The Election In Black And White

Today is Labor Day in an election year. It’s a time in the election cycle when media sources are filled with punditry– advice to Joe Biden and the Democrats, “analysis”  of Trump and the GOP, and a variety  of theories about political strategies that work and don’t.

I’ve come to a depressing conclusion: the November election is about one thing  and  one  thing only. The results–and the margin of victory– will tell us  whether  America is finally ready to address the virulent racism that has  infected both our personal  attitudes  and our governing institutions, and say “enough.”

The headline from a September article  in The Intelligencer is on point:“Many GOP Voters Value America’s Whiteness More Than Its Democracy.”

The article began with what is by now a  depressingly familiar litany of Trump’s assaults on democracy and the rule of law. The author dutifully noted that these assaults, and Trump’s  failure  to even  pretend to honor longtime  democratic norms–have “scandalized a significant minority of Republican elites.” Then came the obvious observation that the chaos and incompetence of the administration has not dampened the enthusiasm of  what is now the rank-and-file of the GOP.

One explanation for Republican indifference to such deeds is that Republicans aren’t aware of them: Fox News’s programming and Facebook’s algorithm have simply kept red America blissfully ignorant of the commander-in-chief’s most tyrannical moods…

But a new paper from Vanderbilt University political scientist Larry Bartels suggests an alternative hypothesis: Many Republican voters value “keeping America great” more than they value democracy — and, by “keeping America great,” such voters typically mean “keeping America’s power structure white.”

Bartels is a widely-respected political scientist. His study was an effort to understand  popular indifference to democracy on the American right. His  conclusion was that “ethnic antagonism” predicted that indifference. In other words, racial animosity overwhelmed any concern Trump supporters might harbor about the governance of the country–and that popular support for authoritarianism within the GOP isn’t motivated by concerns over conservative Christianity’s declining influence over public life but rather with the dominance of the white race.

I don’t think I ever appreciated just how ugly and pervasive America’s racial animus has been, or the  degree  to  which it was embedded in the laws of the  land. I’ve been reading The  Color of the  Law, a recent book that sets out the history of laws requiring  racial segregation  in  housing. Those laws were immensely more widespread and draconian than I had ever  known–they went well beyond FHA and VA refusal to insure mortgages in neighborhoods that allowed Black people to live there. Restrictive covenants and legally-enforced redlining lasted far longer  than most of  us untouched  by them would  have  supposed.

Reading about the blatant bigotry that created America’s ghettos–and the mob violence (not-so-tacitly approved by police) that often erupted when Blacks purchased homes in white neighborhoods– reminded me of David Cole’s  eye-opening 1999 book, No Equal Justice, which I read several years ago. Cole documented the multiple ways in which the justice system doesn’t just fail to live up to the promise of equality, but actively requires double standards to operate–allowing the privileged to enjoy constitutional protections from police power without incurring the costs of extending those protections to minorities and the poor.

It’s bad enough that the America I actually inhabit turns out to be so different from the  country I thought I lived in, but on November 3d, we will find out how many of our fellow citizens are white supremicists who agree with Donald Trump that anti-racist training is “UnAmerican.”

The last paragraph  of the linked  article really says it  all.

When democracy came to America, it was wrapped in white skin and carrying a burning cross. In the early 19th century, the same state constitutional conventions that gave the vote to propertyless white men disenfranchised free Blacks. For the bulk of our republic’s history, racial hierarchy took precedence over democracy. Across the past half century, the U.S. has shed its official caste system, and almost all white Americans have made peace with sharing this polity with people of other phenotypes. But forfeiting de jure supremacy is one thing; handing over de facto ownership of America’s mainstream politics, culture, and history is quite another. And as legal immigration diversifies America’s electorate while the nation’s unpaid debts to its Black population accrue interest and spur unrest, democracy has begun to seek more radical concessions from those who retain an attachment to white identity. A majority of light-skinned Americans may value their republic more than their (tacit) racial dominance. But sometimes, minorities rule.


  1. Todays post reminds me of stories I heard from Chicago area friends and relatives. I wondered WHY some of the suburbs still had volunteer fire departments. The explanation I received went along these lines. If a Black family was looking to buy a home in these suburbs, they were informed that the town had a volunteer fire department and that IF there were to be a fire at a black home, those volunteers just MIGHT get lost on the way to the fire. They claimed that was a pretty effective tool for keeping black families away. While I never had concrete proof of these stories, they did have the ring of truth. Sad.

  2. Coupled with the blatant racism which has always been a problem in this country and now is at the forefront of the election, is the total lack of unity within the Democratic party. The fact that more than 1,000 Delegates cast their votes for Bernie Sanders who is NOT running couldn’t make the lack of unity of the party and loyalty to this country and more obvious. The posts on Facebook telling people who do not want to vote for Joe Biden to vote Green or Libertarian party adds to the lack of unity. Personal feelings regarding the actual nominee and his vice presidential candidate will again turn the “election” over to the Electoral College to once again appoint Trump to the presidency. The lack of interest in local and state elections, which is the national norm, has kept the same Republicans in control and will do so again on November 3rd.

    As we watch Trump’s Republicans commit illegal acts and at times treasonous acts while their members in the House and Senate sit mute and idle; we are missing the reason they will again take over this country. The Trump Republican party of White Nationalists, neo-Nazis, KKKs and now QAnon are tightly united and fully organized. The Democratic party is still in-fighting and back-biting and scattered as they ignore the fact that we have one presidential nominee; the debates have ended.

    With “The Election in Black and White” the issue today; how many of the regular commenters on this bog Black, Hispanic, Asian, Native American or a mixture of races? With the election less than two months away; how many will continue to speak against Joe Biden who is the nominee and degrade the Democratic party in general? I am not degrading the party; I am begging voters to unite behind the Democratic party and not give away another presidential and Congressional election at local, state and federal levels.

    “Many GOP Voters Value America’s Whiteness More Than Its Democracy.” And they are united in their value system.

  3. JoAnn,

    “With “The Election in Black and White” the issue today; how many of the regular commenters on this bog Black, Hispanic, Asian, Native American or a mixture of races?”

    My friend John Sorg seems to have left us. There might be one more regular commenter who meets the above qualifications.

  4. Copied and pasted from Cajun, Rick Guilbeau, an open letter to Nina Turner, former Ohio state Senator, progressive activist and recent co-chair of Bernie Sanders’ campaign, 8/22/2020:

    “I was recently appalled when I learned about what you said while speaking to The Atlantic and responding to a question about why the decision of the people of the Democratic Party to make Joe Biden their nominee was so disappointing for some progressive Democrats. You were quoted by multiple sources as saying, “It’s like saying to somebody, “You have a bowl of shit in front of you, and all you have to do is eat half of it instead of the whole thing.’ It’s still shit.” You just broke the most obvious unspoken rules of politics, “Don’t tick off today the people you want to vote for your candidates tomorrow”. With those words you didn’t do future progressive candidates any favors.

    When I learned this I had just seen an interview of you on CNN with Anderson Cooper where you spent a lot more time criticizing the Democratic National Convention for not emphasizing progressives than you spent criticizing Donald Trump. This despite the fact that Anderson provided you with multiple lead-in questions which provided you with ample opportunities to sound off on Trump. However bad that was, your remarks about eating a half bowl of s—t were totally unacceptable.”

    A prime example as to why we will be faced with Trumpism for another four years…unless he manages to repeal Amendment XXII and we are stuck with a lifetime appointment and his dictatorship which will rival Putin’s.

  5. Marv; and John did speak openly regarding his personal experiences with racism. We need to hear more from those who have experienced it first-hand as you and Sheila have spoken of your experiences with anti-Semitism. Nina Turner; the former Ohio Senator I referred to above is a black woman speaking against the Democratic nominee for president who has chosen an exceptionally qualified black woman in Kamala Harris as his running mate. They will bolster one another and cover the gamut of issues facing this country today; they have united their differences and are working together for this nation as a whole, not for or against progressives vs conservatives, black vs white, but for America and Americans.

  6. One of the cornerstones of the plan by Republicans to take power and hold onto it for decades has been their internal rule of “never speak ill of your fellow Republican.” That rule has been taken to the extreme as today you find nary a peep of criticism of Trump coming from any Republican’s mouth.
    Through intimidation and the use of the primary challenge to keep their members in line they have managed to not only hold onto power but to grow it. Backing their guy regardless of what he is, what he stands for, what he does has brought the Republican Party to where they are today. “No descent. No criticism. No independent thought.”
    I really do not want to see the Democrat Party become a mirror of that.

  7. JoAnn’s concern about matters of race is well-founded.

    Racial goodwill, whatever that is left, has reached a breaking point and once that happens, we can forget any worthwhile future. And further, I strongly suggest that at the present rate, there will RACIAL BEDLAM by the time of the November elections and it will be a rare white person who will not be forced to vote for Trump, in order to save his or her own skin. This is the only election scenario that Trump has left that will bring him re-election. And he won’t let up on this theme until then. I guarantee.

  8. I would strongly recommend reading “Inevitable Surprises: Thinking Ahead in a Time of Turbulence” by Peter Schwartz (Gotham Books, New York, 2003).

  9. We have seen this BEFORE the nearly four years of unbelievable “governance” of the current administration – in 2016 10M young people did not vote and more than 4M voted for 3rd parties. Whether there will be a democracy ahead for their children and grandchildren remains a lot in their hands. Will Gen’s X,Y,Z march to the polls and vote out hate or will they just party around their BLM signs?

    While our education system is pathetic in teaching about civics and racism, there has been enough evidence in front of their phone screens so they cannot plead ignorance….

  10. The 11th Commandment, “Never Speak Ill of a Fellow Republican,” was a Reagan idea that was completely, and rightfully, ignored until Trump. Actually that’s not right. It’s still ignored, except for Trump. It is now “Never Speak Ill of Trump.” You can say what you want about fellow Republicans – Trump certainly does – you just can’t speak ill of Trump.

  11. If we can just hold the country together long enough the problem might solve itself. There are more and more mixed race kiddies out there, as even TV ads are acknowledging. We may not see it in our lifetime but it’s happening and nothing will stop it

  12. “completely, and rightfully, ignored”???? Gee, Paul, you must have missed a few news reports. Where were all those brave Republican leaders when days after Obama was elected Rush and Mitch proclaimed that the Republicans would make his presidency fail? Did they not understand that making his presidency fail hurt the whole country? Where were they after Katrina? Where were their voices when Mitch unethically kept a seat open on the Supreme Court for Republicans to fill? Or these past years when Mitch held up much needed legislation to hurt everyone not a wealthy Republican? Where was Paul Ryan as Trump began his campaign for the presidency? For that matter where were the Republican voices at Trump’s impeachment? Where were our two “brave” Senators in that crisis?
    I’ll tell you where they were. They were hiding behind the likes of you as you rewrite history so as not get any blame for this mess. “completely, and rightfully ignored” indeed!

  13. As a White Baby Boomer Male, I felt like a spy during the 2008 Election Year. I listened to my White Women and Men co-workers predicting ruin to America if Obama was elected. They never could articulate exactly why America would be ruined by electing Obama. The Birther attacks were just the beginning.
    The GOP set off after Obama’s election to sabotage him in anyway possible.

    The Trumpet has without a doubt in my mind conferred a stamp of approval on the worst the GOP has: Reactionary-Right Wing-Evangelicals and the Neo- Confederate Militias. My Reactionary “friends” on Facebook go into over drive, pedal to the metal to spread memes about Antifa and BLM. They equate the protests with approval for looting and hooliganism in the streets. Only the armed militias stand between gated America and hordes Blacks, Hispanics and Communist Antifa from storming your houses.

    As a Bernie Bot in 2016 and in 2020 – Biden has my full support. I have yard sign for Biden. One thing I have noticed all the Trump yard signs I saw in 2016 in my area of Indy are no where evidence.

    As Bernie has stated:
    In an interview with Politico and an email sent to his massive email list Friday, Sanders suggested that too many news organizations, social media companies, and lawmakers—in addition to the broader public—remain unaware of the manner in which Trump is laying the groundwork for a potentially devastating series of events.

    “Trump is now using his lies and misinformation to sow confusion and chaos in the election process and undermine American democracy,” stated in the email, sent to millions of his supporters on Friday. “In other words, he does not intend to accept the results of the election if he loses and leave office voluntarily. This is not just a ‘constitutional crisis.’ This is a threat to everything this country stands for.”

    We must do everything we can to ensure @JoeBiden wins by the largest possible margin. We also must consider what happens if Trump loses but refuses to abide by the results and does everything he can to hold onto power.

    “Trump is not only trying to create chaos and delegitimize the election process,” he warned in his email. “He and the Republican Party are now spending tens of millions of dollars in the courts to make it harder for people to vote.”

  14. The human species is on a journey that’s about 12,000 years old and has led us from living like animals, wandering, hunting other animals, gathering edible plants to living like we own the place which in fact we do according to us. We have had several adventures along the way many of them based on what we call now neoliberalism and kleptocracy (rule by a class of thieves). Both of those concepts led to many ills including the keeping of human livestock to help us do our work.

    As we are imaginative and inventive we made things better and better for more and more of us which led to more and more of us and sometime in the last 100 years we started bumping up against the limits of earth to supply enough natural resources for us to turn into waste.

    The chaos of the present stems from the decision to be made jointly by us and earth as to where to go now.

    Those less imaginative and inventive of course feel that we are who we are and have no choice but to progress into oblivion. Others try to imagine and invent ways to avoid oblivion so that the journey doesn’t have to end so soon.

    Trump or Biden in 2021 guiding these united states may be small potatoes in the bigger picture but it’s the part that will determine for our tribe which of those two choices a majority of us support. Are we on the average for the continuation of the journey or do we have to stop here because we are out of a vision of what is sustainable or the energy to bring it about?

    That of course is the whole forest but many of us are so close to a particular tree that’s all we can see. The solution is to promote a united context so that more and more people take a couple of steps back from their tree and more and more of us see more trees and eventually realize that we are parts and pieces of things much bigger that we are.

  15. Seriously, Lester, you are asking for blind obedience to a political party that has sold out the people decades ago. You might as well tell people to shut up and sit down as opposed to protesting in the streets.

    Sorry, y’all, but this election is about much more than race. Local party affiliates helped the DNC in making this another referendum for identity politics to get rid of Bernie Sanders, who was destroying the democratic field. The donor class could not afford to see a progressive in the White House. Biden was nowhere to be found in the early primary elections until race became the issue, and suddenly, identity politics ruled the roost.

    Well, you played that card. Then you reached out and said we must all unify around this candidate.

    Good luck with that game!

    I don’t think you’re fooling the younger generation at all. They are the first generation in America who will be worse off than their parents. The so-called American Dream is dead, and it has nothing to do with racial injustice. Race is a political wedge used by oppressors to keep the working class divided.

    Biden’s lofty Tweets are falling flat. They certainly read better than Trump’s, but at the end of the day, it’s just more talk, which is what the DNC is good at doing. They pay people well for their propaganda skills on a keyboard.

    With 72% of the population embracing Medicare For All, the DNC could have unified this country behind Biden by endorsing and supporting health care for all, but they couldn’t offend their donors. If they want the people to unify around them, they will have to put forth an agenda that unifies the people — NOT donors.

  16. I can understand not being excited over a Biden presidency, but to do anything to intentionally undermine his election, at this point in our history, would be political insanity as it would allow a potential fascist dictator to take office, which would completely destroy any semblance of a democracy and, eventually, sooner than later bring about an insurrection of monumental destruction, which we’re seeing the beginnings of right now, from both the right and the left.

  17. Has anyone ever thought of a perhaps revolutionary view that the hard right and Wall Street while pretending to be anti-racist in fact want to take a page from Trump’s diversionary handbook and keep the fires of racism burning in order to keep the gentry occupied and keep our attention on something other than their ownership of the economy and (even though a numerical minority with the help of gerrymandering and such racial dissension) politics? I have, and I certainly do not dispute that we are a still racist society, but I think we need to look at those who are stoking the fire and call them out, because try as we can, they represent a Trojan Horse and an impediment from within in our attempt to actually end this scourge.

    I am well aware of Sheila’s allusion to restrictive covenants in deeds and the redlining that we pretend to have erased, but have we? It may be that Trump’s racist appeal to suburban women does not actually change much of anything not already in practice, i.e., the exclusion of blacks and others deemed undesirable as neighbors, and that therefore such appeal is even more racist that I thought it to be.

  18. Todd, it’s not blind political allegiance, it’s a recognition of reality. Marv nails it in response to your view. Perfection or dictatorship? Aristotle, I am sure, would not agree.

  19. I’d argue that the November elections are a referendum on whether or not this nation continues to be a constitutional democracy. Racism is simply the rancid fuel that the Trump Party is using to rally bigots to the cause of installing itself as a permanent one-party fascist dictatorship.

  20. Smekens, you are like a little kid who won’t play if he doesn’t get to make the rules.

    Get over yourself. No one gets what they want out of politics.

    Vote for Biden or democracy dies.

  21. Another excellent book about the organized bigotry that was directed at upwardly-mobile black people moving into “white” areas is Arc of Justice, by Kevin Boyle. It describes the violence and subsequent trial of Ossian Sweet, an African-American doctor who bought a house in Detroit during the 1920s.

  22. Gerald,

    The two issues that you have alluded to about the hard right, Wall Street, and suburban women, even though I haven’t recognized these issues before, if true, need to be closely examined as they would then be crucial “Trojan Horse(s)” as you have pointed out.

    More & more, it looks like our SOCIOLOGICAL IMAGINATION is being compromised from both in and outside the Republican Party. This shouldn’t come as a surprise during this extremely long attempt for a POLITICAL TAKEOVER by the Religious Right/Far Right.

    SOCIOLOGICAL IMAGINATION, coined by C. Wright Mills in 1959, in his book by the same name, is the capacity to shift from one perspective to another. To have a sociological imagination, a person must be able to pull away from the situation and think from an alternative point of view. It requires us to “think ourselves away from our daily routines and look at them anew”.

  23. I’m not certain it is determinative, but Biden has had 400,000 more doners than Trump in the last three months. This does not count the doners to the Lincoln Project. I suspect Biden will now receive some contributions from active duty and retired military that he hadn’t anticipated.

    If we Democrats cannot defeat a swamp-filling, foul-mouthed, America-hating, Russia-loving, science-denying, self-serving, irreligious, steatopygous, racist traitor who despises women and the rule of law and the military and athletes and non-whites and immigrants (they are good for nothing except marrying) and long-standing allies and who has has more neuroses than Jeffrey Dahmer, perhaps we are too politically naive to run a country. If Trump doesn’t want us to win, why is he arming us to the teeth without our even asking?

  24. This column from Robert Reich is also important, as a corollary to the problem of Race:
    On Labor Day weekend, eight weeks before one of the most consequential elections in American history, it’s useful to consider the inequalities of income and wealth that fueled Donald Trump’s victory four years ago – and which are now wider than ever.

    No other developed nation has nearly the inequities found in the US, even though all have been exposed to the same forces of globalization and technological change. Jeff Bezos’s net worth recently reached $200 billion and Elon Musk’s $100 billion, even as 30 million Americans reported their households didn’t have enough food. America’s richest 1% now own half the value of the US stock market, and the richest 10% own 92%.

    American capitalism is off the rails. The main reason is that large corporations, Wall Street banks and a relative handful of exceedingly rich individuals have gained enough political power to game the system.

    Chief executives have done everything possible to prevent the wages of most workers rising in tandem with productivity gains, so most gains go instead into the pockets of top executives and major investors. They’ve outsourced abroad, installed labor-replacing technologies and switched to part-time and contract work.

    They’ve busted unions, whose membership shrank from 35% of the private-sector workforce 40 years ago to 6.4% today.

    They’ve pushed government to slash their own taxes, unravel safety nets for the poor and middle class, and reduce investment in education and infrastructure. They’ve eliminated a raft of labor protections. They’ve defanged antitrust enforcement, allowing their monopolies free rein. The free market has been taken over by crony capitalism, corporate bailouts and corporate welfare.

    This massive power shift laid the groundwork for Trump. In 1964, almost two-thirds of Americans believed government was run for the benefit of all the people. By 2013 almost 80% believed government was run by a few big interests. The erosion in public trust was particularly steep in the wake of the Wall Street bailout and Great Recession. In 2006, 59% of Americans thought government corruption was widespread. By 2013, 79% did.

    Much of the political establishment wants to attribute Trump’s rise solely to racism. Racism did play a part, to be sure, but racism’s sordid history in American politics long predates Trump.

    What has given Trump’s racism – as well as his hateful xenophobia, misogyny and jingoism – particular virulence has been his capacity to channel the intensifying anger of the white working class. It is hardly the first time a demagogue has used scapegoats to deflect public attention from the real causes of its distress.

    Trump speaks the language of authoritarian populism but acts in the interests of America’s emerging oligarchy. His deal with the moneyed interests was simple: he’d stoke divisiveness so Americans wouldn’t see how the oligarchy has taken over the reins, twisted government to its benefit and siphoned off the economic rewards.

    He’d make Americans so angry at each other that they wouldn’t pay attention to CEOs getting exorbitant pay while slicing the pay of average workers, wouldn’t notice the giant tax cut that went to big corporations and the wealthy, and wouldn’t be outraged by a boardroom culture that tolerates financial conflicts of interest, insider trading and the outright bribery of public officials through unlimited campaign donations.

    This way, the moneyed interests could rig the system while the president complained that the system was rigged by a “deep state.”

    Notwithstanding all this, Trump trails Joe Biden in the polls. Trump’s inexcusable failure to contain the coronavirus is having a larger impact on swing voters than the divisiveness he foments. Death has a way of concentrating the mind.

    But if Biden is elected, he would be well advised to remember the forces Trump exploited to gain power, and to begin the task of remedying them. The solution is not found in mere redistribution of income. It is found redistributing power. Income isn’t a zero-sum game in which some people’s gains require other people’s losses, but power indubitably is. Some have it only to the extent others don’t.

    If wealth continues to concentrate at the top, no one will be able to contain the corrupting influence of big money on the American system and the anger it unleashes. As Justice Louis Brandeis once said: “We can have democracy in this country or we can have great wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can’t have both.”

    Thanks for reading,
    Robert Reich

  25. Happy Labor Day, y’all!
    Marv and other straight-shooters have been telling us. If we believe in getting busy and taking action, now is so very much the time. It passed ‘serious’ a while back and moved to ‘desperate’.

  26. Unfortunately, given the multi-point benefit that the GOP reaps from the electoral college, even if more people want to address the concerns raised here, that may not be enough. Again and again, history has shown us the exact opposite.

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