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April 12, 1861 is a historic moment for the nation, but a day of shame for many native-born southerners like me.

It was the day Confederate soldiers fired on the United States military housed at Fort Sumpter in South Carolina’s Charleston Harbor and started the Civil War.

That war was a tragic effort to destroy the “united” part of the United States, driven by a determination to defend the morally reprehensible practice of slavery. 

In the end my ancestors firing on Fort Sumpter cost the lives of 600,000 soldiers on both sides and the death of thousands of women and children and the elderly, mostly in the South where the majority of the war was fought.

Here’s the question I wish I could ask my relatives: “How could you have possibly believed that what you were doing was the right thing to do?”

But I think I know the answer to my own question. They were consumed by white supremacy to such a degree that it eroded their moral conscience.

At that point they were so eaten up by their sense of grievance against the federal government for setting all black slaves free that they were willing to fight a war that divided the country and would destroy it.

Not even losing the war resurrected their moral conscience as they began to replace slavery with a system of racial segregation that dehumanized black Americans as much as owning them did.

It took another 100 years to end legal segregation, but racial prejudice born of a belief in white supremacy still infects millions of Americans.

The MAGA movement Donald Trump established is the most visible example of it at the moment, in large measure because of evangelical Christians.

No MAGA Republican or evangelical will admit such a thing, but now we have data to prove it is true.

A recent survey conducted jointly by Public Religion Research Institute (PPRI) and E Pluribus Unum measured Americans’ views on race and structural racism.

The survey asked 11 questions on a wide range of topics – attitudes about white supremacy and racial inequality, the impact of discrimination on African American economic mobility, the treatment of African Americans in the criminal justice system, general perceptions of race, and whether racism is still a significant problem today.

The answers given to the 11 questions were then correlated into what the survey administrators called a “Structural Racism Index” scale.

Here are some of the noteworthy results that index showed:

–  By race and ethnicity, white Americans are the most likely to score high on the structural racism index (indicating greater attitudes of racism).

– White Republicans scored higher than white independents or Democrats.

– Predominantly white religious groups score highest on the structural racism scale with white evangelical Protestants scoring the highest.

– Nine out of ten Republicans support maintaining Confederate monuments around the country while less than a third of Democrats do.

– Among religious groups, white evangelical Protestants are the most likely to support preserving the history of the Confederacy with memorials and statues (76%).

– Less than half of all Americans know that there laws segregating public schools in America ever existed. (https://www.prri.org/research/creating-more-inclusive-public-spaces-structural-racism-confederate-memorials-and-building-for-the-future/)

MAGA Republicans and evangelical leaders will not believe the truth this survey tells them about themselves, and the reason they won’t is the same as the one that explains why southerners in 1861 didn’t see themselves for what they were – their moral conscience had been eroded by their racial attitudes.

Thus, a century and a half after the Civil War, and some sixty years after major civil rights legislation was passed by the U. S. Congress and signed into law, we are still fighting among ourselves over the same issues that produced the Civil War – race and white supremacy.

Most troubling about our history of racism and its present day manifestations is that once people give in to their prejudices, only a few ever change their minds. Some even become radicalized.

For MAGA Republicans and evangelicals Donald Trump was the catalyst for their radicalization. We all know by now that his influence has been cult-like. He tried to tell us he knew how to exploit racism, manipulate political grievances, and politicize evangelical moralism into blind loyalty when he said he could shoot someone in the middle of Fifth Avenue in New York and not lose a vote, but most of us dismissed what it as talk.

Not surprisingly, then, we find ourselves still fighting against the kind of white supremacy and all the evil it produces that was the cause of the Civil War a century and a half ago.

What is different between then and now is that the war is not between armies, but between radicalized Republican politicians and their opponents in our federal and state legislatures, in city councils, school boards, and even in religious communities.

The flash point in the war we are now fighting has moved from the battlefield to the ballot box.

What should hearten us is that the future of America does not depend on trying to do the impossible, which is to get MAGA Republicans to see that what they are doing is wrong.

It only depends on defeating them, and that is something within our grasp.

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