FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

U.S. Politics and Minstrel Shows

If an important step in beating addiction is admitting one is an addict, then perhaps we should accept that the United States political system is wholly undemocratic.  The evidence is overwhelming.

Take one recent event as a small distasteful example.  The press discussed the long lines in the Arizona primary as an unfortunate fact.  Maricopa County officials projected lower voter turnout and, as a cost effective measure, reduced the number of polling sites from 200 to 60.  One would expect that officials, for the sheer sake of appearance, would have guessed that in a democracy one-hundred precinct voter turnout or something close to that as the minimum standard.  The Clinton campaign and the Republican governor claimed this as unacceptable because their role in this theatrical play of democracy called for them to recite such a line with aghast emotion.

The tragic character was, of course, Maricopa County Recorder Helen Purcell who defended her administration of the election in technocratic language: she relied on the statistical history of these “types of elections” for projected voter turnout.  She did not anticipate the energy of this election.  This was her error which she and her team will avoid in the future.  Excellent and good to hear.

The painfully obvious fact is that the closed primary, voter ID laws, and other arbitrary, restrictive, and disabling voting and election rules are rightful heirs of racial segregation and class hierarchy.  Try as some will to justify the system as a function of the party system, parties as private clubs is a horrible justification of the existing system. That explanation is simply inserting free market logic into the political system.  Social Darwinism as an underlying principle driving the U.S. political system is just as unacceptable as it is for Purcell to plead lame technocratic reasons for her “error.”

Perhaps the best analogy to describe U.S. politics is the grand ole minstrel show.  Imagine the burnt cork painted faces, tattered clothes, and pronounced lips.  Is that an appalling image?  Consider how appropriate it is as an embodiment of what passes as U.S. democracy.

Nineteenth and early twentieth century minstrel show audiences yearned for humor and the playful handling of social hierarchies.  The objectification of the other (the poor, blacks, women, etc.) reinforced the nature of power, mocked it, but, in the end, never quite challenged the status quo.  In other words, the injustices and general inadequacies in the social order were lampooned and justified—or in Gilberto Perez’s apt phrase about the limits of humor, such cultural expressions ultimately represented a “reconciliation with injustice.”

I can’t think of a more fitting connection. The majority of the press, pundits, and especially party machine surrogates have mocked the criticism of the election process while celebrating the greatness of American democracy.  Remember the paeans directed at the Iowa caucuses and the near teary eyed testimonies of Americana goodness?

So many frown on threats to the democratic process but ultimately reconcile with it by such tepid justifications that the rules of the system were readily available. The only clear thing about these rules is that they were certainly based on a statistical gamble: most people would never be aware of them thereby assuring low voter turnout and hence improving the chances of better controlling the outcomes.

Now that’s surely equivalent to painting one’s face and stereotyping Blacks as buffoons and then forcing us to believe that racist caricature as an accurate representation of a human being.  How are we to believe that these antidemocratic election laws and closed primaries are really a fair means to attain a democratic society when even a fifth grader would grade adults with a D- for such a poor effort in promoting and safeguarding democracy?

Same day registration, open primaries, and enough polling places, election-day volunteers, and materials would remove any doubt about the commitment to attaining a democracy.  In some respects, it is no surprise that Arizona’s antidemocratic practices may be repeated in New York. Indeed, it was the home of Daddy Rice (Thomas Dartmouth Rice) the 1800s minstrel show actor associated with the Jim Crow character.

I hope that the joke does not go over and an upset occurs so that the best wishes of the Democratic machine are not granted by the people, but did the rules already rig the outcome?

Bernie Sanders’ insurgency has done yeoman work in educating the electorate about issues of class, gender, race, and power and their connection to inequality.  The consistent Bernie stump speech, the courageous and unprecedented stances (such as the recognition of Palestinian human dignity), his support of striking workers, and his refusal to take corporate money, challenge the neoliberal model of how to get things done.  My hope is that the majority of New Yorkers vote for authenticity and not be fooled into believing they are members of a job hiring committee selecting a president based on an empty notion of “experience.”

More articles by:

Thomas Castillo, Lecturer in United States History, University of Maryland and a full time academic advisor.  He is currently completing a book manuscript entitled, “The Right to Work: Class Struggle in Magic City Miami, 1914-1946″, a social history of class and power in Florida that critically analyzes how conservatives co-opted the term “right to work” distorting its original positive and progressive connotation. 

Weekend Edition
July 20, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Paul Atwood
Peace or Armageddon: Take Your Pick
Paul Street
No Liberal Rallies Yet for the Children of Yemen
Nick Pemberton
The Bipartisan War on Central and South American Women
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Are You Putin Me On?
Andrew Levine
Sovereignty: What Is It Good For? 
Brian Cloughley
The Trump/NATO Debacle and the Profit Motive
David Rosen
Trump’s Supreme Pick Escalates America’s War on Sex 
Melvin Goodman
Montenegro and the “Manchurian Candidate”
Salvador   Rangel
“These Are Not Our Kids”: The Racial Capitalism of Caging Children at the Border
Matthew Stevenson
Going Home Again to Trump’s America
Louis Proyect
Jeremy Corbyn, Bernie Sanders and the Dilemmas of the Left
Patrick Cockburn
Iraqi Protests: “Bad Government, Bad Roads, Bad Weather, Bad People”
Robert Fantina
Has It Really Come to This?
Russell Mokhiber
Kristin Lawless on the Corporate Takeover of the American Kitchen
John W. Whitehead
It’s All Fake: Reality TV That Masquerades as American Politics
Patrick Bobilin
In Your Period Piece, I Would be the Help
Ramzy Baroud
The Massacre of Inn Din: How Rohingya Are Lynched and Held Responsible
Robert Fisk
How Weapons Made in Bosnia Fueled Syria’s Bleak Civil War
Gary Leupp
Trump’s Helsinki Press Conference and Public Disgrace
Josh Hoxie
Our Missing $10 Trillion
Martha Rosenberg
Pharma “Screening” Is a Ploy to Seize More Patients
Basav Sen
Brett Kavanaugh Would be a Disaster for the Climate
David Lau
The Origins of Local AFT 4400: a Profile of Julie Olsen Edwards
Rohullah Naderi
The Elusive Pursuit of Peace by Afghanistan
Binoy Kampmark
Shaking Establishments: The Ocasio-Cortez Effect
John Laforge
18 Protesters Cut Into German Air Base to Protest US Nuclear Weapons Deployment
Christopher Brauchli
Trump and the Swedish Question
Chia-Chia Wang
Local Police Shouldn’t Collaborate With ICE
Paul Lyons
YouTube’s Content ID – A Case Study
Jill Richardson
Soon You Won’t be Able to Use Food Stamps at Farmers’ Markets, But That’s Not the Half of It
Kevin MacKay
Climate Change is Proving Worse Than We Imagined, So Why Aren’t We Confronting its Root Cause?
Thomas Knapp
Elections: More than Half of Americans Believe Fairy Tales are Real
Ralph Nader
Warner Slack—Doctor for the People Forever
Lee Ballinger
Soccer, Baseball and Immigration
Louis Yako
Celebrating the Wounds of Exile with Poetry
Ron Jacobs
Working Class Fiction—Not Just Surplus Value
Perry Hoberman
You Can’t Vote Out Fascism… You Have to Drive It From Power!
Robert Koehler
Guns and Racism, on the Rocks
Nyla Ali Khan
Kashmir: Implementation with Integrity and Will to Resolve
Justin Anderson
Elon Musk vs. the Media
Graham Peebles
A Time of Hope for Ethiopia
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
Homophobia in the Service of Anti-Trumpism is Still Homophobic (Even When it’s the New York Times)
Martin Billheimer
Childhood, Ferocious Sleep
David Yearsley
The Glories of the Grammophone
Tom Clark
Gameplanning the Patriotic Retributive Attack on Montenegro
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail