Point of View Columns

Land of the Free and the Home of the Blind

When historians look back at the United States of America several centuries from now they will be amazed at how intractable and inscrutable the issue of race was in this country. They will also be amazed at the depth of commitment to self-deception that was adopted by the overwhelming majority of white Americans. And finally, they will be amazed that any white Americans were amazed when the daily grind of racism and racist behavior was brought to light – how they were shocked, absolutely shocked – like Captain Louis Renault in Casablanca was shocked that there was gambling in Rick’s Café, even as he pocketed his weekly payoff.

Let us count the ways in which America’s true color-blindness makes itself known. Consider the eight of the first ten American presidents were slaveholders – to be clear, they owned, sold, beat, raped and killed black Americans. Historical accounts indicate that there were no “nice” slave plantations, only different levels of Hell.

Yet the profitable human bondage presided over by these presidents are either airbrushed out of history or they are given a pass due to the “way things were in those days”. This historical malpractice might be acceptable to white Americans, but it is a cruel and sinful slap in the face for every black American. Indeed, the acceptance of this sad history is so pervasive and perverse that it is a cause for challenge and argument to contemplate the moral bankruptcy of this particular status quo.

Consider that just a few weeks ago a memorial to the wholesale lynching of black Americans opened in Montgomery, Alabama to muted and limited national news coverage. This, despite the fact that this memorial documents the fact that over 4,000 black men, women and children were lynched in these United States between 1876 and 1960.

And consider that while this domestic reign of terror rained true fire and fury on black Americans, white Americans of every political persuasion typically stood by, if they did not actively participate, as these atrocities were repeated with demonic regularity. Every U.S. President during this era from the feckless Rutherford Hayes to the Roosevelt cousins to the inveterate racist Wilson to Truman to Eisenhower to Kennedy, no American president or his supporters ever took a stand against the lynching of black Americans. And clearly lynching should be inextricably linked to slavery, America’s other original sin.

So it really should come as no surprise that when two peaceful black men were arrested for taking up space in a Starbuck’s that white Americans professed to be shocked at getting another glimpse at what a daily dose of racism looks like. Meanwhile black Americans are fully aware that the Starbuck’s treatment is just what the American Way looks like through brown eyes. It is a virtual truth that most black Americans have had their presence questioned – in a department store, hotel, first-class seat on an airplane, standing in the your grandmother’s backyard or just driving an expensive car – and the Starbuck’s Treatment is just part of what James Brown called “Living in America”.

The saddest part of this most recent evidence of the reality of racism in America is that now Starbucks will close all 8000 stores on May 29th for a day-long session on “bias training”. What is so sad is that in 2018 white Americans need to be “trained” to treat black Americans like human beings.

And what every black American already knows is that one day will not be enough. Not at Starbucks. Not anywhere in these United States.

Point of View Columns

Why Elections Matter

There are reasons why presidential elections seem unimportant. The cascade of clown-like candidates – Donald Trump comes to mind- and demagogues – Ted Cruz and Rick Santorum certainly come to mind – diminishes the ability of some voters to take the entire election process seriously. And that is truly a shame because, as the recent Supreme Court decisions made clear, presidential elections really do matter.

During the last week in June the United States Supreme Court handed down several decisions of epic importance. In the process SCOTUS surprised some observers, confirmed the predictions of others and definitely affected virtually every citizen of this country. With the RobertsScaliaAlitoThomas cabal firmly in its place on the bench of the highest court in the land, it surprised some that marriage would be confirmed as a right that could not be restricted by any state on the basis of gender preference. Given the propensity of that cabal to engage in black robed politics (See Gore v. Bush – 2000); it was also more than a mild surprise that the court would confirm the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare.

For good measure SCOTUS also affirmed an Arizona state initiative that will seriously curtail redistricting with obvious partisan motives. And it also ruled that affordable housing development cannot be restricted to lower income neighborhoods and communities – a decision which will have a huge (and positive) impact on urban development in this country.

The Roberts/Scalia/Alito/Thomas Gang of Four surprised no one by affirming the culture of government sponsored murder by ruling that the use of death penalty drugs was constitutional. It also limited the powers of the presidency with respect to restriction of anti-pollution measures and limits on mercury emissions. And for a final act, SCOTUS has agreed to (once again) revisit the issue of race-based affirmative action strategies in higher education – not a good sign for those who support equity in higher education in this country.

Wherever one may be on the political spectrum, there is virtually unanimous agreement that the decisions of the Supreme Court were of great importance with generational, cultural and institutional impact that goes well beyond the actual court cases. Everyone knows that the Supreme Court is an important part of the federal government but occasionally SCOTUS really flexes its judicial muscles.

This is important because of the following facts. There are nine members of the Supreme Court – four of them – Scalia (78), Kennedy (78), Ginsburg (81), and Breyer (76) by the end of the next president term their ages will be 83, 83, 86 and 81. It is highly likely that the next president of the United States will be in a position to appoint between one and four new Supreme Court justices.

Understanding that SCOTUS is virtually split between 5 Reagan-Bush appointees (Roberts, Scalia, Kennedy, Alito, Thomas) and 4 – Clinton-Obama appointees (Breyer, Kagan, Ginsburg, Sotomayor), it should be crystal clear why elections matter. If the next president were to choose justices in the Reagan-Bush mode the Affordable Care Act and same sex marriage decisions could go the other way. If the next president were to choose justices in the Clinton-Obama mode affirmative action and the Affordable Care Act and same sex marriage will in all likelihood be preserved.

After SCOTUS stole the election from Al Gore and gave the presidency to George Bush, it should have been clear for all time why presidential elections matter. The last week of June 2015 made that point again and everyone can wonder what kind of Supreme Court Justices Jeb Bush or Marco Rubio or Donald Trump might select and what kind of justices Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders might select.

Chief Justice John Glover Roberts, Jr. is 60 (DOB: 27 January, 1955).
Justice Antonin Gregory Scalia is 78 (DOB: 11 March, 1936).
Justice Anthony McLeod Kennedy is 78 (DOB: 23 July, 1936).
Justice Clarence Thomas is 66 (DOB: 23 June, 1948).
Justice Ruth Joan Bader Ginsburg is 81 (DOB: 15 March, 1933).
Justice Stephen Gerald Breyer is 76 (DOB: 14 August 1938).
Justice Samuel Anthony Alito, Jr. is 64 (DOB: 1 April, 1950).
Justice Sonia Sotomayor is 60 (DOB: 25 June, 1954).
Justice Elena Kagan is 54 (DOB: 28 April, 1960).

The numbers tell the story.

That should be enough for everyone to realize why elections really matter.