Diatribes of Jay

This is a blog of essays on public policy. It shuns ideology and applies facts, logic and math to economic, social and political problems. It has a subject-matter index, a list of recent posts, and permalinks at the ends of posts. Comments are moderated and may take time to appear. Note: Profile updated 4/7/12

16 April 2018

The Race to 2043: Proving the American Idea

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In all the Trump Administration’s hesitation, waffling and vacillation about almost everything, one theme stands out in its consistency: white supremacy. Trump and his followers derive much of their energy and nearly all of their passion from a single notion: that America is a white, Christian nation and ought to be governed as such. You don’t see much passion among Trumpets for the tax cuts, for killing their own health care, or even for infrastructure work that might give them good jobs.

Not since Alabama Governor George Wallace—a diehard segregationist—ran for president in 1968 has our nation seen the like. Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan both mouthed the code words and sought racists’ support in many ways. But neither seemed a committed racist himself. Neither promoted an explicitly racist agenda like today’s militaristic policing, vote suppression and extreme gerrymandering. Neither ever condoned or invited violence against minorities the way Trump did after Charlottesville and several times against minority protestors at his campaign rallies.

Although George Wallace had been a Southern Democrat, his independent run in 1968, for his “American Independent Party,” in fact allowed the “modern” Republican Party to form. He drew Southern votes away from the Democratic presidential nominee, Hubert Humphrey, and put Richard Nixon in the White House. Nixon never could have got there otherwise.

So Wallace and his racist run helped prolong the Vietnam War, causing yet more unnecessary deaths among our own troops, and (from Nixon’s incessant bombing) millions in Southeast Asia. And he gave us the only president in our history to resign from office after impeachment, under realistic threat of removal.

Wallace’s independent run also gave Nixon the idea for his infamous “Southern Strategy.” After Democrats passed the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts in the mid-1960s, Nixon relied on Southern racism and regional resentment to turn the entire South from blue to red. There it mostly remains to this day, although teetering progressive in Virginia, North Carolina and Florida.

Merely to recite these facts of history shows how powerful a political force the yearning of some for white supremacy has been. It gave us our most disgraced president ever. It prolonged our most egregious, misguided and disastrous foreign-policy blunder. And it converted the Republican party from a creation of thoughtful, progressive and far-sighted Northeastern businessmen to today’s crude hatchet that demagogues wield to cut the safety net for the poor and unfortunate and to make the rich and powerful yet richer and more powerful. Perhaps we should thank Trump for reminding us what a powerful force for evil white supremacy has been.

It’s futile to ask what motivates the supremacists. All you need to know is that, 157 years ago, they seceded from our Union and started the bloodiest single war in our nation’s history. Even today, total combat deaths in that war nearly match those in all our other wars combined.

Supremacists are not compromisers. They are intransigent extremists, willing to fight and die to prove the superiority of their kind and their right to rule others. And, outside of the military and police, they have most of the guns.

Those who have not advocated or resorted to violence have taken or attempted extreme political measures. They have tried extreme racial gerrymandering in North Carolina, which the court, in rejecting it, said targeted African-Americans “with almost surgical precision.” They have tried (and mostly succeeded) to make it harder for the poor and less fortunate to vote, under the pretense that “voter fraud” is a significant problem in America. And, for the first time ever in American history, they have stolen a Supreme Court seat from a legitimately elected American president.

Is all their agonized striving doomed to failure? By 2043, the demographers say, America will become a majority non-white nation. Won’t the supremacists have to give in then?

Not if history is any guide. These people are die hards. They lost the Civil War 153 years ago, and their core territory was occupied by the northern victor for several decades afterward. Yet they are still fighting a rear-guard action at the ballot box, in the courts, in the halls of the executive, and (as the epidemic of killings of innocent, unarmed blacks attests) on the streets of our cities over a century and a half later. The notion that they will give up any time soon—or as the date of minority-majority approaches—is just wishful thinking.

Yet recent global history reminds us of a terrible human truth. Nations in which a minority rules the majority by trickery, tyranny, or terror are among the most terrible creations of our species. They are miserable places for everyone to live, including the dominant minority.

Syria is the best exemplar. There Assad’s 12% minority Alewites, with the aid of Iranian and Russian arms, have turned the entire nation into a killing field, and its cities into rubble, just in order to maintain their political control over the other 88% of the population. Would any human being in his right mind, given the choice, elect to be born or live in Syria today?

Iraq is also instructive. One of our goals in invading and occupying that country in 2003 was to undo the tyranny of Saddam and his Sunnis, whose 30% minority had ruled the majority Shiites in a brutal dictatorship for about three decades. We got rid of Saddam all right, but the aftermath of his overthrow is hardly a model democracy, despite all the blood and treasure we have spent for fifteen years and counting.

So what we have in store here at home, as 2043 approaches, is an epic battle for the soul of America. From our Declaration of Independence to our Constitution’s Equal-Protection Clause, our legal credo has always been equality. But we have honored that credo in practice only sporadically, and often only after great struggle. Now is the time to prove, as a nation, that we really mean it and stick to it.

Thomas Jefferson wrote that “all men are created equal” but kept slaves. A century and a half later, we fought our bloodiest-ever war to free them and abolish slavery.

Then we let down our guard. For nearly a century afterward, the South became a one-party authoritarian region, which contained the minority (and in some states the majority) in a form of American Apartheid by terror and legal oppression (Jim Crow). This shameful regime continued until federal troops allowed blacks to integrate the public schools in 1954 and Lyndon Johnson signed the federal Civil Rights Act and Voting Rights Act in 1964-65.

Forty-three years later, we got our first black president, but the backlash was horrendous. We all know, without even thinking, which political party was responsible for the backlash. And now that party has elected our very first white-supremacist sympathizer as our president. Now we have a substantial minority who think that our epidemic of killings of unarmed, young black men is not only not disgraceful and not a sign of a degenerate democracy, but somehow justified.

And now we have a president who tells us that immigrants from south of our border and refugees from “shit-hole countries” are somehow inferior. This is about as un-American as you can get.

So the struggle is far from over. The worst of it may just be beginning, for the extremists may become even more extreme as they see their long-term prospects dim.

Nevertheless, there is good news. The year 2043 is only an upper limit. Why? Because politics depends on beliefs, not identity. Far from all whites are white supremacists.

In fact, quite the opposite is true. White supremacists are a minority of whites. Even today, the total of progressive whites who believe in equality, plus racial and ethnic minorities who crave that equality, is a majority of America.

How can I know? Simple. Since the Civil War, we have not had a national figure, let alone a president, so sympathetic to the cause of white supremacy as Donald Trump. So any white supremacist in his right mind is a Trump supporter. Yet throughout his presidency, Trump’s support has never risen more than a point or three above 40%.

That means his opponents number 57% to 60%. Insofar as electoral majorities go, that’s about as good as it gets. For example, Lyndon Johnson’s electoral majority over Barry Goldwater in 1964 was the greatest in my 73 years of life. They called it a “landslide,” but it was just over 61%. By that standard, today’s anti-supremacists have a controlling majority, approaching a “landslide,” as long as they realize they are in an important democratic struggle.

The linchpin of the struggle will be progressive whites’ willingness and enthusiasm in supporting female and minority candidates. It would be absolute suicide for any progressive anti-supremacist party or organization to cater to, let alone pander to, supremacist memes. The best thing that old white progressives who wish to marginalize supremacists can do is to support good, progressive female and minority candidates with our money, our time and (where we can) our votes.

There is one political organization in America that gets this point better than any other today. It’s not a formal part of the Democratic Party. It’s called Democracy for America (DFA), a group that seeks out, trains and supports progressive candidates from both genders and all races, religions and nationalities. It’s a modern, smart, young group that sees the future and a way to bring it home quicker.

DFA’s notion is quite simple. Traditionally, voting turnout among youth and minorities has been pathetic compared to the turnout of the old, the conservative and the bigoted. The bad guys win repeatedly not because they are smarter or more numerous, but because they vote more reliably.

So what progressives must do to retake our country is to vote more reliably, beginning with this year’s midterm elections. Many things can boost youth and minority turnout, including revulsion toward Trump and the recent youth movement toward gun control. But perhaps the most important is the opportunity for youth, females and minorities to vote for people they know and trust—people from their own ranks.

In other words, if progressive white geezers like me want to see white supremacy stamped out at the polls, we have to support candidates much younger than we, including females and minorities. We have to form an unbreakable alliance with these excluded groups based on full partnership, mutual respect, and loyal support.

If we can do that, then Katie bar the door. A small percentage in increased turnout among youth, women and minorities will turn the electoral tables and create “landslides,” all around the nation, for progressive ideas.

From the beginning, America has always been an idea—the idea of equality of all people. We have never been a nation formed, like most others, by the happenstance of tribalism. We sure as Hell aren’t about to start now.

Our core idea of equality has brought the best people to our shores from all over the world, including especially from “shit-hole countries” down on the their luck. Troubles in other lands have been our good fortune because they have brought us people with the initiative and brains to leave a bad situation, seek a better life and, in the process, make ours a better society.

If DFA’s plan works, 2043 will be a non-event. We will already have made ourselves a nation in which anyone of any gender, race, religion and nationality (or sexual orientation) not only feels free to run for office, but can win. There will be no room for white supremacy or any other supremacy. We will all be just folks, competing on ideas, enthusiasm, hard work and skill to make our society better. Then, and only then, will the idea of America have become real.

Little old ladies and gentlemen like me will just have to get used to hearing bits of Spanish, Urdu and Swahili spoken at the supermarket. It won’t kill us. But the people speaking those foreign languages will be the ones to invent pills and treatments to keep us alive longer, and the ones who will run our nursing homes. The white supremacists who made such trouble in Charlottesville, and who ran over a counter-protestor, surely won’t do any of that.

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