True to history, Mississippi both gracious and vicious

Published 8:49 pm Monday, December 11, 2017

My, my, my. Such language.

Granted, having Donald Trump at the opening of a civil rights museum was akin to asking Jeff Davis to deliver the eulogy for Abraham Lincoln, but the reaction! And the variety! To some degree, it illustrates why few sane and sober people seek public office.

Start with attacks on our governor.

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Who knows why Phil Bryant extended the invitation to Trump to be in Jackson for the bicentennial event, specifically the opening Saturday (also Bryant’s 63rd birthday) of the Museum of Mississippi History and its neighbor, the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum? Perhaps Bryant (if he’s not a member of the U.S. Senate by then) lobbied for a job when his second term ends in January 2020. Given turnover in the White House, Bryant might have slipped Trump a resume.

Regardless, our governor took hits from the internet’s political left for welcoming a racist and from the right. Bryant was viciously faulted on social media for “spending $90 million” for museums when the state has roads and bridges in need of repair.

The backstory, of course, is not consistent with that claim (as often happens with internet experts). The state-owned museums were provided some state money to go with private donations, but the big player was the state credit card. Admission to the separate museums is $8 per person, and while the museums may seek continuing appropriations, the expectation is that bonds will be repaid and the museums will operate on their own revenue.

As for President Trump being a racist, who knows? Seriously. He’s made plenty of insensitive statements, but racism is a matter of the heart — specifically the belief that one group of humans is inherently superior to others.

Think about Trump’s cloistered life. From the day he was born he’s had two to 200 (or 2,000) people whose job is to keep him happy all day every day. He didn’t ask to be born into a life of privilege any more than a person asks to be born into a life of poverty, but is it right to declare all similarly sheltered people to be racist? How about “race-novice,” given that he’s rarely been around anyone not being paid to serve him.

(The same analysis, by the way, attaches to Trump’s propensity to be untruthful. To lie is to be purposely deceptive. In Trump’s case, his belief in himself is his reality.)

OK, what about other reactions?

A clear majority of Mississippians wanted Trump in office, or at least couldn’t abide the notion of a Hillary Clinton presidency. His supporters were vocal about the visit, saying any presidential nod is a plus.

True enough, we’ve rarely been on the radar. Early primaries mean in voters in Iowa, New Hampshire and others get to know candidates on a first-name basis. About all Mississippi gets during campaigns is a photo-op at the airport, if that. Once elected, presidents rarely have occasion to stop in at all.

The classiest responses came from those who said they would not let their disdain of this president detract from the day when Mississippi, at last, started holding a truthful mirror to its face.

Dennis Dahmer, son of murdered voting rights worker Vernon Dahmer, told The Clarion-Ledger he would be there. “I will not let Trump, Bryant or anyone else define the who, what and why of Vernon F. Dahmer Sr. and others’ commitment pertaining to the civil rights movement.”

With all the hoopla, not enough was said or shown about the two new world-class showcases in the downtown area. Perhaps, in days to come, residents and non-residents alike will find their way into the museums and have the type of reflective, immersive history lessons they were artfully designed to teach.

As part of that, they’re likely to find that in the distant past as in the past few days, there was viciousness in Mississippi and, in equal measure, there was graciousness. Like any other people in any other place, we’ve seen statesmanship and heroism and valor and cowardice and brutality and indifference.

The question is, once equipped with this knowledge, what kind of people we choose to be.

By the way, if Jefferson Davis had been invited to provide the eulogy for President Lincoln, history says Davis would have done it — and done it with class. Same if Lincoln were around to comment on the passing of Davis.

But that was once upon a time. And once upon a time — before the era of internet potshots — honor and dignity were considered admirable traits.

Charlie Mitchell is a Mississippi journalist. Write to him at