by | Nov 21, 2008 | Detroit Free Press | 0 comments

In his home state, the land of his birth, they were counting the hatred, one vote at a time. “I’ve got a few people who will call me tonight,” Joe Dumars said. “I’ll find out what’s going on, maybe even at halftime of the game.”

Dumars is a professional basketball player, but at this moment, this Saturday morning in his home, life was not about sports, it was about politics and hate in the place where he grew up, the state of Louisiana. A man there was running for governor. A white man. A handsome man. A man who, in college, used to sleep under a Nazi swastika blanket.

The man had a chance of winning.

“He’s playing on people’s fears and misconceptions,”‘ Dumars said of David Duke, a former grand wizard in the Ku Klux Klan who was in a race with Edwin Edwards for Louisiana’s top spot. “He’s been talking to the right people at the right time. He’s pushing the right buttons.”

Dumars leaned over the desk and tapped his hands for emphasis. “The thing is, Duke didn’t just pop up. And the bad feelings that have gotten him this far, they’ve been simmering down there for a long time.

“And what these people are thinking — it’s incomprehensible to me.”

Can you imagine leaving home for a few years, then calling back to discover a madman had taken over, a man who believed in white supremacy, said Jews lied about the Holocaust, who once called Adolph Hitler “the greatest genius who ever lived” ? Maybe a few years ago you would have thought such a thing impossible in this country.

Think again.

Duke brings out the worst in us

The fact is, hatred and anger have become marketable commodities in America. So many of us seem to be unhappy, full of frustration, ready to blame someone else for our troubles.

When a job falls through, we point to the quota system. When our paychecks are small, we blame welfare recipients for sucking us dry. When a crime is committed, we shake our heads and say “animals,” but often what we mean is
“damn blacks” or “damn Puerto Ricans” or “damn Jews.”

In prosperous times, maybe people suppress such emotions. But in tough times, times like today in Louisiana, where the economy has sunk, suddenly those emotions bubble closer to the top. And then along comes a David Duke who says not only are those feelings OK, but he’s gonna do something about them, he’ll do the hating for you, he’ll make it legitimate, a government policy. He looks normal, he sounds normal. He lies about his past, and sweet-talks the horror with phrases like “conservative government” and
“economic responsibility.”

And next thing you know, you’re in Nazi Germany, 1936.

“I think Duke brought everything out of the dark, the things people were thinking deep down but didn’t say out loud,” Dumars said. “He turned a light on everyone’s feelings.”

He sighed. From the hallway came sounds of a baby crying. Dumars’ son, Jordan. He is eight months old. So many of his relatives still live in Louisiana, his grandmother, aunts, uncles, people who can’t wait to see him.

“Would you feel uncomfortable going back home if Duke were the governor?”

“Uncomfortable? Back home?”

What a question, huh?

Dumars knows where he stands

And yet, it is something we must consider. The results of the Louisiana election will be in by the time you read this, yet whether Duke won or lost is only slightly less important than the fact he was able to get this far. Have we really grown so selfish in parts of this country that we can pretend a Jew- hating, Black-hating former Klan leader is somehow not so bad? Here we are, a nation that demands to know if its government officials ever once made passes at women or smoked dope in college, and yet we can consider electing a man who wrote in a Nazi-like newspaper, “The Negro brain is smaller and housed in a thicker skull,” and, “The media is dominated by Jews. You know it and everybody knows it.”

Is this where we are in 1991?

Who knows anymore? Last week, here in Michigan, a 31-year- old man marched into a post office and began shooting his gun. He shot and he shot until three people were dead, and then he turned the gun on himself and put a bullet into his skull. He was angry over losing his job. He hated the people who did it to him.

Anger and hate. What can be done with those emotions is, at best, shameful, and, at worst, unthinkable. And you don’t always have to pull a trigger. Sometimes, as shocking as it seems, all it takes is a voting lever.

“From here on, no matter what happens in the election, everyone back home knows where they stand,” Dumars said, even as his family in Louisiana went to vote. “You were either for him or against him.”

When you’re counting hatred, it’s a bad number, no matter what the final tally.


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Mitch Albom writes about running an orphanage in impoverished Port-au-Prince, Haiti, his kids, their hardships, laughs and challenges, and the life lessons he’s learned there every day.

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