Last week I sat down with Maze Jackson to learn more about the mood of black voters in Chicago. He and I have spoken several times. When Jackson’s friend and former client, former State Rep. Ken Dunkin, found himself in trouble for resisting the Illinois Democratic machine, I wrote about the situation. However, we had never met. I wanted to get a little more depth on the strange political cross-currents tearing at Democrats in Chicago, particularly in the black community. I got an earful.
The formal write-up is posted now at Forbes, but there was far more in that session than I could fit into a single blog post. Here’s a good summary of the Forbes piece:
Last year, black voters were the keystone of a demographic Blue Wall strategy expected to the put the White House beyond the reach of Republicans. Much has been made of the frustrations of white working class voters who supported Donald Trump in 2016, but their impact is overstated. Trump won a smaller percentage of white voters than Romney. He won fewer votes than Romney in Wisconsin. In the Great Lakes states that tipped the outcome and broke the Blue Wall, it was a collapse in turnout among black voters in places like Detroit, Milwaukee and Philadelphia that destroyed Democratic hopes. If black voters nationally had repeated their 2012 turnout levels, Clinton would have earned an additional 1.8 million votes and easily won the White House. Last November, America’s Black Atlas shrugged, sending the country down an uncertain path.
Some of the decline in black enthusiasm can be traced to the loss of a black candidate, but more of the indifference comes from their direct experience of the Obama years. According to Jackson, “Those newly engaged voters in 2008 thought that their lives were going to change. That didn’t happen. They are not scared of Trump. We’ve heard this all before.” He described the unusual racial dynamics of life under the first black President, “Obama put Black People in a position where we felt like we could no longer make demands. He was already under attack from the other side, we couldn’t press him. When he blew us off in his second four years, no one would address it.”
Talking with black voters about the 2016 Election, you hear surprising echoes of the cultural resentment expressed by white Trump supporters. Both groups are weary of the narcissistic delusions of America’s most comfortable classes. There is something dangerously stagnant in the unfinished business of the civil rights movement. Trapped in a political structure in which their political will is filtered through wealthy white Democrats, post-Obama black voters are chafing. From the wholesale closing of black schools on Chicago’s South Side to the city’s consistent problems with police accountability, having Democratic leadership at every level of government accomplished little. Trump is relatively low on their list of concerns.
Over the years, a lot of people have expressed frustration with my emphasis on black interests. This piece is a gateway to understanding why I see the fate of the black community as the lodestone for the American Dream.
If you want to cut through all the slogans and bullshit surrounding public affairs, go to a black neighborhood. That’s where you find people who have the keenest and most honest appreciation of what it means to be an American. They are much more likely than their white brethren to see this country honestly, because they experience America without the benefit of the showy stage-management that manipulates white emotions. Our failures to realize our national ideals tend to be felt most keenly on their block and in their homes. When black voters tell you that a certain thing is happening down in the precincts, you should probably pay attention.
And with that in mind, the fates of black Americans reflect in the truest sense the character of this country. Their story is the unfinished business of the American Ideal, the unrealized meaning of “all men are created equal,” a legacy we own and benefit from while consistently declining to assume its political and economic debts.
For those who wonder why I still resist joining the Democratic Party, a large reason is the gap I see between Democratic rhetoric and Democratic practice on matters of race. And more to the point, the powerful institutional forces in the Democratic Party that account for that gap. Without some external force to apply pressure on that gap, I don’t see how Democrats can address it.
More to come soon on options for multi-party democracy. I’m working on that. But this seemed like an important piece of that structure.