IT’S ABOUT POWER, NOT ABOUT THE ECONOMY
It’s All About Power Part 3: WASP versus the Rising Marginalized is the
The results of the US election on November 6th should put to rest the assertion that it is “the Economy Stupid”. During 2016 the American economy continued to be healthy. The stock market remained at record highs. The unemployment rate reached record lows. Comparatively speaking, the US economy was amongst the most robust in the world. These are not the economic circumstances of a historic defeat at the polls in Congressional elections, even when the President is not on the ballot. The issues winning candidates campaigned on included good paying jobs, raising the minimum wage, affordable health care, voter suppression, corruption, and treatment of children at the Southern border. Collectively they shout, more than the US economy was contested.
A common pattern in the history of democracies is for marginalized groups who are enfranchised, to go through stages. First, they are constrained to vote for members of dominant groups that are deemed sympathetic to their cause and are trusted to speak and act in their interest. As their enfranchisement increases the next stage is to elect a few of their own, who become “firsts” and acquire the role of lone voices speaking and acting on behalf of their groups. Next is the stage where, by increased representation, marginalized groups acquire increasing influence that is exercised through caucuses. The inflection point is reached when marginalized groups collectively arrive at the stage of wresting power from the groups that previously dominated them. Marginalized groups in the 116th US Congress are at this latter stage with respect to those powers exercised by Congress. The status quo is fighting back at all levels and with all means, legal and immoral. The contest for power is on at all levels: for the Presidency, in the Senate, in Congress, in states, municipalities, counties and probably on school boards.
POWER, TO SERVE WHAT ENDS?
Campaigning is often imprecise with respect to exactly what electors voted for; impulsive statements made in response to questions; promises made to increase the chance of being elected; and contradictions in candidates’ positions. The responsible exercise of power requires more precision, better coherence, greater consistency and careful consideration of time and timing. Power is what power does, irrespective of what it says. The ability to prevail against opposition has consequences, intended and unintended. The wise question is, to what ends?
The Big Picture and the Core Issue
Since the Civil War ended in April 1865, the US has been conflicted. It has oscillated between poles of unity and divisions dictated by the supremacy of older white men, patriarchs. President Andrew Johnson epitomized the internal conflict. His loyalty to the Union was unquestioned and courageous. He was the lone Senator from the South that remained loyal to the Union after the Confederacy was formed. He accepted Lincoln’s appointment as the military governor of Tennessee. He supported the abolition of slavery. But he was against the 14th Amendment. He saw the Union as Confederacy Lite in the Southern states. In 1866 he declared “This is a country for white men, and by God, as long as I am President, it shall be a government for white men”. Frederick Douglass read Johnson’s heart on race as “contempt and aversion covered by a bland and sickly smile”. From all accounts, Andrew Johnson was an honest and honorable man blighted by his obsession with the supremacy of white men. Radical Republicans in the Congress reversed President Johnson’s direction by implementing Reconstruction and it’s granting of civil rights to black men. This direction was reversed in 1895 by Segregation which covered Blacks, Native Americans and Chinese under a blanket of inferiority and unequal rights. Brown versus the Board of Education in 1954 began to reverse and dismantle segregation. The civil rights movement, the women’s movement and the student movement brought this reversal to fruition. Reaching back to the promise of the Constitution and inspired by the genius of President Lincoln, the country moved to perfect the union and to realize the dream of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. that “content of character” should replace race. The election of President Barack Obama in 2008 culminated this 54-year phase. In response, the Tea Party movement of 2010 was formed and the election of President Trump in 2016 began a new phase. The reaction to President Trump’s dominance is the election of the diverse Congress of 2018.
The consistency of the Trump base support is the exhibit and the evidence that about 40% of the United States remains aligned with (a) the obsession of President Andrew Johnson or (b) the privileges and perquisites of Segregation. An alternate option is that they have no difficulties with (a) or (b) once Trump continues to hold power. The remaining 60% seems to be aligned with the promise of the Constitution, President Lincoln, and Rev. Dr Martin Luther King, Jr. These two basic alignments are not evenly distributed across the US but varies in different proportion in regions, cities, suburbs, small towns and rural areas.
The rising marginalized groups of the US Congress of 2018 need to understand themselves in relation to this big picture and this core issue. The power dynamics of the US over the last 150 years have changed and are changing. While there has been back and forth, the general trajectory has moved away from segregation and towards heterogeneity. The pace of change has quickened. A unique feature has been the official creation of a “Hispanic” race, which only exists in America. Being Hispanic is determined by language and geography, not by blood. Hispanics constitute a new factor in the calculus of power, and they are bearing the brunt of the reaction to retain white supremacy.
There are three almost global elements in the power dynamics of the US. These are: the dismantling of patriarchy in the public square; the contest between Whites who claim to be the patent-holders of the nation versus other races/ethnicities demanding inclusion; and the test of robustness of democracy. Can the contest for power be settled by ballot and law, or will the resolution be by violence? The outcome is not inevitable, nor can it be orchestrated.
PITFALLS OF POWER THAT LIE AHEAD
The common thread that appears to link the diverse groups that constitute the rising marginalized in the 116th Congress is “bread” to be delivered to their constituents in loaves of better paying jobs; affordable health care; access to higher education; higher wages; better provisions for childcare etc. While these are promises made, their fulfillment will be a major factor in re-election — an importance that therefore cannot be minimized. How these are to be achieved presents major challenges to the Freshman Class of 2018. This is because human beings have never lived by bread alone. There are also “non-bread” issues which come in the form of pitfalls.
Governing Like an Opposition
Generally, members of marginalized groups and their immediate families have little experience of being in the corridors of power and even less in having offices in buildings housing the powerful. Their greater experience is on the streets in advocacy, activism, and agitation in opposition to inequity, injustice, and abuse by the powerful. Having recovered from the exhaustion of campaigning, the euphoria of winning, and the excitement of entering Congress, then comes the responsibility to govern, that is, to exercise the power granted by the people. One does best what one knows best. One pitfall to such new holders of power is to govern as if in opposition. That is, to engage in continuous campaigning, blaming previous office holders, making media appearances protesting the very problems and issues for which they now have the responsibility, and continuing to posture as outsiders. This is avoiding the path to effective governance; instead of delving deep to gain understanding of the institution, striving for mastery of its modes of operation, becoming adept in the most effective ways of getting things done, and becoming transformative insiders. Using power like an opposition is in effect “kicking the can down the road” a well-known dodge sometimes practiced even by seasoned holders of power.
Fenced-in as Intolerant Factions
Fighting a common enemy is usually much easier than forming coalitions for the common good. It is to be expected that existing caucuses will be joined by a class of freshmen comprised of young people, women, Blacks, Native Americans, Muslims, recent immigrants, liberals, moderates, independents, Progressives, and of different sexual orientations; or where there is none to form one, even a caucus of one. The fact that none of the groups named is monolithic means that new members are likely to become members of two or more caucuses. The pitfall for new members is that of strengthening lines of existing divisions or creating new ones among the diversity of Congress members that already exists, thus making the challenge of forming effective governing coalitions even harder. Differences centered on age, gender, race, ideology, region, and religion could become even wider. Being older, more experienced, White, male, straight, and earlier immigrant could become disabilities. The modus of governance to continue the trajectory of the change that has taken place in America over the last 150 years has to be based on coalitions built on bonds and solidarity, uniting the diversity of membership that comprises each Congress. Coalitions may form and fracture according to issue, but intolerant factions will fence in caucuses focused on single issues — thus limiting their effectiveness and inhibiting the pace of change.
Foreclosing on the Repentant
On matters of race, slavery, women’s marginalization, and academic learning even some of America’s greatest sons and daughters have been afflicted with failings that are egregious compared to current norms. To the eternal credit of the founding fathers of America they did not enshrine in the Constitution the contradictions of their own lives. They espoused equality, but some were slave owners and almost all were sexist. These contradictions of their lives were left for succeeding generations to resolve by the laws they enacted and their interpretation of the Constitution. It is to the external discredit of those judges and those Congresses who transgressed the Constitution by issuing judgements and enacting laws that denied the common humanity of all Americans, restricted the freedom of some, and privileged opportunity to others. It is the resistance of the founding fathers to the sin of perversion, conferring right on wrong, which has allowed the transgressions their unworthy successors to be redeemed and the essence of the Constitution to be restored. Yet, the consequences of the societal damage and the painful memories of the hurt caused by transgressions live on across generations at multiple levels. The pitfall that the rising marginalized need to avoid, despite the consequences of the societal damage and painful memories of past hurt, is to foreclose on repentance of those descendants of the transgressors who walk the path of justice, respect, and equality. Given the core issue of the supremacy of White men, and its extent and persistence in the South, avoiding this pitfall of power is critical to the continued trajectory of change. White men of the South, who have repented of White supremacy, have a critical role to play in the changing power dynamics of the South. Repentance may include apology but the two are not the same. Repentance is a 180-degree turnaround in words, actions, and outlook. Apology is words that may not be sincere. The cases of the new Governor and Attorney General of Virginia illustrate the pitfall to be avoided. Both White men wore black faces as young men. One in college, the other in medical school. However, in their professional and adult lives they have acted, spoken, and embraced values that have won the confidence of Blacks in Virginia who know them, enough for the support of the latter to put them over the top in elections in November 2018. Yes, they concealed transgressions of their youth. Yes, what they did is repugnant. Yet, requiring them to resign from office will result in more harm than good. First, resignation will provide even further incentive for opposition research on similar persons. Second, it will diminish the stock of authentic testimonies of liberation from bigotry, which is usually persuasive in encouraging others to change. Third, the example of Nelson Mandela is worth following because it displays a nobility of spirit that shames those who previously diminished the humanity of those they had dehumanized, thus demanding respect.
Blinded by Partisan Lenses
Most members of the rising marginalized groups in Congress have been elected under the banner of the Democratic Party. The Senate is Republican and is comprised mostly of males of WASP heritage. However, the drivers of the rise of the marginalized are not partisan and not restricted to any one political party. They are demographic and societal. They have long-term and fundamental implications for all political parties. It so happens that the Democratic Party has embraced the change, while the Republican party has become a defender of the status quo. But this does not confer any permanent or inevitable advantage or disadvantage. The acid tests are the choices each will make and the results of intended and unintended consequences. Given the history of party politics in the US since 1776, neither the Democratic nor the Republican Party should be sanguine about their continued viability as political parties. Partisan lenses could blind either or both major political parties to a path leading to its demise. Democrats must be mindful of overreach. For example, the repercussions of the recall of Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin after two years in office. Republicans must be mindful of ignoring the recommendations of the postmortem in 2009 to become more inclusive. The internal politics of both major parties will be as critical to their future as the contest between them.
Being Distracted by President Trump
Many of this diverse freshman class of congressmen and congresswomen won seats in districts where President Trump enjoyed comfortable majorities in 2016. They have created cracks in his base. Put another way, they have already crafted ways to defeat Trumpism. There is therefore no need to become distracted by President Trump. President Trump is a symptom and not a cause. He is an opportunistic lukewarm follower of those resisting the realignment of power in the US who has been coopted as leader. Those resisting are euphemistically called his base. As the co-opted leader, Trump is doing the bidding of his base, hence their unswerving loyalty so far. It is his base that is keeping the Republican leadership in line by the fear of losing power, despite Trump’s vacillations in endorsements. His rhetoric of anger, fear, blame, division, anti-intellectualism, and isolationism; his disruptive and destructive actions and “great again” slogan are indices of how good a follower he is in capturing the spirit and the soul of those estranged by the transformation of American society that is afoot. It is his base that is important, not Trump; focus needs to be on his base. Clearly members of the Freshman Class of 2018 who ran under the umbrella of the Democratic party have understood this as the reality in their districts and devised ways to fracture his base by offering alternative approaches to their concerns. President Trump made the 2018 elections a referendum on himself. Loyalty to him was the bottom line for Republican candidates. He led the Republican campaign. Republicans lost the popular vote by nine million. They lost Wisconsin, Detroit, and Pennsylvania — states that won the presidency for Trump and the Republican party in 2016. President Trump lost the 2018 elections, tweets notwithstanding. The pitfall that coming to Washington presents to the new Democrats of 2018 is that of joining the Trump distraction that prevails in the beltway. The positive path is bringing to the beltway a shared and thoughtful distillation of knowledge and wisdom gained in their districts in connecting with Trump’s base and crafting ways to channel their anger in constructive measures to address the circumstances of their lives.
Being Seduced by Postmodernism
Fake news was not invented by Donald Trump. Neither is the concept of alternative facts a discovery of Mrs. Kelly-Ann Conway. Post-truth is a fiction and feature of postmodernist theory which regards truth as a social construct, denies objective reality, and confers on all the right to their own truth and own facts. I have always regarded postmodernism as the most self-destructive movement that former colonies, or any category of human beings who are not of Western European ancestry, could embrace. This includes the United States. It is a theory of despair and disillusion. It was born out of post-World War 2 intellectual depression, particularly in France. Most of Europe was in ruin. Some of the atrocities of the War were reprehensible to any civilized mind. The capital of the West had crossed the Atlantic Ocean to the US which had re-built Western Europe through the Marshall Plan. Its basic tenets are that while the rest of the world is seeking to achieve modernity, Western Europe had moved past modernity but was decadent. This implies that even in its decadence, Western Europe is superior to the rest, especially it’s high culture. In a nutshell, postmodernism is a resisting form of affirmation of the superiority of Western European heritage in decline. Postmodernism is a lament on the failure of the grand narratives of its scholars, hence it denies the general value of grand theories and elevates only case studies that ought not to be generalized. There is no scope here for a full explication of the disillusionment of postmodernism and the confusion that it spawns. Suffice it to say that there is no one more confused, and confusing, than a postmodern Christian theologian, or a postmodern Progressive advocate of climatic change based on scientific evidence, or a postmodern politician of non-European ancestry seeking to enlist supporters to build better communities. Members of the Class of 2018 in Congress should studiously seek to avoid becoming part of the post-truth brigade, notwithstanding the short-term gains from spinning everything, instantly making up facts, and lying when caught in difficult situations. Power eventually mocks those who spurn truth and facts and makes them laughing stocks.
This freshman class appears to be learning fast. On the campaign trail, several members declared independence from the party leadership and came to Washington with mutterings of deposing Nancy Pelosi, whom the Republican Campaign had demonized. However, they quickly realized that such action would be doing a Hillary on Nancy. They would be deposing the most successful woman politician in Congress and the mostly highly ranked female in the American power structure. The Freshman Class passed its first test in political commonsense. The test of doing a Trump on Obama is still to come. That is, trying to erase, abandon, or reverse every accomplishment and policy of Obama. A successful male President of marginalized heritage is the greatest indictment of the assertion of White supremacy. Obama succeeded against sustained and malicious efforts to thwart his every move. Further, President Obama countered and prevailed against this malice with decency, dignity, decorum, competence, eloquence, and sagacity that either won respect from some of his most ardent critics or discredited their vitriol. President Obama has pioneered the parameters of the standard for governing by rising marginalized groups wresting power from an ethnicity whose numerical majority declines, eventually to become the largest single minority in the foreseeable future. Wisdom counsels building on the accomplishments of Obama. There are other tests for the Class of 2018 to pass on the learning curve of being stewards of power so that “this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth”.
COMMONWEALTH CARIBBEAN INTEREST IN THE FUTURE OF POWER IN THE UNITED STATES
Why should people of the Commonwealth Caribbean concern themselves with power as it is being contested in the United States?
- Every Commonwealth Caribbean country has ethnicities or groups that claim to be the patent owners of the country that seek to continue to govern for their benefit and to the exclusion of ethnicities, social classes, or groups that have been historically marginalized.
- Democracy is also being put to the test in most Commonwealth Caribbean countries, as holders of power seek to perpetuate themselves in office by any means necessary.
- The Commonwealth Caribbean is fixed in the underbelly and shadow of the US. Whatever happens in the US has huge implications for the region, notwithstanding what else happens in the rest of the world. The Commonwealth Caribbean speaks English. Miami is a hub for travelling in the region. There is a large Caribbean diaspora living in the US. US Cable Television Channels are watched daily in the region. It is crucial for the people to understand what is happening in the US and its implications for the region, collectively and in each country, because it is in our best interest even if the US shows scant interest in the Commonwealth Caribbean. We have always known the US, better than the US has known us. Let there be no mistake — we have an important stake in the US power games.