Thursday, May 25, 2023
With CHARLIE HARPER
THE Democratic party in the US has in recent years become the subject of much criticism for presuming the perpetual support of black communities. To many observers in America, the Democrats have overlooked changes in the African-American demographic that could presage some surprising electoral results down the road.
When affirmative action to benefit black Americans and redress the ancient crimes around the profitable but despicable institution of slavery became a legislative reality in the mid-1960s in the US and a government imperative under President Jimmy Carter ten years later, a major objective was to ensure legitimately equal access of all races to the American Dream.
Equal Opportunity programmes proliferated under Carter, and many remain in place across American society, from the government to industry to academia.
And they have succeeded. And as they have succeeded, these programmes have helped to create an environment in which black Americans can become moguls like Pillsbury and Burger King executive and one-time presidential candidate Herman Cain; high-ranking public figures like Supreme Court justice Clarence Thomas, and distinguished academicians and esteemed commentators like Eugene Robinson of the Washington Post.
Black public figures are now freer than ever to express their views publicly and to experience a respectful response. But a misleading and potentially dangerous undercurrent persists. That is the notion that African-Americans are natural supporters of the Democratic Party and that this is the right and proper way of things. Evidence to the contrary is still widely disregarded as singular and insignificant.
If the natural maturation and result of the nearly 50-year-old Carter-era EEO programmes in the US is the establishment of a black demographic that more closely resembles the country’s white population, then increasing numbers of prominent African-Americans will turn out to be conservative politically and socially. The Dems continue to ignore this reality at their peril.
Strong evidence of this theory came from two disparate sources over this past weekend.
Jim Brown passed at age 87 and South Carolina Senator Tim Scott announced his intention to run for president at age 57.
In different ways, these two men exemplify the growing trend toward black conservatism in the American population.
By now, you have probably seen accounts of Jim Brown’s prodigious accomplishments on American football fields. As a running back for the Cleveland Browns from 1957-1966, Brown was demonstrably the best player in the history of the league.
He played nine seasons for the Browns and led the league in rushing eight times. He was a three-time league MVP, a Pro Bowler all nine seasons and a first-team All-Pro eight times. When he retired in 1966, he had the most rushing yards and touchdowns in NFL history.
He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1971. You can see why many historians still regard Brown as the NFL’s best-ever player.
Brown quit football abruptly, due to a scheduling conflict. He quit because he was filming a movie in England. That movie, called “The Dirty Dozen,” featured an all-star cast led by Lee Marvin and is still available for viewing on some streaming services over half a century after its release. Brown had become a movie star.
He appeared in more than 50 films and TV shows during his acting career. “What I want to do,” Brown told a film critic in 1968, “is play roles as a black man, instead of playing black man’s roles. You know? And I don’t make a big thing out of my race. If you try to preach, people give you a little sympathy and then they want you to get out of the way. So, you don’t preach, you tell the story.
“I have a theory. An audience doesn’t need to get wrapped up in blackness every time they see a black actor. And a movie doesn’t have to be about race just because there’s a black in it.”
Spike Lee might be the most renowned African-American film director. He said that Brown “stood squarely at the intersection of American sports, politics and culture during the transformational decades of the ‘60s and ‘70s. Brown, through his achievements and activism, has inspired many.”
As Lee indicates, Brown was more than a football player. He was a civil rights activist, helping to organize the famous “Ali Summit” of 1967 that included Muhammad Ali, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Bill Russell, who also passed recently. The New York Times said of that meeting “that it would be remembered as the first — and last — time that so many African-American athletes at that level came together to support a controversial cause.”
Brown had been active in civil rights for years before the Ali summit. He founded the Black Economic Union in the 1960s as a way to assist businesses owned by African-Americans. 25 years later, Brown founded the Amer-I-Can Foundation in an attempt to reduce gang violence in Southern California by offering to young black men economic alternatives to gang life. Amer-I-Can continues to operate today.
Brown spoke out until he died about a wide range of social issues. He was also critical of black athletes like Michael Jordan and Tiger Woods for not doing more to use their worldwide fame to help enact social change.
Brown offered public support to Donald Trump after his presidential election in 2016, saying Trump “really talks about helping black people.”
One of Jim Brown’s biographers told reporters that “he’s always had this strain of conservatism in his politics that black people do not achieve advancement through the politics of protest, but through the politics of earning as much money as possible, and trying to get out of the capitalist system whatever they can for the purposes of building economic self-sufficiency.”
Building individual economic self-sufficiency is the bedrock of the traditional American conservative movement. In theory, this principle leads Republicans to oppose large liberal-promoted government social welfare programmes, and to emphasise individual effort as the path to the American Dream.
Tim Scott certainly believes that just as strongly as did Jim Brown. This affable, former insurance broker often cites his grandfather’s work in the cotton fields of the Deep South as a tenet of his political identity. Like Brown, and also like the much-maligned Clarence Thomas, Scott wants to earn his success not as the result of a government programme but due to his own skill and endeavour.
But unlike Thomas, Scott rejects the notion that racism remains a powerful force in American society, and he resolutely defines his candidacy and rise from generational poverty as the realisation of a dream only possible in America.
Scott already has scheduled TV ads to begin airing in Iowa and New Hampshire. He has amassed a large campaign war chest already.
Scott became the first black candidate to win a statewide race in South Carolina since the Reconstruction era 150 years ago. He has coasted to re-election.
Scott tries to focus on hopeful themes and avoid divisive language partly to distinguish himself from the current grievance-based politics favoured by those leading the GOP field. He says other Republican leaders are trying to “weaponise race to divide us,” and that “the truth of my life disproves their lies”.
Scott has been speaking on the campaign trail of what he calls a “new American sunrise” based on national unity and collaboration. “I see a future where common sense has rebuilt common ground, where we’ve created real unity, not by compromising away our conservatism, but by winning converts to our conservatism,” he said.
Scott’s faith is an integral part of his political and personal story. Describing himself as a “born-again believer,” Scott often quotes the Bible at campaign events, weaving his reliance on spiritual guidance into his stump speech and extolling “Faith in America.”
On many issues, Scott aligns with mainstream GOP positions. He wants to reduce government spending and restrict abortion. But Scott has criticised Trump’s embrace of some white extremists and said that “it will be hard for Trump to regain any moral authority”.
Scott has twice addressed the Republican National Convention — in 2012 as a first-term congressman and in 2020 as a senator.
Scott exults in a new American sunrise. Relentlessly optimistic, he smiles a lot. He quotes the Bible. He embraces most current GOP policy orthodoxy.
Republicans have been looking for the next Ronald Reagan for 35 years. Is he Tim Scott?