Common wisdom (often more common than wise) has whispered for a while now that African Americans were the core constituency of the Democratic Party. Don’t have them behind you (on a national level)? You aren’t going far.
Yesterday, that bit of common wisdom looked unnaturally wise. Joe Biden’s 2020 presidential campaign went from zero to hero almost entirely on the strength of the African-American vote. As a voting block, African Americans didn’t just flex their muscle, they demonstrated just how powerful a muscle they wield. Now, let’s be clear — African Americans don’t get on the phone with each other to discuss how they’re all going to vote. Jews don’t do it either. Neither do Latinos or any voting block (except Bernie Bros apparently and Republicans). African Americans — though not voting “as a group”, voted as a group of individuals with a common experience: American politics at their expense.
As a group, African Americans have a very particular history. As a group, Jews have a very particular history. That history imprints upon a group in myriad ways, most of them very subtle — but definitive. When you cannot automatically trust the political system you have no choice but to participate in, you approach it a little differently than someone who’s always benefited from that system. White people get to take our system’s inequalities for granted one way. People Of Color get to take them for granted the other way.
African American voters are pragmatic through and through. There’s one thing that, as a group, they’re aspirational towards like no other (because it touches them so completely): social justice. When you’ve never actually gotten to experience what everyone else has taken for granted — the thing that gives them monumental advantages over you — you recognize that before you can have anything else, FIRST, you must have THAT.
You must have social justice in order to have a remote shot at all the other things you deserve — same as everyone else.
Donald Trump has made it clear as can be that one of his biggest missions is to reverse, undo, destroy or shit on EVERYTHING Barack Obama accomplished as president. Trump has billboarded his racism from the get-go. Birtherism should have been the end of Trumpism. We should never have gotten to “Mexicans are rapists” and “pussy-grabbing”. A decent Republican Party would have made racist birtherism anathema to them.
They didn’t. Because decency died in them long, long ago. The people now calling themselves “the Republican Party” share philosophy (though not name) with the Dixiecrats. I recommend historian Heather Cox Richardson’s excellent “To Make Men Free: A History Of The Republican Party” which explains how the Republican Party — at its founding — were a lot more like contemporary Democrats than contemporary Republicans. Names mean a lot less than core philosophy.
The modern Republican Party is very much the Dixiecrat Party — Nixon’s Southern Strategy come back to life as a ravenous Christo-fascist hate-zombie who knows the demographics bode poorly for white, Christian, male power. Southern-sympathizing white, Christian male power. What African Americans know — we’re still fighting the Civil War. And we’re still fighting the Civil War because we let slavery in the door.
Rather, we didn’t kick it out upon the nation’s founding. We compromised with something you cannot compromise with and maintain your integrity. You cannot say “All men are created equal” while owning other “men”. You can’t.
African Americans have lived and died on the crux of that matter. As a group, they did not ask to be here. Once here, they did not want to BE here. Once that choice was taken away — to have their old lives back — they wanted to survive the inhumanity being inflicted upon them. The stolen labor. The stolen children. The stolen lives and property and dignity and even history.
Poll taxes and voter ID laws are all ways racists try to stop African Americans from voting. On one side of this equation are all those people TRYING to stop people of color from voting. On the other side are people of color who just want to exercise their right to vote. It’s kind of organic that those people of color would therefore — on a regular basis — vote differently than the people trying to suppress their vote. ‘
Back in Lincoln’s day, that would have meant massive turnout for Republicans — the Party of Lincoln.
But the two parties have swapped names — that’s really what’s happened here. The Party of Lincoln has morphed into modern Democrats while the Confederacy has morphed into the Republican Party. When African Americans turn out en masse — as they did yesterday for Joe Biden — it has actual historical significance. While speaking as individuals — with the same righteous indignation in their hearts and the same pragmatism in their heads — also African Americans spoke as a group. They brought Joe Biden’s presidential run back from the dead not because they dislike Bernie Sanders (or anything Bernie stands for) but because 300 years of group experience has taught them that whatever serves social justice best — that is how they must vote.
I say all this as a socialist. I was thrilled to attend Bernie Sanders’ first campaign rally here in LA in 2016. I took my son even (he was 17 — and has, since, become a bit of a Bernie Bro — in his “Bernie Or Bust” thinking). I aspire to everything Bernie aspires to. But, I’m pragmatic, too. And there’s reality. I have to live in it — so must Bernie.
I trust that, should he not win the nomination, Bernie Sanders will do what he said he would and back whoever the Democratic nominee is. But what of the most ardent Bernie followers — the ones ( like my son) who have said they won’t vote if Bernie isn’t atop the Democratic ticket? I hate to say this (son — ya listening?) Taking your ball and going home is such a White Guy thing to do.
If you really want social justice — and social justice is the foundational idea on which Social Democracy and socialism is based (that and economic justice — but, it’s the social justice that demands the economic justice not the other way around) — then you, at least, have to look at how African American voters voted yesterday. They chose Biden because they see the clearest path toward social justice.
If we make the 2020 Presidential campaign an epic battle between Good — social justice — and Evil — All Things Trump — we will win that battle hands down, going away and by a mile. We have, on our team, a group with a great nose for social justice. They’ve pointed us clearly in one direction.
Hey, White People — let’s start listening for a change.