to disrupt Congress and obstruct the democratic process. Subsequently, Trump faced impeachment for his involvement in the riot, but spineless Republicans declined to convict him.

Now, the nation must contemplate its path forward. Trump still holds immense popularity — polls indicate that 53 percent of Republicans view him more favorably than Abraham Lincoln. To safeguard the nation, Democratic leaders must fortify our democratic institutions — they must enact robust voting rights laws and prosecute the right-wing extremists responsible for the January 6 riot. If they falter, the nation risks choosing a bleaker path once again.

Historical racial policies continue to have detrimental effects on Black communities today.

Only twenty percent — that's the small fraction of Americans who support the notion of reparations. Reparations is a contentious policy with various potential forms. In its simplest sense, a reparations program would require the state to compensate either the descendants of slaves, or Black people in general, as a form of recompense for historical injustices.

So why is the idea of reparations so widely dismissed? A common misconception is that the travesties of slavery and racial discrimination are remnants of the past. That is, the perception is that these matters no longer influence the framework and daily operations of American society.

However, this belief couldn't be more misguided. Racism is far from extinct. Furthermore, the repercussions of past racist policies persist today, manifesting in countless small and subtle ways.

The crux of this part is: Historical racial policies continue to have detrimental effects on Black communities today.

It’s challenging to encapsulate all the ways racist biases and policies have sculpted American society. But, one starting point is examining the wealth inequality between Black and white communities. A 2021 Federal Reserve report reveals that on average, the net worth of white families is 700 times that of Black families. This vast gap is the product of centuries of systemic racism permeating every sector from education to housing policy.

One domain where racism continues to be glaringly evident is the criminal justice system. Take, for example, the disparate impacts of the War on Drugs. Since its commencement in the 70s, this crusade against narcotics has disproportionately affected Black communities. Statistics indicate that from 1980 to 2007, Black individuals were about five times more likely to face arrest for drug possession than white individuals, even though drug use rates are similar between the communities.

Racism is even interwoven into the structure of our cities. From the 1950s, cities across the U.S. from New York to Detroit demolished entire Black neighborhoods to construct urban highways. Presently, Black families are more likely to reside alongside freeways and other high-traffic areas. Consequently, these communities are subjected to elevated rates of respiratory diseases and other health problems caused by air pollution.

These are mere examples of the multitude of ways racism continues to permeate various aspects of American life. Often, white individuals are oblivious to how these systems may hinder the prosperity of their Black counterparts. However, if we aspire to genuinely mend the burgeoning divisions within our society, we must acknowledge these challenging issues and find ways to mitigate their continued effects.

Wrapping up

The key takeaway here is:

The United States, a country built on high-minded principles, has frequently failed to uphold these ideals throughout its history. The lingering effects of centuries of systemic racism and racial violence continue to define current American life. The tumultuous tenure of the Trump administration and the chaotic 2020 election have underscored the enduring influence of these dark forces in American politics. To evade an even grimmer future, both political leaders and ordinary citizens must muster the determination to confront these harsh realities and hold accountable those who have transgressed.

The Reckoning Quotes by Mary L. Trump

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