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Our two-party duopoly through the eyes of black voters

Our two-party duopoly through the eyes of black voters

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.


  1. The dissatisfaction of the black voters in those key states was certainly a factor and perhaps the decisive factor after allowing for the distortions of the Electoral College. I however, do feel that was only one of several factors that resulted in T’s victory. IMO, some of the other factors include the disaffection of the white blue-collar white voters, which you mention. One also needs to allow for the fake news including fake scandals and over-hyping of minor issues. The media concentrating on T’s latest tweets to the preference of real substantive coverage. The media also seeming tilted their coverage towards him. This doesn’t even include the influence FAUX News over its legions of low information people. We cannot forget the effects of voter suppression and gerrymandering, which also suppresses the vote. There is also the factor of the increasing income inequality, that the D’s cannot overcome, and the R’s encourage. There are lots of factors.

    This is not to say that the effects of racism are not important. They are. That includes the disaffection of black voters, but that is equally true of other segments.

    I personnally suspect that the biggest causative factor in our electoral difficulties is that almost all of the opportunity and income gains have flowed to the high income segments of the population since 1981, when Reagan took office. That began the “trickle-down approach” to our economic problems. If the blacks, white blue collar workers and other low income segments still felt they could get ahead by hard work, they would not be as disaffected as they are.

    I am anxiously awaiting your further development of concepts for multi-party democracy. I do believe that we desperately need to get away from the partisanship and move toward a system of more openness and debate. The big tent, multi-group parties used to fulfill that purpose, particularly during the 40’s, 50’s, 60’s and 70’s, i.e. the Great Compression period as economists know it. But then the south took over the Republican party forced out the more moderate segments of that party. That apparently includes yourself, Chris. The late 60’s and 70’s happen to be the period when I became a Democrat.

    Perhaps adopting more parliamentarian norms might help to resolve this situation?

    1. Yes, the “trickle-down” economic theory has been a real disappointment. One only has to look at wage stagnation and the economic divide to understand that it did not work. In a better world, with more generous and prescient business leadership, maybe it could have. I have become very cynical on this subject.

    2. Much as we have a pseudo-parliamentary system already, a key problem is that our system is built on the premise of two political parties. America prides itself (or used to, as the case may be) as a pillar of democratic governance, but the truth is that other countries saw how we did it and did it better. The UK starts and concludes a national election all within the span of about, iirc, six whole weeks. WUT?

      Canadians in turn saw what the UK did and based their system on it. As a result, they don’t even have elections for president (or the Prime Minister, as they call it). Members of the Parliament are elected, and depending on which party won the most seats, they in turn elect their leader as PM, thereby avoiding divided government as is so often the case in the US.

      You win an election in Canada, you get to govern and, more often than not, on your own terms.

      Multi-party democracy in the United States doesn’t require a complete overhaul of our system, but it does need some pretty drastic reforms and, likely, even some amendments to the Constitution.

      1. For several years now, I have been mentally wrestling with the concept of introducing parliamentarian concepts into the U.S. That is the reason, I am intrigued by Chris’ efforts to develop concepts for multi-party democracy.

        There are only a few nations that use a strong presidential system, such as the U.S. There have been studies conducted that conclude that a parliamentarian system is more stable, than a presidential system. The U.K.developed its system through a slow process of the Parliament wrestling control from the Monarchy. They are still modifying their system. Personally, I feel they transitioned to a complete democracy, when the House of Lords was stripped of its power to block the House of Commons. But that is just my opinion. A parliamentarian system does seem to facilitate making changes more readily, than the Constitutional system of the U.S.

        For right now, my thought processes have been focused more on reform of our electoral system. Elimination of gerrymandering, developing a uniform system of conducting elections, elimination of the Electoral College and fully extending the franchise to all eligible voters, I think would help a great deal. I would even like to see Senate reformed so that a means of accounting for the great disparities in population between the large states and the small states is incorporated. However, in Article 5 the Constitution appears to ban amendments that would deprive the states of equal suffrage.

    3. TMerritt, I see a moving away here from the subject of the plight of Blacks, and even Chris seems to be seeing the plight of Blacks as just part of the puzzle of why Democrats have lost ground and Trump won, and not focusing on the plight of Blacks in and of itself. In other words, if it wasn’t because of low Black turnout that Trump won, does that mean we should ignore the plight of Blacks? Chris seems to continue to do what angers Blacks, which is seeing them only in terms of political expediency. I like how he says we should understand what Blacks go through on a daily basis, but he sees it as a lens for the entire nation, and takes the focus away from the Black experience.

    4. RE: Inequity

      The below link is to an article in Politico authored by Nick Hanauer, a Seattle based venture capitalist, regarding the inequity in the U.S. I know that some may think I am excessively focused on inequity, but many knowledgeable people are highly concerned about it. Anyway, Mr. Hanauer’s article may be of interest. I am also placing this link in Off Topic – Commenter’s Links, so it will not fall by the wayside.

      1. Fantastic article. To connect to the topic at hand, inequality obviously hits the poorest and most marginalized hardest, and a wage floor helps those people the most. MLK Jr. spoke about this many times.

      2. The other aspect of the problem from the viewpoint of black disadvantage is access to jobs of any kind, regardless of minimum wage. This is a complex problem, obviously, but there are certainly structural causes that are part of the problem. Conventional economics talks about something called NAIRU, or Non-Accelerating Inflation Rate of Unemployment. NAIRU claims that there is a rate of unemployment that will result in accelerating inflation. The underlying message is that if unemployment gets too low, inflation needs to be tamed by increasing unemployment. Given that people who control these things (central bankers, e.g.) almost always see inflation as imminent, we get structural unemployment. I for one find this to be morally abhorrent, and probably the most important finding of Modern Monetary Theory is that this is completely unnecessary (MMT shows that the Federal Government is a monopoly supplier of money, and can therefore control its value unilaterally.)

      3. Creigh, re structural unemployment, I was living in MA when unemployment was under 2%.

        While it was likely a good thing for those people finally able to get jobs, it wasn’t exactly a picnic.

        Day to day errands — going to the grocery store, picking up dry cleaning, etc. — bordered on the painful because many of the newly employed were not always as functional as one might wish.

        I’m all for removing bankers from the power train. But maybe we have to accept some unemployment if the world is to keep spinning. 🙂

      4. Bobo, when I worked for the Federal Government, we hired janitorial contractors from a local nonprofit that employed people with mental, physical, and developmental disabilities. Admittedly, they were not the most effective or efficient janitors. But sometimes efficiency has to give way to more important things.

      5. Creigh and Bobo,

        As one who is living in Seattle with its 2.6% unemployment in April per the article, I can attest to the decline in service quality. Likewise, I can attest to inflationary impacts.

        The growth is largely being driven by Amazon – its headquarters with many high paying tech jobs are located in downtown Seattle. Likewise there is a big concentration of tech jobs in other technology companies. Microsoft is located just about 15 miles away. This whole area is a hotbed for technology – largely though not exclusively software. Thus we have a high proportion of high salaried jobs being created. People without those skills are being left behind.

        There is a severe shortage of affordable housing. Though many residential units are being built, much of the construction is for high end rental units in high and medium rise buildings. Between, that and the new office space being constructed, currently Seattle has more construction cranes than any other city in the U.S.

        All of this has created definite dislocations and inflation has developed, particularly in housing. Many longtime residents are being forced out of their homes. Some are being forced into homelessness. Seattle has almost become unlivable for people with normal incomes. Traffic and congestion has become very bad. We are becoming like San Francisco and the highly congested Eastern cities. This is very disconcerting to people like myself, who have lived here for decades. Though growth is good, there is such a thing as too rapid growth.

        As an aside a similar situation is true of the major cities on the West Coast including Vancouver,BC, Portland, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and San Diego. CA from the Bay Area to San Diego has almost become a continuous city. There are similarities in most of the major cities in the US. But the boom does not extend to the rural areas.

        No comments on Creigh’s points regarding high structural employment, which are all valid. But when one is on the ground in a high growth area there are definite impacts and dislocations.

  2. One of my most memorable experiences was serving on a 14-member Bi-Racial Commission in 1989. The local public school board provided for its creation in response to re-zoning issues that arose under de-segregation. There were 7 white and 7 black members, each of whom had been selected by community organizations agreed to by the school board. Our charge was to develop guidelines that the board could consider should they choose to move forward with a petition to the federal court to make zoning changes.

    I don’t think the board (12 whites/2 blacks) thought much would come from this commission. They couldn’t have been more wrong. This is where I learned so much about the needs, desires and hopes of leaders within the black community. It was a wonderful experience – genuine, humbling, and very rewarding. We met weekly for a year to get to know one another, discuss problems and barriers, and to develop ideas to overcome them. We developed trust and respect, and built upon this personal relationship to handle thorny issues. Honesty was paramount – none of us minced words but we all were respectful of the process and, more important, our charge – which was all about the needs of our children – ALL the children – and how to best meet them.

    The conclusion of our service was to present our guidelines which we all supported to the school board and to the federal judge who was overseeing the court ordered desegregation plan. The judge was very pleased with our work product and signed off with his blessing. Then the very politically divided board received our suggestions. The outcome was a very contentious, long process whereby our parish (county here) was completely re-zoned. Not every one was happy, to be sure, but the process worked. I am convinced to this day that the reason it did goes back to the people on the bi-racial commission whose focus, honesty, and courage to do what was right set the tone for the process.

    Listening and learning are so important to understanding.

  3. “Trapped in a political structure in which their political will is filtered through wealthy white Democrats”
    Maybe Blacks should be allowed to express and execute their political will on their own. As long as Blacks have to depend on powerful Whites to do it for them, there is no true freedom for Blacks. Yes, Whites are indebted to Blacks, owe it to them to help them, and they currently control the reins of power, but the best way to help them is to loosen the reins and give Blacks the freedom to form their own coalition, perhaps a new party formed of the truly disenfranchised, made up of Blacks, Hispanics, even poor Whites, etc.

      1. And this one:

        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.

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