FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

U.S. Politics and Minstrel Shows

by

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. 

February 21, 2018
Cecil Bothwell
Billy Graham and the Gospel of Fear
Ajamu Baraka
Venezuela: Revenge of the Mad-Dog Empire
Edward Hunt
Treating North Korea Rough
Binoy Kampmark
Meddling for Empire: the CIA Comes Clean
Ron Jacobs
Stamping Out Hunger
Ammar Kourany – Martha Myers
So, You Think You Are My Partner? International NGOs and National NGOs, Costs of Asymmetrical Relationships
Michael Welton
1980s: From Star Wars to the End of the Cold War
Judith Deutsch
Finkelstein on Gaza: Who or What Has a Right to Exist? 
Kevin Zeese - Margaret Flowers
War Preparations on Venezuela as Election Nears
Wilfred Burchett
Vietnam Will Win: Military Realities
Steve Early
Refinery Safety Campaign Frays Blue-Green Alliance
Ali Mohsin
Muslims Face Increasing Discrimination, State Surveillance Under Trump
Julian Vigo
UK Mass Digital Surveillance Regime Ruled Illegal
Peter Crowley
Revisiting ‘Make America Great Again’
Andrew Stewart
Black Panther: Afrofuturism Gets a Superb Film, Marvel Grows Up and I Don’t Know How to Review It
CounterPunch News Service
A Call to Celebrate 2018 as the Year of William Edward Burghardt Du Bois by the Saturday Free School
February 20, 2018
Nick Pemberton
The Gun Violence the Media Shows Us and the State Violence They Don’t
John Eskow
Sympathy for the Drivel: On the Vocabulary of President Nitwit
John Steppling
Trump, Putin, and Nikolas Cruz Walk Into a Bar…
John W. Whitehead
America’s Cult of Violence Turns Deadly
Ishmael Reed
Charles F. Harris: He Popularized Black History
Will Podmore
Paying the Price: the TUC and Brexit
George Burchett
Plumpes Denken: Crude thinking
Binoy Kampmark
The Caring Profession: Peacekeeping, Blue Helmets and Sexual Abuse
Lawrence Wittner
The Trump Administration’s War on Workers
David Swanson
The Question of Sanctions: South Africa and Palestine
Walter Clemens
Murderers in High Places
Dean Baker
How Does the Washington Post Know that Trump’s Plan Really “Aims” to Pump $1.5 Trillion Into Infrastructure Projects?
February 19, 2018
Rob Urie
Mueller, Russia and Oil Politics
Richard Moser
Mueller the Politician
Robert Hunziker
There Is No Time Left
Nino Pagliccia
Venezuela Decides to Hold Presidential Elections, the Opposition Chooses to Boycott Democracy
Daniel Warner
Parkland Florida: Revisiting Michael Fields
Sheldon Richman
‘Peace Through Strength’ is a Racket
Wilfred Burchett
Vietnam Will Win: Taking on the Pentagon
Patrick Cockburn
People Care More About the OXFAM Scandal Than the Cholera Epidemic
Ted Rall
On Gun Violence and Control, a Political Gordian Knot
Binoy Kampmark
Making Mugs of Voters: Mueller’s Russia Indictments
Dave Lindorff
Mass Killers Abetted by Nutjobs
Myles Hoenig
A Response to David Axelrod
Colin Todhunter
The Royal Society and the GMO-Agrochemical Sector
Cesar Chelala
A Student’s Message to Politicians about the Florida Massacre
Weekend Edition
February 16, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Jeffrey St. Clair
American Carnage
Paul Street
Michael Wolff, Class Rule, and the Madness of King Don
Andrew Levine
Had Hillary Won: What Now?
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail