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Super rich always divide the working class

President-elect Donald Trump shakes hands with his pick for Education Secretary Betsy DeVos during a rally in Grand Rapids, Mich., Dec. 9.
President-elect Donald Trump shakes hands with his pick for Education Secretary Betsy DeVos during a rally in Grand Rapids, Mich., Dec. 9. AP

After an uprising that grew from many voices, including my own, A&E has wisely canceled the eight-hour docu-series that was originally dubbed “Generation KKK.”

A&E made this decision after learning that cash payments were made “to facilitate access” to the film’s subjects, who supposedly were trying to break away from the white supremacy group.

While I and many others believed a series that gave national exposure to a domestic terror organization like the Ku Klux Klan risked normalizing racism, the network insisted that the show was about exposing what it was like to grow up in a culture of hate.

To prove that point, A&E told us that producers miraculously found four Klan-affiliated families who were willing to break their anonymity. And in each of those families, they’d found at least one member who wanted to escape the Klan.

We now know the show’s independent producers paid the participants to make that far-fetched storyline possible. A&E said paying the participants was a breach of contract and canceled the show. In reality, though, the very idea of giving the KKK a national platform was abhorrent to many Americans. America spoke out, and in this case, sanity won.

But this was just one battle. In January, when Donald Trump assumes the highest seat in the land, the fight for America’s soul will continue. And that fight, quite simply, will require us to choose right over wrong. This has been an ongoing fight for America, and we haven’t always won.

America was founded on a promise of freedom for white male property owners, subjugation for white women, violent repression for Native Americans and enslavement for blacks.

Our nation’s founders weaved the poison threads of racism and bigotry into our nation’s fabric, creating separate and unequal systems of education, labor, medicine, housing, criminal justice and economics.

While blacks were systematically excluded from America’s promise, Mexican and Asian immigrants were also targeted, as were immigrants from Ireland, Italy and Southeastern Europe. But those divisions melted away when the invention of “whiteness” entitled previously disenfranchised Europeans to a sliver of the American dream.

And therein lies the irony. America’s wealthiest have always sowed discord among the working class. By playing upon ethnic and racial divisions, the super rich – from George Washington to Donald Trump – have divided working-class Americans. From indentured servitude and slavery, to unemployment and poverty, we have seen America’s wealthiest pick winners and losers among us.

Then, after doing so, the rich have routinely stood by as America’s working poor fought to protect their place in the pecking order.

That’s where hate groups like the Ku Klux Klan come from: the false belief that whiteness cancels out the reality of poverty. That whiteness makes one superior to a black person who is better educated and economically thriving. That embracing the notion of whiteness can turn back the clock to a time when one’s advancement was based on the color of one’s skin.

That, I believe, is the real danger of white supremacy. It convinces white Americans who are suffering like the rest of us that they are somehow better off. It advances the ridiculous notion that some people are entitled to more than others based solely on their appearance. It feeds an insidious lie that controls the working class by pitting us against one another.

So, yes, we are in for a fight as we move through this next chapter in our nation’s history. But knowing our history will allow us to get it right.

Just as our nation’s founders assembled aristocrats to divide the spoils while working-class Americans spilled blood for our country, Trump is doing the same.

Don’t believe it? Look at his nominees for key cabinet positions.

▪ Billionaire Betsy DeVos, if she is confirmed as secretary of education, is poised to embark on an agenda that hands education tax dollars to private organizations who enrich themselves at the public trough.

▪ Rex Tillerson, CEO of Exxon Mobil, will be handed the keys to the State Department, even after proving – through pro-Russian oil deals that violated American policy – his willingness to put business interests above those of the nation.

▪ Multimillionaire Steve Mnuchin, from Goldman Sachs, will run the Treasury Department. Billionaire Wilbur Ross, who made millions servicing subprime loans as working class Americans lost their homes during the Bush-era financial crisis, will serve as our new secretary of commerce. Multimillionaire Andy Puzder, who openly opposes a hike in the minimum wage, will be secretary of labor.

Perhaps, in these four years, America’s working class will awaken to the sad reality that the bigotry undergirding groups like the Ku Klux Klan is a distraction.

Our real enemies aren’t the people who share our economic struggles.

Our real enemies are those who don’t.

Solomon Jones is a columnist for the Philadelphia Daily News. Readers may email him at sj@solomonjones.com.

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