Point of View Columns

The Alabama Mirage

There are many Democrats, progressives and run of the mill Trump resisters, who are wildly celebrating the recent victory of Democrat Doug Jones over accused pedophile and proven proto-fascist Roy Moore in the Alabama senate race. Indeed, some overheated commentary have viewed this election as the first step in the inevitable Fall of the House of Trump.

While many might wish that this were true, a strong dose of reality is in order. First and foremost, the number 48.9 comes to mind. That number represents the percentage of Alabama voters who voted for Roy Moore despite the multiple accusations of child molestation and predatory sexual conduct. It must be kept in mind that 48.9% of Alabama voters were prepared to have Roy Moore represent them in Washington despite his stated belief that America was “great” during the times of slavery, that there should be a religious test for American citizens seeking to hold office and that the Supreme Court of the United States could be defied with impunity.

Roy Moore and Doug Jones were separated by 1.5% which means that with the movement of a relatively few voters Roy Moore would be the next United States Senator from Alabama and that there would be no joy in Democratic Mudville. Further, the fact that a Democratic candidate could beat such a damaged opponent by less than 2% should be a cause for real concern, not a reason to celebrate.

Indeed, Doug Jones has already indicated that he is prepared to vote with the Republican majority in the Senate. It may turn out that the only thing to celebrate about Doug Jones victory is that he is not Roy Moore.

And last week’s Alabama returns point out the serious flaw in Democratic political strategy. By treating Donald Trump as an anomaly, a virtual outlier that can be defeated and obliterated from history in 2020, Democrats are missing the big picture. Donald Trump and the Republicans won in 2016 because the Republicans have been working at the local and state levels for over a decade, filling seats in city council, state legislatures, state houses and Congressional seats and then cementing their victories with the mortar of gerrymandering.

Of course Hillary Clinton’s sclerotic and disastrous presidential campaign did not help matters, but the race should never have been close enough for her to lose, not with a candidate like Donald Trump.  But without a coherent message, with too much emphasis on analytics and not enough attention to the basic mechanics of politics – message=turnout=victory – in hindsight the loss in 2016 was predictable, if not inevitable.

There may be glimpses of a new Democratic day, episodes where progressive forces seem poised to make America truly great for the first time. But if there is to be something more than episodic victories followed by long stretches of defeat or hollow victories (see Alabama 2016) there needs to be serious focus on the development of a coherent message and greater concentration on retaining the base of Democratic voters.

The recent tax bill proposed by Republicans is only an opening act in a true tragedy that holds no comedy for the American people. Enriching the rich, dismantling the social service safety net and further marginalizing those who are already on the margin are part of the Brave New America that Republicans and their supporters envision. Democrats simply must have a response and be able to articulate an alternate vision.

This Democratic message has include a narrative that goes beyond how bad Donald Tinyhands is and how mean the Republicans are. The alternate vision must not only be inclusive, it must be a vision that is relevant to the men and women who vote in this country and are not inspired by Democrats even as they are repulsed by much of the Republican vision of today and tomorrow.

The lesson of Alabama is that the Doug Jones victory over Roy Moore is not the dawning of a new day. And those who believe differently embrace that mirage at their own peril.

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Point of View Columns

Tears of a Clown

A sad and tragic joke would be telling the sad and tragic epic of the Scottsboro Boys as a Broadway musical. It would be even worse to use the historically demeaning and culturally offensive device of minstrelsy.

Who in their right mind would have to the bad taste to produce such an obscenity. And who would invest millions of dollars in the process?

A bit of history is in order. According to the Archives at the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama, 3, 445 black men and women were lynched between 1882 and 1964. This does not take into account the tens of thousands of black men and women who were illegally imprisoned, beaten or driven from their homes.

The story of the Scottsboro Boys took place in 1931. Nine young black men were falsely accused of rape by two white women and in a rush to judgment they were tried, convicted and sentenced in record time by an Alabama court. Only the intercession of civil rights lawyers saved their lives with countless appeals, ultimately resulting in two Supreme Court decisions.

One decision affirmed the right of all defendants to a lawyer. The other decision declared it unlawful to exclude persons from juries because of their race. (One wonders what ruling might issue from Robertson, Alito, Scalia and Thomas – Four Blocks of Right Wing Granite on today’s Supreme Court)

What is clear is that the Scottsboro “boys” were denied counsel and that they were tried before juries from which black people had been excluded. What is also clear is that but for the intercession of lawyers from outside of Alabama they would have been executed on the basis of false allegations of rape by two white women, joining the legions of other black men who met their demise in a similar fashion.

It is this historical context that makes the Broadway minstrel muscial “Scottsboro Boys” so perplexing and unacceptable. I have seen reviews of the show and read words like “brilliant” and “riveting”. But there are boundaries of taste and sensitivity and historical respect that are worth observing, even in an artistic enterprise.

Using the name “redskins” as the name for a football team is an affront to all Native Americans, even if it is “just for fun”. Portraying Jews dancing the Hora at Auschwitz would be simply awful, no matter the ironic intent of the artist. Disco dancing in the rubble of the World Trade Center after 9/11 is offensive even in its contemplation.

I have no doubt that the directors of “Scottsboro Boys”, had some artistic vision that is being articulated in this show. But minstrelsy – a truly distinct American art form that originated from white men imitating black men who were imitating white men who were imitating black men – is a device best left on the shelf of some art history class.

It is not the best way to introduce the subject of injustice to an audience that is largely ignorant with respect to the subject of lynching and miscarriages of justice that have been perpetrated against black Americans while most of America remained mute.

As noted, it takes millions of dollars to produce a Broadway musical. Most productions are financed the old fashioned way – “angels” (individuals or consortia that make their money by betting on which projects can become box office hits). These are very personal investments and mini-productions are organized for these “angels” who literally sit in judgment.

I wonder if any of these “angels” thought that minstrel musical “Scottsboro Boys” might be in bad taste? Were any of the angels concerned that there might be black men and women in the audience who lost uncles and fathers and aunts and sisters to the tsunami of outright violence against blacks that swept across this land less than a century ago?

I wonder if anyone cared. The fact that “Scottsboro Boys” is now on Broadway is the answer.

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Be My Guest

Never Forget – Guest Column by William Burgess III

Sunday, September 15, 1963 at 11:00AM

Today marks the 47th Anniversary of the terrorist Bombing of 16th Street Baptist Church in my hometown of Birmingham, Alabama and the tragic death of 4 friends of mine.

Bless their souls & supreme sacrifice for our freedom.

Never forget,
Bill

William Burgess is the President of The Burgess Group – Corporate Recruting International – http://www.theburgessgroup.com. He was a pallbearer at 3 of the 4 girls’ funerals (Carol Robinson/14, Cynthia Wesley/14 & Denise McNair/11 yrs. old).

William H. Burgess, III
President
The Burgess Group – Corporate Recruiters International, Inc.

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