The morning after the night before....the New Hampshire primary.....is another morning of mixed weather, and a complex muddle of candidates for the Republican nomination for president. Of course, Trump claims victory, as does Kasich, and as do Cruz, Rubio and Bush.... As for the others, it is often hard to remember their names. On the Democratic side, with a 20%+ margin of victory, Bernie Sanders acts as if securing the nomination is only a few weeks away. The Clinton “establishment” might have something to say about that perspective. Nevertheless, waiting just offstage, almost panting for the slightest crack of opportunity to open, calling the campaign thus far an “insult to the American people,” Michael Bloomberg, of cavernous pockets filled with cash, of considerable experience as Mayor of New York city for three terms, and of considerable impatience with the state of the current campaign and its candidates, threatens to run as an independent candidate. The history of that experiment, however, does not foreshadow his success in a general election, except that this is not a ‘normal’ election cycle. On that pundits, candidates and even the political establishment agree.
The American people are angry. And most of their anger is completely justified and directed at many of the icons of what has for centuries been considered the foundational stones of the very institutional structure of the country. Targets for that anger include police, the courts, the legislatures, the executives, the corporations, the media and to some extent the economy which promises fading prospects for university grads, burdened with billions of student debt, most of it under the weight of high interest rates. Both Clinton (Hillary) and Sanders are proposing either reduced costs for higher education, or in Sanders’ case, free tuition for all who qualify. Underlying the street expressions of anger at police killings of unarmed and purportedly innocent black men, linked to a history of racial discrimination, as disclosed by the Justice Department’s investigation of Ferguson’s police department, in a substantial strain of racial bigotry dating back to Jim Crow and the Ku Klux Klan, the mentality for which has never been erased or excised from the American psyche. How can a culture born on the trigger of muskets and sustained on the magnums of millions of gun-owners, infused with the stories of class consciousness saturated with the hubris of an upstart country, determined to demonstrate its “achievements” not unlike the struggling young man who is desperate to prove himself to his ungrateful, blind and often abusive father, grow up to put away its guns and its justification for those guns, put away its need for climbing over the backs and the reputations and the contemptible history of its inferiors, and turn its massive arsenal of bombs and missiles into the “ploughshares” it says it believes in?
If there is a way, just as the biologists searching for a way to impede if not destroy the breeding of Great Lakes lamprey, then the political class, dependent as it is on the drama of internecine warfare, seems unable to find it, even if their search does not bear the urgency of the biological search for a lampricide. And just like the lamprey themselves, the racism in American threatens to suck the life blood and juices from its prey, the American idealism that clings to the words and the lives of the poets and the activists and the peace-makers. (Elongated tubular creatures with a suction-cup-like mouth filled with hooked teeth, lamprey latch onto their innocent prey and suck the blood and life juices out for up to four months, leaving the weakened fish verging on death, the almost inevitable conclusion to the attack.) Without a physical body, racism, nevertheless, attaches to all the institutions, including the people inside, and with a force that emulates the most vehement toronado or hurricane, sucks the ethical, moral, spiritual and even intellectual blood and juices from the culture.
And while there have been significant positive steps toward the goal of equality, justice, integration and racial harmony, including the election of Barack Obama, the elevation of significant black leaders in the Justice Department, the Department of Homeland Security, the National Security Agency, plus the mayors of major United States cities, there continues to be a really vehement and virulent monster eating away at the ideal of racial harmony. Witness the high proportion of black men sitting in prisons, the parade of shootings at the hands of white police officers, the unemployment rate of black men in the inner cities, the drug dependency of so many young black and white men, whose lives face a horizon of hopelessness, and even the hundreds of “black slaves” earning millions in both the NFL and the NBA, positions for which millions of young black men aspire, yet which millions of black men will not achieve, given the small ratio of entry to applicants. Poverty, also, impacts the black community profoundly, as does the drop-out rate of young black men from formal education. A high proportion of children, especially among the black community, are raised in single-parent families. And the dynamic of black oppression has grown so familiar that the rest of the culture is emotionally immune to its ugliness, its persistence and its devastation.
And while the world champions the first black family to reside in the White House (and Obama has consistently acquitted himself in an exemplary manner!) it is argued in some quarters that his election has enraged those white racists, especially the white supremacists, and fueled the kind of anger that provoked the shooting of nine blacks in the midst of their prayer meeting only a few months ago. Single incidents, by themselves, of course do not constitute an epidemic; yet the stream grows from a mere trickle to a kind of theme that divides especially the political class, although public discourse would seem to ‘cover’ the buried hatred under a veneer of sophistication. What has not gone unnoticed, outside the U.S. however, is that Obama has endured the most nefarious and persistent political opposition from Republican in both houses of Congress that we have witnessed in decades, if not in the whole history of the country. And, while they will deny it in a chorus of megaphones, there is little doubt that the president’s race is a factor in their contempt for him and his policies. Their nearly absolute refusal even to negotiate the many reasonable proposals, like immigration reform for example, and the enhancement of gun controls while the public approves such measures in sizeable proportions (70+%), signals their political obstreperousness, but also thinly veils their innate racism. And it is a kind of racism that has not and will not be openly charged, since the opposition is focused on some specific approach of the White House.
There is little doubt that the racism that bursts from the barrels of those hand-guns fired by white law enforcement officers is connected, either directly or indirectly, to a country’s writhing under a growing income divide, and that growing income divide is comprised also of a racial divide. Far more blacks are living on the edge than are either whites or Hispanics; far more blacks are unemployed than are either whites or Hispanics; far more blacks drop out of school than do either whites or blacks. And although the insurgent Democratic candidate for president, Bernie Sanders, champions the movement for income equality, he needs to break out the racial overtones and the racial implications of that income inequality. For his opponents to say ‘he has no track record on race’ (as compared with Hillary Clinton, for example) is for them to demonstrate their failure, or their unwillingness to observe more penetratingly the inscrutable connection between income inequality and rampant racism that festers in every urban centre in the United States.
And unlike the Great Lakes lamprey, racism is not confined to a single beast; it infects a multitude of beasts, especially those human beasts who require a ‘lower’ group beneath them to elevate their social and political status. And the neurosis, even the psychosis, that requires a drug like racism for its psychic snobbery mask is not easily impeded even with enhanced and vigorous education programs, nor with Pell Grants. Even free tuition, which is eminently desireable, will not eradicate the kind of intolerance and bigotry that suffocates too much of the national budget and the national dialogue and the national sprit.
And it is the spirit of the American culture that provides sustenance for the dream of the city on the hill, to which so many leaders like Ronald Reagan have rhetorically appealed. And when (not if) that spirit flags, then there is an enhanced window of “opportunity” for charismatic, and vacuous leaders to begin to seduce many who feel both angry and hopeless, that not only is the political class not living up to expectations, but there is so little hope that ‘we might as well risk it all’ on somelike the Trump bandwagon.
This is not the only space that has declared Trump a danger to American and to the world. Holocaust survivors have likened him to the Fuehrer, so frightening is he and his rantings to their ears. Claiming to “employ” thousands of blacks and Hispanics is no substitute for social policy that offers a substantial hand-up to those in need of work, training, re-training, adequate and decent housing, health care (29 million are still without health care, and many more are underinsured); calling Mexican immigrants rapists, criminals and unwanted to the point of proposing an $8 billion wall, “paid for by the Mexicans is no recipe for integration, nor is it even remotely within the spirit of the Gettysburg Address, and the Emancipation Proclamation. Neither is deporting 11 million “illegals” either sustainable or even supportable from an ethical, moral and politically appropriate response to the mess that is the current immigration system.
This is not to argue that racism is the single or even the most important cause of the Trump drama; however, it is to suggest that without a dramatic change in the relationships between the have’s and the have-not’s, (currently beset by racism) there is little hope of the middle class regaining its lost hope and its flagging spirit, not to mention its empty bank accounts and retirement accounts. And that is not the American the world either needs or wants.
Bernie Sanders must start a full-throated effort that links his income equality gap theme to the issue of racial discrimination if he is to begin to close the near-40% gap in the opinion polls in South Carolina. (Hillary leads him by that kind of margin!) And he has to mount such an offensive without patronizing or condescending to the black community, and without invoking the “Nanny government” charge from the Republicans and from Clinton herself. This could be a significant turning point in the life of the nation if Sanders’ message catches on inside the “black community” which voted at a very high rate for Obama in both 2008 and 2012. Without the black vote, Sanders cannot win the White House, so the time for testing his mettle to reach out to that community is now.
Clinton does not compete with his imagination, nor with his courage to make substantial changes, even though such changes are warranted.
Let’s watch the next few days and weeks, as the rhetoric sharpens and the stakes rise. Those who eventually carry their party’s banner into the general election will have the opportunity to right the ship of state, should they choose to make some history of their own.
For more read this from an African American Legal Scholar from Ohio State University: