All Lives, Including Black Ones, Matter To God
George Floyd’s murder caused a fundamental change in the psyche of our nation. It didn’t change the facts surrounding racial issues – yet – but it did change how those issues are viewed by the white public. That is an important first step.
Floyd’s death is only one among many but its galvanizing effect has reverberated around the world.
Even law enforcement is coming around. Although the killing of African Americans in similar situations in the past was often explained away as the police doing their duty to protect the public, an astonishing number of law enforcement leaders have referred to Floyd’s death as “murder.”
However, my focus in this post is not on law enforcement. Law enforcement agencies don’t make the laws, they enforce them and it isn’t strange to believe they take on the attitudes and sentiments of the legislators who authorize their work. So, we need to look at Republicans and Democrats. What is their track record on the matter of race? What have they done or not done relative to racial issues? That is the focus here.
One clarification, though, before I say more.
“Black Lives Matter” (BLM) was catapulted into celebrity following Floyd’s murder but it isn’t a new movement. It got started in 2013 just after the murder of Trayvon Martin. From the beginning, though, they have been the object of ridicule, mischaracterization, and suspicion.
As an example, shortly after recent protests began, I was told on one occasion that BLM, the organization, is communist, and on another that BLM opposes the concept of the nuclear family. That’s just the start. The misrepresentations and insults never end.
If you research the issue you’ll find that BLM is decentralized. It’s chapter-based so you find individual groups spread throughout the States and those groups don’t necessarily connect. There is no single person dominating leadership. The group is concept-driven and the concept is simple: black lives matter.
I’m sure if you look closely you might find a few unsavory individuals involved but isn’t that true of all organizations. The bigger the organization the more likely you are to find individuals harboring off-kilter ideas.
But before you cut me off, and to be quite clear, no, I’m not a communist. In fact, I have no leanings toward any totalitarian forms of government and I’m very much in favor of the nuclear family. From what I can tell, most of the BLM folks are democratically minded salt of the earth types, which means the accusations are more a smokescreen than a concern.
It’s a deflection. It’s an expression of insecurity.
And to be fair, President Trump’s personal life and political manner are arguably the worst of any President to date and it isn’t a matter of debate. Everyone agrees even his staunch supporters and that’s kinda the point. His faults – the ones we know of – are routinely dismissed even his fascistic tendencies, which isn’t communism but it is totalitarian none the less. To quote a member of the Republican Party and an ardent supporter of Trump:
He is egotistical, bombastic, and brash. He often lacks nuance in his statements. Sometimes he blurts out mistaken ideas…that he later must abandon. He insults people. He can be vindictive when people attack him…He has been married three times and claims to have been unfaithful in his marriages. These are certainly flaws, but I don’t think they are disqualifying flaws in this election.
In a word, he’s erratic. Not even Trump knows what he will do next and that should be a concern for all of us. Wars have been started for less.
Make sure you clarify who you’re talking about when you insult BLM because unknowing listeners may think you’re talking about Trump. If you can stand the President’s dirt which glaringly affronts every decent person every moment of every day, then maybe we should give BLM a little slack.
For the sake of clarification, though, when I refer to Black Lives Matter I’m talking about racial issues, not the organization. The organizers – who are relatively few – and their personal philosophies – whatever they are – have nothing to do with the protests. You don’t need to agree or disagree with their personal views to react to the brutal murder of a civilian.
The protests associated with BLM are driven by justice and freedom for all (the ideas we pledge allegiance to in the national anthem). Racial disparities and discrimination are the issues. When I refer to BLM, that’s what I’m talking about.
We must keep the main point the main point: all lives, including black ones, matter. And they are equal.
It’s an unfortunate fact that there are still people who don’t believe that. Racial bias has a long shelf life. It’s been around a long time and it won’t fade easily but the protests are proof that things are changing at least where the white public is concerned.
Minorities, by the way, have understood the problems all along. I’m sure they are happy to see change occurring and this post is focused on the what and why of that change.
Public Sentiment Changes Slowly
With the clarification aside, what is happening right now is quite remarkable because public mindsets don’t move quickly. On most issues, sentiment remains boringly steady but that’s not the case at the moment.
Within two weeks of George Floyd’s murder, public sentiment gained an incredible eleven points and that upswing follows two years of steady upward trends.
Two and a half years ago, January 2018, public support for BLM averaged out at zero. Some were for it and some were against it and the average rating was zero. The movement started in 2013 and it took five years (2018) just to get to a neutral rating. By January 2020 the average moved seventeen points to the plus side. That’s seventeen points in a span of two years.
Then, two weeks following the murder, average public sentiment moved an additional eleven points to twenty-eight!
That’s twenty-eight points over two and a half years and eleven of those points came in just two weeks.
The breakdown in where the support came from shows that everyone except Republicans are seeing the light. The following stats are courtesy of Civiq.com. The NYTimes also has an article on the topic here.
- Democrates: +84
- Independents: +30
- Republicans: -39
Most Democrats get it, a large number of Independents are catching on but Republicans are backpedaling.
So, the question is, what’s happening? Why are Republicans resistant? Where should we assess blame?
Politicians bare a part of the responsibility for this situation but they aren’t entirely at fault. Yes, politicians can be turd wallets (excuse the terminology but sometimes you just gotta say it) but the reality is they do exactly what the voting public wants. They may try to hide their true feelings and skirt issues when possible but they will never risk exposure. Republicans will do what Republican voters want and Democrats will follow the same rule.
I’m not suggesting Politicians don’t matter. They have a part to play and we need to qualify each one before casting our votes but politicians are only a part of the problem.
Public sentiment must also change and we see that happening now. A recalcitrant few are hesitating but a change of mind is possible. Americans have led the way in change for decades. We must continue to speak the truth and trust in the process.
But back to the Politicians. These public servants have opinions and those opinions do influence the policies they initiate. Just like every other person, they hold tight to favored ideas even when under pressure to change. How do they manage that? On the occasions when public sentiment runs contrary to their personal views they lie and there is no better example than Trump.
Trump makes grandiose claims about how much he has done for the African American community but can those claims be verified? His past reveals a long trail of racism so it wouldn’t be smart to believe he’s all of a sudden switched sides.
His exact words: “Nobody has ever done for the black community what President Trump has done.” He made the comment shortly after Floyd’s murder. It was part of a long string of mixed messages, the kind he is known for.
I’m not sure which version of history he was reading to arrive at such a conclusion but it’s not standard curricula in any part of the first world. He also fails to mention exactly what he’s done to help out, other than claim credit for the African American employment rate which reached its lowest point in history in January 2018.
We applaud the favorable unemployment rate but at the same time admit that we aren’t fooled by his misrepresentation of the facts. The rate began falling in 2011 from 16.4% to 7.8% in January 2017. That was the Obama era and Trump gets no credit for that.
Politicians with a better perspective are needed, but again, electing supportive politicians is only one step. If public sentiment doesn’t also change, whatever laws are enacted to address racial disparities will only become more issues for which loopholes must be found.
Is public sentiment changing? Yes! Can we keep it going? Again, yes!
From the previous set of stats, we know Republicans are the ones resisting progress but the next bit of data (also from Civiqs.com) indicates where the negative sentiment resides.
- Alabama: -10
- Arkansas: -20
- Idaho: -16
- Indiana: -2
- Kansas: -10
- Kentucky: -14
- Louisiana: -6
- Mississippi: -5
- Nebraska: -4
- North Dakota – -20
- Oklahoma: -15
- South Dakota: -14
- Tennessee: -11
- Texas: -1
- Utah: -6
- West Virginia: -22
- Wyoming: -33
On the surface, the numbers look negative but it might not be as bad as it looks.
The surprise is not that these particular States register negative sentiment but that the levels of negativity were quite small: Louisiana -6, Mississippi -5, and Texas -1.
My first thought was this is negative but then it occurred to me that this is actually a positive outcome. Locations that are historically associated with the highest levels of racism seem to be moving in a better direction.
It was also a surprise not to find North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia listed. Wow!
A Word About Party Politics
I mentioned in a previous post that many of my peers, friends, and family tend to vote Republican across the board in all elections. Never veering. The individual candidates may or may not be the most appealing, but the argument is you need to support the platform at all costs.
There are many reasons to disagree.
Political parties encourage this kind of loyalty but only because it simplifies their job. If voter loyalty is fixed, politicians don’t need to work so hard. They only need to win enough swing votes each round to stay in office but party-line voting, though good for the politician, can be dangerous for the electorate.
When taken to an extreme, party politics becomes the rule of the day and individual officeholders become capons, doing nothing more than what the central committee says do.
Support from the National Committee (Rep or Dem) is essential for reelection so pleasing the committee is a big part of a politician’s job. Those who don’t toe the line, don’t get support and may not be reelected.
Of course, we assume that the line being toed is the one the public wants. Maybe, maybe not.
The question is when party central makes all the decisions, can the individual officeholders be held fully accountable? If they’re only doing what the party said do, and we are staying with the platform, how can we judge or question?
And worse, should the leadership skew, with power shifting from the National Committee to the most prominent forceful individual (Fascism), who is responsible then?
It’s a good question because personalities can supersede the party, more or less becoming the Party, and then everyone is marching to the beat of one drummer rather than a Committee. In that case, the ideas of just one person are imposed across all members and officeholders are afraid to step out of line.
In this scenario, everyone suffers: policymakers and citizens alike. It’s more fascistic than democratic. People don’t think. They just react. Tell me that’s a good thing.
Our country’s founders foresaw this possibility. That’s why they instituted a democratic process: debate, negotiate and then legislate. Each of our leaders needs to fit within that mold.
Trump Administration Breaks The Mold
We see just the opposite happening in the present administration. Republican officeholders are sycophantically facsimilizing everything Trump says. He burps, they belch. He’s the gang leader and they are members of the gang.
This can happen anywhere, in any organization, and even on the street but right now it’s illustrated best through Trump and his party acolytes.
Trump knows he is secure and bragged about not losing support even should he shoot someone in broad daylight. His followers agree. One of his staunch supporters, a colleague of mine, laughingly told me he is bulletproof. That’s a very dangerous scenario.
Politicians are expected to be loyal but their loyalties are to the American people, not the boss. They are elected, not hired and their election depends on being committed to the grassroots. Misplaced loyalty is a good way to be replaced in the next election.
But even if party politics was legitimate, there is another problem with voting for the same party every voting cycle. Neither government nor parties are fixed.
The idea of small government, a corner stone of Republican policy, means nothing if government, whatever the size, is inefficient. George W’s administration is the example here. His government was horribly inefficient and government grew exponentially.
The platform of Republican philosophies didn’t help much in the face of Republican inefficiencies.
Civil Rights is another good example.
Past Presidential Records
Hearing the phrase “Civil Rights” usually provokes ideas about race and racial abuse but it’s actually much broader.
It’s an umbrella phrase. It covers every individual of every color anywhere in the US. But the reason we associate it with racial abuse is because racial abuses represent the most egregious sins against civil liberties.
Slavery was the worst but not the only sin. Once abolished, slavers found ways to mutate the abuse into other forms and it still hangs around today.
But even though Civil Rights isn’t just a racial issue, the rights of no individual is protected if the rights of every individual aren’t revered regardless of race, color, religion, and so on. The Constitution is basically a document designed to protect civil rights.
So, yes, it is appropriate to focus on the racial aspect of civil rights and compare the presidents throughout history to see how they track on the issue. We’ll start from the early 1900s.
During the Civil War years, Republicans led the way in supporting freedom and liberty for all. The Democratic Party fought to retain slavery. Since then, roles have changed. Democrats began carrying the Civil Rights Banner and Republicans gave it lip service. It’s been back and forth but in the last fifty years, Republicans have been burning the cross and Democrats are sounding the clarion for equality.
Let’s have a look.
- William Howard Taft (Republican, 1909-1913)
When Taft became President, the White House employed both white and black staff and the staff had traditionally dined together, seated by rank and seniority, not color. Taft’s wife changed that. Under her instruction, staff were ordered to dine separately and this practice was the start of 50 years of segregation inside the White House.
- Woodrow Wilson (Democratic, 1913-1921)
You could call Wilson the President of the Southern Revenge. During his administration, all federal employees were segregated (even to the point of erecting shields between desks), many blacks holding appointed offices were replaced with whites and Jim Crow laws were reinforced heavily.
Although a Democrat, he campaigned on the promise to be the President of the entire nation and to provide absolute fairness to all. Instead, however, Wilson turned out to be the worst racist in the Oval Office since the Civil War.
And it’s no surprise.
His roots and associations were predominantly southern. He was born in Staunton, VA and lived in Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina during the Civil War years and was no doubt motivated by bitter memories from the conflict. It is also worth mentioning that his father was a Presbyterian minister who argued for slavery on biblical grounds which further implicates Christian ideas and thinking relative to racial issues.
Wilson was also the President who screened “The Birth of a Nation” in the White House, a movie that characterized African Americans as sexually charged savages and the KKK as the institution saving American society from black savagery.
- Warren G. Harding (Republican – 1921-1923)
The Tulsa Massacre happened only a couple of months following Harding’s inauguration. His response was to give the commencement address at the graduation ceremonies of Lincoln University (African American College) at which he said education was foundational to equality and called upon the graduates to shoulder their share of the responsibility in advancing freedom. It seems that his view of equality was genuine. In accepting the Republican Party’s nomination as their Presidential candidate he said:
No majority shall abridge the rights of the minority…I believe the Negro citizens of America should be guaranteed the enjoyment of all their rights, that they have earned their full measure of citizenship bestowed, that their sacrifices in blood on the battlefields of the Republic have entitled them to all of freedom and opportunity, all of sympathy and aid that the American spirit of fairness and justice demand.”
In the fall of his first year in office, Harding was booed during a speech in Birmingham, AL in which he advocated for racial equality. Harding died in his third year in office but said more on behalf of racial justice in that short time than any of his predecessors. Harding also introduced an anti-lynching bill which was not passed in his day, was repeatedly rebuffed in congress since then and was recently denied again by Republican Senator Paul Rand (Ky).
- Calvin Coolidge (Republican – 1923-1929)
Coolidge was inaugurated President on the death of his predecessor, Harding, and carried on in the same tradition. Republicans and Democrats were still holding to their Civil War-era positions: Dems for slavery and Reps against.
Following in Harding’s footsteps, Coolidge also spoke at Howard University and even urged Congress to contribute $500,000.00 to the University for the development of black doctors which would in turn address medical needs in the African American community.
Referring to the devotion of African American soldiers during the First World War Coolidge said:
They gave their services in the war with the same patriotism and readiness that other citizens did…The propaganda of prejudice and hatred which sought to keep the colored men from supporting the national cause completely failed. The black man showed himself the same kind of citizen, moved by the same kind of patriotism, as the white man.
One interesting observation from the Coolidge era reflects the anti-labor mindset of the Republican platform. Coolidge was Governor of Massachusetts during the Boston Police strike of 1919. Inflation following WW1 made the buying power of police wages even lower than they already were.
Requests for better wages received no hearing so they formed a union, much to the chagrin of the Governor and Police Commissioner. Shortly after the police union was organized, demanding more pay, the commissioner fired eight of the organizers. In a show of solidarity, the entire force failed to show for work the next day and the strike was on.
The police were warned to returned to work the next day or be fired. True to their word, the force stayed away and the entire force was fired. In response to the ruckus that followed, and true to Republican anti-union sentiments, Coolidge sent in the State Guard to gain control of the upheaval.
Coolidge, with the help of his commissioner, rebuilt the entire police force from the ground up.
Coolidge gets great points on racism but he didn’t do so well on economic fairness. Although the police had legitimate grievances, they handled it poorly and the episode played into the hands of insensitive politicians.
- Herbert Hoover (Republican – 1929-1933)
Hoover served as Secretary of Commerce under Coolidge and earned the reputation as a great humanitarian for his efforts during the Great Mississippi Flood in 1927. One and half million people were displaced during the flood and under Hoover’s leadership relief was provided for more than a year.
Sadly, African Americans affected by the flood were denied relief provisions, restricted in their travel, and forced into labor while the whites were provided for nicely. The neglect wasn’t Hoover’s doing but in order to keep the corruption out of the public eye, he struck a deal to give African American’s unprecedented influence following his election for their silence on the matter.
Silence protected the Southern whites enabling Hoover to gain both white and black voters.
Black leadership agreed to the deal but following the election, Hoover renigged and from that point on African American support leaned toward the Democratic Party.
Although Barry Goldwater (1964) is usually sighted as the first candidate to employ the Southern Strategy it was Hoover who backed into the scheme first and probably by accident. The difference between Hoover and Goldwater was transparency. Goldwater was blatant. Hoover brokered deals out of the public eye so it wasn’t seen for what it was till after the fact.
This is the point where the Democrats and Republicans switched sides on the Civil Rights issues. Hoover’s backhanded approach together with his small-government ideologies in the face of the Great Depression lost his reelection. He went from 58% voter support in 1928 to 39% running against Roosevelt.
- Franklin D. Roosevelt (Democrat – 1933-1945)
The switch that began in the Hoover administration was solidified under Franklin D. Roosevelt.
Roosevelt, or FDR as he is commonly known, led the nation during a very calamitous period. The Great Depression began in 1929 and Hoover’s sit-back-and-watch-it-happen response (typically Republican) left millions out of work and hungry. Tent cities for the burgeoning number of homeless were called Hoovervilles.
Once elected, FDR got busy addressing the immediate needs. He introduced legislation to start several Federally sponsored programs to provide relief from the devastation of the Great Depression. Note that he did not hand out fists full of money. Instead, he created jobs aimed at two important goals: Employing those out of work and maintaining federal resources and infrastructure.
He also initiated reforms to reduce the possibility of future economic disasters. Most of the agencies were short-lived but the FDIC and Social Security Administration, both initiated by Hoover, still exist today and provide economic security for millions.
His political efforts on racial issues were a bit indirect. Although he never initiated specific legislation to address racial disparities, he remained in communication with the leaders of the African American community and appointed several progressive-minded judges to the Supreme Court whose appointment was supported by those leaders.
Even though FDR seemed muted on the issue, Eleanor, his wife, was very noisy and she became the primary conduit for communications between African American leaders and FDR during his administration. History.com says Eleanor was:
One of the most active First Ladies in history and worked for political, racial and social justice.
There is no question about Eleanor’s commitment to racial equality. She made remarkably unpopular personal decisions with little concern for the consequences:
- She joined the NAACP in the first year of her husband’s first term in office.
- She transformed the traditional First Lady’s role from social hostess to active participant, traveling extensively in place of her polio-stricken husband and acting as his eyes and ears at a time when men did not welcome women in what was considered a man’s world.
- During WW2, she advocated on behalf of European refugees looking to obtain a better life in the US.
- She became a board member of the NAACP in May of 1945 and joined the Congress on Racial Equality Board in the fall of the same year.
- She pressured FDR and congress repeatedly to pass anti-lynching bills.
- Her tireless and endless efforts in the cause of Civil Rights provoked the Ku Klux Klan to place a $25,000 bounty on her head.
- She resigned the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) when they refused to allow an African American singer, Marian Anderson, to perform in the Constitution Hall in Washington, DC.
- In a speech before the UN, she urged passage of The Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The Declaration was adopted in December 1948.
This list represents only some of the efforts she made on behalf of human rights generally and racial equality in particular.
- Harry S. Truman (Democrate – 1945-1953)
It’s a bit of a surprise but what began with Eleanor in the FDR administration was carried on with Truman.
Truman, of course, became President following the death of FDR only three months after the election. What would happen next was anyone’s guess.
Truman was from Missouri which was notoriously racist and he wasn’t known to be sensitive to racial issues early in his career. He expressed racial bias often in casual conversations with his Senate peers but his early leanings, however bad they might be, apparently changed.
Once he became President he issued three executive orders:
- One established the President’s Committee on Civil Rights.
- The second established a fair employment board to eliminate discriminatory hiring in the federal government.
- And the third desegrated the US armed forces.
Truman also pushed for a strong position on Civil Rights in the 1948 Democratic convention. When his proposals passed, Governor Strom Thurmon (South Carolina) walked out of the convention, and he, along with several Southern Democrats set up a third party intent on supporting Jim Crow laws (Dixiecrats).
Being from Missouri, Truman would have grown up a racist but having lived under the influence of FDR and Eleanor, he no doubt began to see the error of Jim Crow. The laws he enacted certainly show improvement.
If he was aiming for votes, it worked as he won reelection largely on a block of voters including organized labor, farmers, African Americans, and Jews.
The Dixiecrats, who were never afraid to show their racist views openly, received a humiliatingly low voter response (3%) and probably handed the election to Truman. Although predicted to lose, Truman won with 49% voter support.
Following his time in office, Truman vacillated. During the lunch counter demonstrations (1960), Truman publicly accused those involved of misbehaving and claimed the protesters were motivated by Communism.
Martin Luther King’s logical response requires no commentary:
It is a sad day for our country when men come to feel that oppressed people cannot desire freedom and human dignity unless they are motivated by Communism.
That was true then and it still holds true today.
- Dwight D. Eisenhower (Republican – 1953-1961)
Eisenhower was not your standard Republican. Also known as Ike, he served in the Army his entire life with the exception of a few years of civilian employment before getting accepted to West Point and then his Presidency following his military service.
He served in both World Wars and took on hero status as Commander-in-Chief of the Allied forces that invaded North Africa and he also commanded the Allied forces during the Normandy Invasion.
Although Ike faced the same Southern resistance to racial justice, his record on racism is stellar.
- He appointed Earl Warren, a liberal-conservative, as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court in October 1953. Warren presided over Brown vs Board of Education in May of his first year which overturned the 1896 “Separate But Equal” ruling that allowed public institutions to segregate.
- Ike also appointed four additional liberal-conservative Justices to the Supreme Court.
- He sent Federal troops into Arkansas in 1957 to uphold the enrollment of nine African American students into a white school. Troops were required because the Arkansas Governor employed local reservists to block their entrance into the school.
- He introduced the 1957 Civil Rights Act to provide Federal protection for African American voting rights. At the time, only about 20% were registered to vote. The Act also established the United States Commission on Civil Rights.
- He also implemented the Executive Order initiated by Truman requiring equal opportunity for African Americans in the US Military.
Eisenhower, like several before him, was limited by a congress full of Southern racist. His ability to work the system and circumvent the resistance worked wonders. We have a lot to thank Eisenhower for.
Ike did not fit the Republican mold. He was essentially an outsider who came to office directly from the military. He owed no one anything and he probably gained an appreciation for African Americans after witnessing their courage and willingness to fight for the American cause during both World Wars.
On a side note, the highest income bracket in the Eisenhower years was taxed at 91% and no one dared accuse him of communism or socialism. The tax rate dropped in succeeding administrations but never below 70% until the Reagan administration at which point it went down to 28%.
- John F. Kennedy (Democrat – 1961-1963)
The Civil Rights Act of 1957 was further strengthened in the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and 1965. Both Bills were signed into law after Kennedy’s death but both could be attributed to his influence.
- He appointed an unprecedented number of African Americans to high-level positions in the administration.
- He spoke publicly for desegregation and equal employment opportunity.
- His brother, Robert Kennedy, initiated five times more voting rights suits than the previous administration.
- Robert also sent 400 Federal Marshalls to protect Freedom Riders in their protest against segregated travel. He also urged the Interstate Commerce Commission to order the desegregation of interstate travel.
- In 1962, the President sent National Guard and federal troops to quell the rioting that erupted when James Meredith, an African American Air Force Veteran, tried to enroll at the University of Mississippi.
- In 1963, the President sent troops in response to the violence that broke out during protests in Birmingham, AL.
- Again in 1963, Kennedy federalized the Alabama National Guard to protect two African American students attempting to enroll in the University of Alabama.
With events developing as quickly as they did, Kennedy sped up the drafting of a comprehensive Civil Rights Bill and made a speech in which he designated Civil Rights as moral, constitutional, and legal. The Civil Rights Act was endorsed by Congress but not passed until July 1964 after Kennedy’s assassination.
The Bill provided:
- Protection for African Americans against discrimination in voter qualification tests.
- Outlawed discrimination in hotels, motels, restaurants, theaters, and all other public accommodations engaged in interstate commerce.
- Authorizing the US Attorney General’s Office to file legal suits to enforce desegregation in public schools.
- Authorizing the withdrawal of federal funds from programs practicing discrimination.
- Outlawing discrimination in employment in any business exceeding 25 people and creating and Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to review complaints.
We can’t say Kennedy’s primary goal was to bring about changes in Civil Rights but we can say that his deliberate and decisive manner won the day. When presented, he took the baton and ran with it.
- Lyndon B. Johnson (Democrat – 1963-1969)
Johnson is interesting not because he wasn’t a racist but because he was. He freely used the “N” word and condescended to African American associates during his time in office. For those reasons, you wouldn’t expect Johnson to be the quarterback who got Kennedy’s Civil Rights Act passed in Congress. It was a nervous moment and to his credit, Johnson alienated every Southern colleague and many peers when he signed the Civil Rights Act into law.
He kept the ball moving with the Voters Rights Act of 1965 which made it illegal to bar any person from voting in federal, state, and local elections. The Act made a big difference. In Mississippi alone, voter turnout among African Americans increased from 6% in 1964 to 59% in 1969.
LBJ also signed into law the Civil Rights Act of 1968 which expanded on previous acts and prohibited discrimination in the sale, rental, and financing of housing based on race, religion, and national origin. Since 1974 the act also includes gender and in 1988 was expanded to include those with disabilities and families with children.
Although Medicare and Medicaid had been proposed and debated during several administrations it was LBJ who finally got these programs approved in 1965. These programs aren’t directly related to racial issues but Medicaid does provide health coverage for the poor regardless of color.
- Richard Nixon (Republican – 1969-1974)
Nixon became known as “Tricky Dick” for a very good reason. He was sly, deceptive, and manipulative, and he used his considerable cunning to affect the social and legislative mood in congress for years to come.
Nixon ran for President in 1960 barely losing to Kennedy. In the runup to the election, he attempted to court Martin Luther King Jr.’s support and King made comments to the effect that Nixon expressed his sincerity so well that if he wasn’t truly sincere, he was the most dangerous man in America.
Given what we now know, that statement is prophetic.
He won the election in 1968 and once in office, he focused his attention on reversing social and welfare policies initiated by LBJ. Those policies targeted poor African American communities.
In the same vein,
- He vetoed new health, education, and welfare legislation (which effected mostly communities of color).
- And in an effort to thwart previous Civil Rights Bills, he spoke out against busing and used “War on Drugs” rhetoric to introduce laws which in later years was seen to affect mostly the black communities.
One thing Nixon handled deftly was desegregation. The Supreme Court ruled against separate but equal education in the 1954 Brown vs Board of Education decision but for the next fifteen years very little was done to integrate. The Court ruled against any further delays in 1969 which put Nixon’s new Administration on the hot seat.
To his credit, Nixon orchestrated an uncomfortable but relatively peaceful integration process for the school year beginning in 1970. It was not a solution. There is still educational disparity along minority lines but it did avoid open bloodshed in the streets which would have reflected badly on his administration.
His hands were tied so he gets little credit for obeying the law. He managed the situation but there is no indication that he really cared about integration or the education of all children equally. His concern was public perception.
At the same time he was steering for a bloodless transition, Nixon spoke out against busing and painted African American protesters as militants rather than fair and peaceful protesters. On the strength of that characterization, he argued for laws gauged to counter the protests indirectly.
It was Nixon who assured Southern States-Rights politicians that he would not enforce the Civil Rights Act of 1964 or the Voting Rights Act of 1965. He didn’t count on the courts pushing him to follow through on integration.
The White House recordings showed Nixon to be an outright racist and liar. It’s a sad moment in American history and one we should not forget. Reagan was also implicated in the recordings, although his part was kept out of the public eye until recently.
- Gerald Ford (Republican – 1974-1977)
Ford was sworn into office on the resignation of Nixon and failed to win the election in his bid for the Presidency at the end of the term. Therefore, he is the only person to hold both the office of Vice President and President having never won an election.
His history shows him to be non-racist.
- He played football for the University of Michigan and declined to play against Georgia Tech his senior year. GT had refused to play the game if Michigan’s lone African American, Willis Ward, took the field. In the end, Ford did play but only at the insistence of Ward who asked him to give a good hit for him. It was the only game Michigan won that year.
- During his 25 years in the House of Representatives, Ford voted in favor of the Civil Rights Acts of 1957, 1960, 1964 and 1968. He also voted for the Voters Rights Act of 1965.
- As President, he appointed the first African American, William Coleman, to a Republican Presidential cabinet as Secretary of Transportation.
There is no evidence that Ford was a racist but other than the above-mentioned gestures he never wrote a single piece of major legislation during his career.
- Jimmy Carter (Democrat – 1977-1981)
Jimmy Carter served only one term as President but he is a standout for several reasons. He was southern and he was Christian (of the born again version) but he breaks the mold completely. He was totally non-racist. Some speculate that he won the Presidency because he was southern. That’s true but it’s also true that he received 95% of the black vote and that no doubt put him in office.
Carter’s non-racist approach to humanity can’t be fully appreciated without understanding the context. The following story reported by the LA Times gives a glimpse:
in 1954, as segregationist organizations were springing up all over the South in response to Brown vs. Board of Education, the chief of police and a Baptist minister in Plains, GA, visited a peanut farmer at his warehouse and urged him to join the local White Citizens’ Council. The farmer refused. The men returned a few days later and told the farmer he was the only white man in Plains who hadn’t signed up. That didn’t change his mind. The men returned a third time with some of the farmer’s customers, who threatened to boycott his business. If he couldn’t afford the $5 dues, they would lend it to him. ‘I’ve got $5,’ the farmer responded. ‘And I’d flush it down the toilet before I’d give it to you.’
That peanut farmer was Jimmy Carter. Not only did he refuse the advances and threats of white supremacists but he later went on to make extraordinary statements to advance racial justice. In 1971 at his inaugural address as the Governor of Georgia he said:
The time for racial discrimination is over.
He also made a significant statement following the George Floyd murder.
- Ronald Reagan (Republican – 1981-1989)
Although it was considerably more subtle and less vocal, Reagan’s racism paralleled that of Nixon. You can read about it in this article on The Atlantic.
While he was less obvious, his racial attitude and the policies it spawned run parallel to that of Woodrow Wilson.
- He opposed the California referendum on open housing in the mid-1960s. His words: “If an individual wants to discriminate against Negros in renting or selling his house, it is his right to do so.”
- He opposed the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
- He opposed the Civil Rights Act of 1965.
- In the White House tapes he was recorded making reference to the United Nations delegates from African countries as “monkeys…uncomfortable wearing shoes.”
- In 1976 he supported a constitutional amendment to end busing and denounced affirmative action.
- He launched his campaign for the Presidency in 1980 by giving a speech in Philadelphia, Mississippi close to the site where three civil rights volunteers were brutally murdered. He made no verbal reference to the murders but was sure to mention his support of States-Rights, which was code for “Do what you will, we won’t enforce recently passed Civil Rights Bills.”
- In 1988, he vetoed the expansion of the 1968 Civil Rights Act to cover people with disabilities and families with children, which included pregnant women.
- He supported the Apartheid government of South Africa and vetoed economic sanctions on the country in 1986. His veto was overturned by a 3 to 1 vote in Congress.
- He questioned the creation of a national holiday for Martin Luther King Jr.
- Reagan was the first President to veto a Civil Rights Act since Andrew Johnson vetoed the Civil Rights Act of 1866. The veto was overturned by Congress.
The bottom line is what Nixon did haltingly, Reagan excelled at.
Reagan was also the union-busting President. As the California Governor, he vetoed the Agricultural Labor Relations Act and defied their boycotts. While President, he fired 13,000 striking air traffic controllers and banned them from ever working in Federal government jobs. Employers got the message. They were now free to fire strikers and replace them with contract temps without interference from the Federal government. This wasn’t directly racial but it affects any person trying to get ahead in life.
The hypocrisy is, Reagan got his start in politics as the President of the Screen Actors Guild, an American Labor union, and during his tenure led strikes and hardball negotiations on behalf of union members.
There’s no doubt that Reagan was a Christian but there is little reason to think he understood grace. In true Pharisaical form, he attempted to turn American democracy into a moral-tocracy.
- George H. W. Bush (Republican – 1989-1993)
Early in HW’s career he supported Civil Rights legislation and he was recognized as a decent and fair-minded individual by several civil rights leaders but no significant broad sweeping changes occurred under his administration.
- In his first campaign for public office, he criticized the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
- Once in Congress, he supported the Fair Housing Act of 1968.
- He nominated Colin Powell to the top military position, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
- In 1991, he publicly denounced Ku Klux Klan wizard, David Duke, candidate for Louisiana governorship, as a racist. Duke lost the race.
- He used the notorious “Willie Horton” racist ad in his 1988 Presidential campaign. He expressed regret for this later.
- He nominated Clarence Thomas in place of the retiring Thurgood Marshall – both African American – for the Supreme Court. Marshall was a Civil Rights hero. Thomas, on the other hand, was graphically accused of sexual misconduct at his confirmation hearing and has since ruled against affirmative action and voted to end key protections in the Voting Rights Act.
Overall, he’s neutral. As one person commented: “He gave us Clarence Thomas but he also gave us Colin Powel.”
- Bill Clinton (Democrat – 1993-2001)
Clinton’s record on Civil Rights doesn’t need a great deal of discussion. He was criticized by both left and right but no sensible person denies he was sensitive to the issue of equity and justice for all.
Politico reported that “President Bill Clinton had the most diverse administration of any United States President in American history…which sets the precedent for today’s current landscape where a lack of administration diversity is seen as a liability.”
- His first cabinet included four blacks, three women and two Hispanics.
- Of the 182 judicial appointments he made, 32 percent were women, 20 percent were black and 7 percent were Hispanic.
Conspiracy theories abound about both Clintons but neither of them was motivated by racism.
- George W. Bush (Republican – 2001-2009)
As governor, George W. managed to win a large number of Hispanic votes but his record on Civil Rights otherwise is not spectacular.
Two major events during his Presidency galvanized the attention of the entire country: 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina.
- Early in his administration he refused an invitation to speak at the NAACP, sending the clear message that they really weren’t that significant in his estimation.
- He not only didn’t take a stand for affirmative action, but he also opposed it, asking the Supreme Court to rule the University of Michigan’s point system unconstitutional (they awarded 20 points out of 150 to minorities toward entrance qualifications). The irony is, George W. got into Yale based solely on privilege. His SATS were about average, His high school results were unremarkable, and his life experience was nill. His white skin didn’t hurt him but it wasn’t the primary consideration. The blue tint of his blood made the biggest difference.
- The straw that broke the camel’s back was Hurricane Katrina. The death toll was an estimated 1,800 and damages were estimated to be as much as $100 billion. More than a million were displaced, many of whom were African American and/or poor. When the Hurricane made landfall, George W. had been on holiday at his 1,600 acre Prairie Chapel Ranch in Crawford, TX for 27 days. It was only then that the President’s aides decided to inform him. His and the government’s response was slow to start and bunglingly ineffective at best. On top of the billions wasted by FEMA’s inept efforts was the fact that they spent as much time turning away volunteer assistance as they did solving problems.
- In 2006, George W. signed an extension of the 1965 Voter’s Rights Act, but this was after the Katrina debacle and just before midterms. It was a good thing to do but the timing – a year before the extension was due – made it clear that it was driven by political maneuvering. The Republicans were looking to gain leverage with African American voters. It didn’t work. Democrats won both the Senate and the House in the 2006 midterms.
- The number of people in poverty increased by 26% during his administration.
- Barack Obama (Democrat – 2009-2017)
Obama inherited a failed economy and it is no small feat that he turned it around in one year and kept the economy growing throughout the rest of his Presidency. As a result of his policies, the major stock indexes doubled and the stock market reached all-time highs in each of the last two years of his Presidency.
Additionally, over 11 million jobs were created, unemployment fell from 10% to 5%, the budget deficit fell from $1.4 trillion to under $600 billion, and in 2015 alone wages grew more than at any other time since the census bureau began recording data in 1967. In fact, wages grew faster than inflation and increased by 8% for low-income families.
On the issue of race:
- African American unemployment fell from 16.4% in 2011 to 7.8% in January 2017.
- The first African Americans were appointed to several high-level administrative posts: Attorney General, EPA Director and Head of Homeland Security.
- He appointed more African American judges than any other President. By 2014 19% of his appointments had been confirmed compared to only 7% of those appointed by Bush during his eight years in office.
- His Reinvestment Act of 2009 invested billions in infrastructure, education, and renewable energy creating jobs at all income levels.
- He initiated the mentoring program to work alongside My Brother’s Keeper which targeted at-risk youth.
- He initiated the Affordable Care Act which enabled almost 44 million Americans, including 7 million African Americans, to be insured.
- The Recovery Act of 2009 provided tax credits, improvements on unemployment insurance and food stamps which kept 1.4 million African Americans out of poverty.
- Hosted the first-ever leadership conference between leaders from African countries and business leaders in the US to foster commerce between the two continents.
- Black farmers who were denied loans from the U.S. Department of Agriculture were finally paid out after two decades of faltering.
Obama was the reach-out President. He didn’t sit in the Oval and watch the world go by. He acted. He took leadership positions and actually got a lot done.
- Donald Trump (Republican – 2017 to the present)
Whatever was good in any previous administration is totally lacking in Trump’s. Whatever was bad is multiplied. Racism is central.
Racism took center stage with the appointment of Steve Bannon as chief strategist for the Trump Presidential campaign in August 2016. His position was made more permanent when he transitioned into White House chief strategist and senior counselor to the President after the election. Bannon resigned as chief executive of Breitbart News to accept these appointments but his being there says a lot about his ideological base. Bannon doesn’t admit to being a white supremacist in so many words but you can find him pandering to racists and he did admit that Breitbart is “the platform for the alt-right,” the new name for white supremacy, neo-nazis, skinheads, neo-nationals and other groups of the same ilk. His position at the White House lasted only seven months but the real question is why was he there at all.
We could also focus on Stephen Miller, the young up-and-coming acolyte of the President whose ideas on immigration reform – in a word anti-immigration – have motivated several executive orders and Miller’s rhetoric of choice repeatedly fuels the speeches he writes for the President. His preference for a white supremacist world is clearly documented in emails he sent to Katie McHugh, a now-former reporter for Breitbart news. His intent was to shape white supremacist ideas in the electorate on behalf of the man he worked for.
Unlike Bannon, and to everyone’s surprise, Miller still has a job at the White House. Another revealing read on Miller is this article in The Washington Post.
There are many other characters with shady dealings associated with Trump’s campaign and Presidency but they are all on the record. I can’t imagine a deep dive would reveal any variance on racism. In terms of policies, however, the record is clear.
- On January 27, 2017 – Trump signed an executive order – the first version of his Muslim travel ban – that discriminated against Muslims and banned refugees.
- On February 23, 2017 – Attorney General Sessions withdrew an earlier Justice Department memo that set a goal of reducing and ultimately ending the department’s use of private prisons. Private prisons was a needed feature during the mass incarceration years and it also fed the bottom line of big business.
- On February 27, 2017 – the Department of Justice dropped the federal government’s longstanding position that a Texas voter ID law under legal challenge was intentionally racially discriminatory, despite having successfully advanced that argument in multiple federal courts.
- On March 27, 2017 -Trump signed a resolution of disapproval under the Congressional Review Act, which repealed a U.S. Department of Education accountability rule finalized last year that would clarify states’ obligations under the Every Student Succeeds Act.
- On March 27, 2017 -Trump signed a resolution of disapproval under the Congressional Review Act, which repealed the Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces Executive Order.
- In a March 31 memo, Sessions ordered a sweeping review of consent decrees with law enforcement agencies relating to police conduct – a crucial tool in the Justice Department’s efforts to ensure constitutional and accountable policing. The department also tried, unsuccessfully, to block a federal court in Baltimore from approving a consent decree between the city and the Baltimore Police Department to rein in discriminatory police practices that the department itself had negotiated over a multi-year period.
- Trump repeatedly defends the 2017 white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, VA saying there were good people on both sides of the issue. Polls indicate that the public see this for exactly what it is, sympathy for white supremacist hate. Even the alt-right protesters praised Trump for defending the truth. Joe Biden’s response says it best:
With those words, the president of the United States assigned a moral equivalence between those spreading hate and those with the courage to stand against it. And in that moment, I knew the threat to this nation was unlike any I had ever seen in my lifetime.”
- Trump has repeatedly attacked Colin Kaepernick and other sports elites for kneeling during the National Anthem even though every honest person knows the protest wasn’t aimed at the flag or the freedom-and-justice-for-all it represents. Colin was protesting oblivion. The fact that so many people are blind to racial disparities along the lines of law and order. Trump’s actions from the perch of the Oval Office was the equivalent of a lynching. Colin’s career was ended and, although I’m sure they could afford it, the NFL took a hit too.
The extraordinary thing about Trump is not that he is racist but that he so openly expresses it.
So, What Is The Verdict
The question is who’s at fault? If we are going to blame someone for racism, who shall it be?
The short answer is everyone.
As you can see from the Presidential record, both Democrats and Republicans are at fault. It’s also true that people in both parties have tried to solve the problem. Some politicians are clearly racists and some are not.
And, again, it doesn’t go away easily. Like whack-a-mole, swipe it with one policy and it appears in the next.
The truth is racism, the idea that one group is superior to and better than another is an insidious condition of the heart. It affects all of humanity. It isn’t bound by geography or time. There is no area where the symptoms are not apparent. There is no era during which the condition cannot thrive and it often happens that one generation fosters it in the next.
It doesn’t come from Republicans, Democrats, or Independents. It resides in and emanates from every heart.
Slavery wasn’t the beginning of racism or the cause of racism. Slavery was the outgrowth of racism. Racism existed long before slavery developed and has continued to exist long after.
What Is The Solution
Some might argue that salvation is the solution and by that I mean trusting in Jesus or being born again or receiving a new heart – however you would like to say it – but unfortunately, that isn’t the solution. The historical record is full of too many born again believers who were guilty of supporting slavery and the racism that fostered it. Those kinds of Christians are still around today.
Where salvation falls short, however, repentance can take us across the finish line.
For those who may not know, repentance means a change of mind. Not a change of choices, a toasted cheese instead of a hamburger, but a fundamental realignment of one’s thinking and beliefs.
I didn’t believe in God but now I’m convinced He exists!
Repentance is like a chemical readjustment of the brain and it is not a one-time experience. It involves every area of life.
The person who repents only once and that for salvation is the person who never changes after salvation. If you argue that salvation happens only once, I would agree but change is constant and genuine change is an outcome of repentance.
Racism’s Blind Spot
One of the biggest problems with racism is it sees external differences as levels of capability or giftedness rather than shades of equality.
Before you go to the polls to cast your vote, don’t ask if the candidates are Christian. If they are Christian, that’s great! But if they were saved out of a questionable lifestyle or their faith was formed in an environment of hatred and subjugation of others and they haven’t had time to work through all the bad habits they developed before salvation or repented of their condescending attitudes toward others, they may not be the best choice.
Remember George Wallace. He repented and became a much better politician and person when he did.
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