Point of View Columns

What is Happening in South Africa and America? Democracy is Messy

Recently a Guest Essay entitled “South Africa is Falling Apart” by the South African journalist William Shoki appeared in the New York Times. The turmoil that currently exists in South Africa is real and undeniable. What also is real and undeniable is that the basis for that turmoil is due largely to political and governance disputes. And what is also real and undeniable is that in the history of virtually all democracies there are many instances of turmoil. In other words – democracy is messy.

Coincidentally, in that same issue of the New York Times an Opinion piece by Jamelle Bouie appeared describing the history of the messy democracy of the United States in historical detail. It is probably a surprise to many that during the early decades of the American republic that there were multiple disputes, schisms and rebellions that threatened the very existence of the nascent United States.

In the first seventy years of the United States the Whiskey Rebellion and Shay’s Rebellion were only two instances of civilian unrest that had to be met with federal armed forces. George Washington, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson were viciously attacked and vilified to the extreme while serving as president. A vice president, Aaron Burr, conspired with foreign forces to establish his own empire in North America.

And, of course, there was the Civil War, still the bloodiest war in American history. And let us not forget the American insurrection and the attack on the Capitol on January 6, 2021. Clearly democracy is messy. Clearly the United States endures and no one is seriously suggesting that the United States is falling apart – at least not yet.

The South African democracy is only 27 years old – born at the ending of the monstrosity called apartheid. And that new democracy had to address serious sabotage by the white South Africans who, on their way out of office, removed the files, telephones and other elements of the governmental infrastructure in its earliest days. Further, while many white South Africans have accepted the end of apartheid and the establishment of Black majority rule, there are still too many white South Africans who have sought to destabilize the new South Africa through political and economic means.

Nevertheless, democracy in South Africa endures and is one of the most robust democracies on the African continent. And while some Black South Africans have seen true change in their lives, there are many more Black South Africans who have yet to see systemic and substantive change. Indeed, democracy is messy.

Throughout the current turmoil in South Africa the democracy has remained stable as disputes continue about how that democracy can work better, and not whether or not the democracy should be replaced. It may be true that the eradication of all of the debris and decay and dysfunction that is the legacy of apartheid could be removed more effectively by an authoritarian regime but that would be at the cost of rights and protection of freedoms that were attained through decades of true struggle.

We have seen a trend towards authoritarian governments throughout the world, including in these United States. History tells us that in the long term the authoritarian governments always erode and eventually remove human rights until they become more myth than memory.

It is true that South Africa has its challenges and they are very real. To say that South Africa is falling apart is untrue – but it can turn into a self-fulfilling prophecy if it is repeated often enough.

Which is why it is always important to remember that the Republic of South Africa is a democracy and democracy is always messy. But then it is always better than the authoritarian alternative.

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Point of View Columns

Dinkins Deserved Better – Shame on the New York Times

There are few things in life of which you can be sure. One is that what you read below will never appear in the New York Times.

On November 24, 2020, less than 24 hours after former New York City Mayor David Dinkins dies, the Times published an article by someone named Robert McFadden which was somewhere between a faux eulogy and a factually challenged hit job. Typically, when public figures pass away the initial articles gently memorialize the departed individual, Opinions are like navels – everybody has one – and usually the opinion pieces come after a respectful pause – of at least a few days.

The Times sought to recycle half-truths, falsehoods and the opinions of Mr. McFadden which, because the article appeared in the so-called newspaper of record, too many people will take this savaging of Dinkins to be true.

A full refutation of the Times article would give that article too much credit and credence but there are 10 points in this piece that warrant comment.

  1. McFadden states that Dinkins was “turned out by voters after one term….” The reality is that losing by 50,000 votes out of 2 million cast is not being “turned out”. And when the Trojan Horse of the Staten Island Secession Referendum which supercharged the conservative white vote in that borough it is a wonder that Dinkins only lost by 50,000 votes.
  • Ed Koch and Fiorella LaGuardia, imperfect mayors that they were, were certainly more flamboyant than Dinkins. Flamboyance is not a character trait that distinguishes a public servant – keep in mind that Trump is flamboyant. But to suggest that they were “Gullivers bestriding him” is simply unkind and unworthy. And who, exactly are the “many historians and political experts” who expressed this opinion?
  • To describe Dinkins as a caretaker mayor is simply a false and unsustainable narrative which may reflect Mr. McFadden’s opinion. Again, opinions are like navels – everyone has one. But he is not entitled to his own facts. Unless he is simply willing to ignore (a) the Safe Cities Safe Streets program which added tens of thousands of police to the NYPD and began the decline in the crime rate which skyrocketed under that Gulliver named Koch and for which Giuliani later claimed credit (b) a renewed focus on childhood education which the childless Koch never advocated (c) established New York’s first Minority and Women’s Business Program which became the largest such municipally based program in the United States – a program that was working so well that other “Gulliver” Giuliani ended the program within an hour of his taking the oath of office (d) brought the Democratic National Convention to New York at a time when New York needed some positive perspectives on the national stage (e) establishing the Civilian Complaint Review Board over the virulent opposition of too many members of the NYPD, (f) establishing the inclusion of the LGBTQ  community in the administration of the city (g) establishing the National Tennis Center – the home of the U.S. Open – which has brought billions of dollars to New York over the past two decades and (h) in what is a shocking reflection of how skewed the McFadden article is, there was literally no mention of the fact that Dinkins led the city with calm poise in the aftermath of the first World Trade Center bombing in February of 1993, the largest act of domestic terrorism in the city since the Wall Street bombing in 1920. Caretaker indeed.
  • And not to dwell on McFadden’s false and dishonorable narrative, but a “caretaker” does not restore class and dignity to the office of mayor as Dinkins did. And a “caretaker” doesn’t manage the city through a horrific financial crisis and lay the foundation for the economic recovery for which that “Gulliver” Giuliani claimed credit.
  • McFadden refers to the revitalizing of Times Square as a minor accomplishment. The truth, of which he must know, is that by 1990, under the leadership of that other “Gulliver” Ed Koch, Times Square was a neon Sodom and Gomorrah and the Times Square Business Improvement District which was totally supported by Dinkins transformed that area into a global tourist destination – ranking favorably with the Ginza in Tokyo and Trafalgar Square in London.
  • McFadden refers to the “insurmountable legacy of Crown Heights” as being the reason for Dinkins being a one term mayor. The reality is that Dinkins received the same percentage of white votes and Jewish votes in 1993 as he did in 1989 the difference was turnout, and without belaboring the point one can ask why then Governor Mario Cuomo supported such a measure on the ballot when it would clearly not be to the benefit of his fellow Democrat Dinkins.
  • The McFadden article is proof in black and white (no pun intended) that race was always the prism through which Dinkins was viewed by the New York press – the City Hall press corps was virtually all white at the time and seemed to be committed to fully displaying his missteps and downplaying his successes and achievements. If Dinkins walked on water the headline in the New York Times would be “Dinkins Can’t Swim”.
  • Somehow, in his narrative of the Dinkins years Mr. McFadden couldn’t find space to mention how the City Hall police riot at which Giuliani was a keynote speaker inflamed the passions of race in this city. Cars were overturned, bystanders were assaulted and Dinkins was hung in effigy as he was referred to as ‘the washroom attendant” (meant to be a racist insult and in this context sounds a lot like that “caretaker” characterization) by predominantly white police officers, too many of whom were on duty at the time.
  • Finally, McFadden’s gratuitous insult to the Dinkins administration by describing his cabinet as a group of “goads, gadflies and bureaucrats” is one of those alternative reality comments that barely deserves a response. Let it suffice to say that Carl Weisbrod, Kenneth Knuckles, Sally Hernandez Pinero, George Daniels, Betsy Gotbaum and Peter Sherwood – all of whom have gone on to outstanding careers – would find his characterization as shameful and laughable were it not for the intent to further demean a man who was both good and great.

David N. Dinkins was deserving of better. The people who supported him and worked for him deserved better. The people who supported and loved him deserved better. The first Black mayor of the City of New York who served with dignity during some very undignified times deserved better.

The City of New York deserved better.

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Point of View Columns

Weekend Edition – September 17, 2010

Fall has arrived. Once the NFL season begins in earnest there is no meteorological dispute. Summer may officially depart next week, but autumn has definitely arrived. And, now that all of the midterm primaries are concluded, the silly but deadly serious season has also arrived:

Enough is Enough!!!
In the most recent edition of Forbes magazine, an article, “How Obama Thinks” written by Dinesh D’Souza needs to be read at http://www.forbes.com/forbes/2010/0927/politics-socialism-capitalism-private-enterprises-obama-business-problem.html?boxes=Homepagetoprated – I commend this piece of journalistic offal posing as an erudite analysis of President Obama because it calls our attention to the very deep and deadly dangers coursing through the veins of the body politic these days. Please read this one quote from this damned and damnable architect of hate and confusion:

“Our president is trapped in his father’s time machine. Incredibly, the U.S. is being ruled according to the dreams of a Luo tribesman of the 1950s. This philandering, inebriated African socialist, who raged against the world for denying him the realization of his anticolonial ambitions, is now setting the nation’s agenda through the reincarnation of his dreams in his son.”

To make matters worse Newt Gingrich, that well-known paragon of justice, fairness and intelligent insight, picked up D’Souza’s filthy baton and ran another few media laps with it. Gingrich proclaimed that the bizarre and illogical analysis articulated by D’Souza clearly demonstrates the dangerous path that President Obama has chosen for these United States.

I think that it’s about time to understand and to clearly state that the critiques and criticisms being directed against Barack Obama have little or nothing to do with policy differences and are most certainly rooted in the ancient muck of racism and bigotry. The fact that Forbes magazine would print such a scurrilous and intellectually useless article about the President of the United States can only be explained by the deep seated racial and ethnic prejudices that still infect this country.

If we continue to wait for “reasonable” conservatives and mainstream pundits to finally say enough is enough, we will be waiting for a very long time. And it is not enough to shrug off pseudo intellectuals like D’Souza and wannabe leaders like Gingrich, assuming that most of the American public will not take this foolishness seriously.

Consider that more Americans think that Barack Obama is a Muslim today than when he was elected President. More Americans today think that Barack Obama was born outside of the United States (and therefore is not legitimately the President) than before he was elected to the office.

While the Obama presidency is submitted to a death of a thousand rhetorical cuts, too many of his supporters have remained mute. It is clearly time to push the “unmute” button before the waves of disinformation, distraction and pure hate that are spewing over the national landscape become insurmountable.

You can comment on http://www.Forbes.com, you can ask your elected officials to speak on your behalf. This is the media era, you can send in your own op-ed articles or comment on Point of View. The point is – DO SOMETHING! Enough is enough!

Remember 9/15
Just as it will always be important to remember 9/11, we should never forget September 15, 1963. It was on that day, a Sunday, in the morning in Birmingham, Alabama that bloody and vicious aspects of racism surfaced again in this country. This time through the bombing of a church that resulted in the deaths of four black girls.

This awful and unspeakable act was damnable in the absolute. What was worse is that the bombing was intended to kill the young people in the choir who were about to prepare for the church services.

And what was the offending act that motivated this bestial outrage? It was the sustained and extended protests by the black community in Birmingham against racial discrimination in the city and state and country in which they lived.
Ultimately the disgust and dismay engendered by the Birmingham church bombing added to the rising tide of sentiment and common sense that resulted in the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, outlawing most types of racial segregation and discrimination throughout Alabama and the rest of the United States.

So in a very real way the Civil Rights Act of 1964 is a memorial to the four black girls who were killed on September 15, 1963 along with the hundreds and thousands of other black and white people who died and suffered in furtherance of the greatest social change in this country in the twentieth century.

And it is this same Civil Rights Act that Tea Party activists, conservative Republicans and so-called strict constitutional constructionists would eviscerate or eliminate if given the opportunity to do so. Rand Paul, the Republican candidate for senator in Kentucky is on record as saying that he would not have voted for this bill if he was a senator in 1964. United States Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia has publicly cast doubts on the constitutional viability of this historic legislation and has gone further to say that he would have voted against the majority in the historic Brown v. Board of Education decision that ruled that racially segregated schools were unconstitutional.

As November 2nd and election day approaches, it is important to note that those who would dismiss the meaning and import of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 – which now addresses issues of discrimination in addition to racism, such as gender discrimination and rights for the disabled – are dismissing a major moment in the history of this country.

That Act was the result of sacrifice and dedication and determination to change this country. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 was a memorial to many sacrifices and those who dismiss it dishonor those sacrifices and the men and women…………and children who died in making it a reality.

Whatever Happened To……Fairness?
Advocates of messages of every sort are regularly counseled to “stay on message”. Whatever distracting facts or circumstances might arise, it is important to stick to the basic themes of that message.

I had always believed, however, that news reporting was supposed to present the facts, not a message. Clearly that message has not gotten through to Mr. Raymond Hernandez, a reporter for The New York Times.

On September 14th the Democratic primary election in New York had a number of interesting results. The primary that garnered national attention was the one that involved Congressman Charles Rangel.

There have been some supporters of Congressman Rangel who are of the opinion that one source of his travails and adversity has been the press. It is a very subjective perspective indeed, and one not easily proven or supported by facts.

And yet…..I was at the Rangel campaign celebration on the evening of September 14th and I witnessed a large and jubilant crowd at the Uptown Grand supper club in Harlem. At 11:30 p.m. Congressman Rangel gave a rousing speech after his electoral victory had been confirmed.

Mr. Rodriguez reported that this speech was given to a crowd of 75 people.
Having been present I was surprised, as were other attendees, to read in the September 15th edition of the Times that 75 people were in attendance as we collectively recalled a crowd of at least 200 and perhaps closer to 300 were in attendance at precisely 11:30 p.m.

It is hard to believe that a trained and respected reporter like Mr. Rodriguez could be off the mark by a factor of 3 or 4 in estimating the crowd. It is even harder to believe that he and his colleagues at the Times would be complicit in some effort to intentionally diminish the size of the crowd cheering Rangel.

But that subjective perspective regarding the press and Congressman Rangel held by more than a few is a little bit easier to understand.

Have a great weekend!

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