In 1968, I was ten years old, and George Wallace was running for president. My parents told me that if Wallace won, we would have to leave the country. For reasons I have long since forgotten, Switzerland looked pretty good to me, and I began to pray daily for Wallace’s victory. Imagine my disappointment when Richard Nixon prevailed.
It wasn’t until years later that I realized the true implications of a hypothetical Wallace presidency. For a middle-class African American family like ours, and indeed all people who were riding the Civil Rights Movement wave of the sixties, the results could have been infinitely more devastating than my personal loss of life in a chalet. Surely, Wallace’s campaign was destined for failure from the get-go, but I still find the fact that almost ten million people voted for him chilling.
Memories of my near escape to the Alps occur to me more and more these days as I watch the antics of Donald Trump and, worse, his supporters. The anti-Obama antics of Marco Rubio are pretty scary too. The hate is looking a lot like what surrounded the late Governor Wallace – not to mention a few other special characters. All this “take back America” rhetoric is giving me the creeps. A few months ago, I followed a tractor-trailer on I-95 that had “Taking America back – one truck at a time” emblazoned across its back. Seriously?
There is an all-too-familiar undercurrent in this country today that I can touch, a bitterness that I can taste. We all recognize that racism may never go completely away, but nor should we want to see ourselves as a nation go backwards. The forecast, however, is becoming cloudier by the day. It’s worse when I think of my daughter, who is yet to become an adult in a far too hostile world. No matter who wins the Republican nomination, and the general election in November, the collateral damage has been done. The beast has raised its ugly head, and he is roaring.
Quite coincidentally, I ended up living in Switzerland for a spell as an adult. Swiss society is by no means perfect – consider its prevalent xenophobia – but those three years gave me many of my fondest memories. Would I ever think about going back? Check with me in August, right after the Republican convention.