With CHARLIE HARPER
Americans wake up each day wondering what their president and his attorney are up to this time. Neither Donald Trump nor Rudy Giuliani apparently sees any disadvantage to copping publicly to most of the misdeeds with which they have been accused.
The news is full of impeachment, with Senate Republicans and Trump himself calling the effort to unhorse the president a sham and the Democrats seeking to summon witnesses to a Senate trial who would not appear at House hearings. Some pundits are opining there may be surprises in the impeachment process, but for most Americans, there is little suspense.
The expectation is the House will impeach Trump - which they did last night - and that the Senate will not convict him. The votes are expected to be mostly along partisan party lines in both houses.
The bigger and much more suspenseful question in most minds is who will oppose Trump in November. As was intended by the Democratic National Committee, the numerous Democratic debates have culled the large field of contenders, with only seven scheduled to appear on stage tonight. Attacked in debates and ridiculed for his advanced age and verbal missteps, former Vice President Joe Biden has nonetheless held on to his position at the top of the pollsters’ charts throughout the campaign so far. And Trump obviously expects Biden to enter the ring against him in 2020.
Why has Biden proven so difficult for his challengers to topple? One of the most frequently cited factors is his steady support among African American voters. It’s a given in American politics that a successful national Democratic candidate must win the enthusiastic support of black voters.
Trump has boasted he’ll get lots of black votes next year, but he earned only eight percent of African American votes three years ago, and most polls suggest he will be lucky to do any better this time. The president’s ill-considered comments about a race riot in Charlottesville, Virginia and his disrespectful denigration of majority black nations like Haiti, majority black cities like Baltimore, and some black athletes make him seem to be a racist. This appears to outweigh any advantage he might gain by overseeing historically low black unemployment levels in the US.
Blacks won’t likely support Trump’s re-election. But why the continuing support for Biden? There are apparently several reasons, but two stand out. First, many analyses of black voter behaviour reveal that typically, African Americans are above all political pragmatists. Historically quite suspicious of the American political process, they reportedly prefer voting to maintain or solidify political progress rather than to support dramatic new policy proposals, however enticing. Polls show over half of African American voters prefer a public option for health care over Medicare for all, for example. The public option preference is a moderate, mainstream position.
Second, the independent Pew Research Centre reports 70 percent of black Democrats see themselves as moderate or conservative.
Many observers feel this relatively conservative pragmatism among African American Democrats leads them to support Biden. Blacks have consistently reported to pollsters they think dispatching Trump is their highest priority, and that Biden has the best chance to beat the president.
Biden is ideologically quite distant from the left flank of the Democratic party, and his solid, middle of the road approach to domestic policy issues clearly appeals to black voters. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that he and Barack Obama worked well and harmoniously together for eight years during Obama’s presidency. While Obama has said he won’t endorse anyone in the Democratic primary, it would surprise few if his preference turned out to be Biden.
It should not be shocking if, in the future, as the federal affirmative action and equal opportunity initiatives of the 1960s and 1970s produce their desired results of a larger and more assertive black upper middle class in America, a more significant number of African Americans finds a comfortable home in the Republican or some other conservative-leaning party – one not led by a racist demagogue.
It’s already happening. The sole African American on the US Supreme Court is reliably conservative Clarence Thomas of Georgia, and the junior US Senator from South Carolina is Tim Scott, a black Republican legislator.
Meanwhile, what of the black contenders to oppose Trump next year? California senator Kamala Harris, who in some respects seemed to be the female Obama, has withdrawn from the race, citing financial difficulties with her campaign. New Jersey senator Cory Booker, who has an astonishingly impressive resume and a hot Hollywood girlfriend, hasn’t ignited yet. And former Massachusetts governor Deval Patrick, a recent entrant in the race, isn’t likely to make much difference as the marathon campaign continues.
None of these African Americans has made a dominant impression in overwhelmingly white early primary states Iowa and New Hampshire. And South Carolina, which holds the next primary in 2020 and where African Americans predominate in Democratic primary elections, has remained strongly in Biden’s column.
There have been numerous reports of the difficulties experienced by white left-leaning senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren as they try to attract black primary election support. Similarly, South Bend mayor Pete Buttigieg, more a centrist, has not resonated with the African American community.
The last two successful Democratic presidential candidates were Bill Clinton and Barack Obama. Clinton enjoyed such a strong connection to African Americans that he was, not so jokingly, referred to as America’s first black president. Barack Obama actually was America’s first black president. There might be a lesson there.
Obama never took a pitchfork to attack the barricades of privilege
History hasn’t yet reached any definitive conclusions on Barack Obama’s eight years in the White House. But last month, the Washington Post added its voice to a growing chorus of opinion that Obama is actually quite conservative, and largely governed that way. The Post recently reminded readers Obama’s signature Affordable Care Act was previewed years earlier in Massachusetts while Republican Mitt Romney was governor.
And Obama made a firm, early decision to prioritise economic recovery after the Great Recession of 2008-09 rather than punishing the banking and mortgage industries whose malfeasance had precipitated that economic crisis. This represented a definite tilt toward establishment Wall Street and away from a more populist liberal approach which would have penalised America’s financial centre much more severely.
Obama did of course pursue more progressive policies in areas like combatting climate change, gay and LGBT rights, and protection for immigrants. But he never grabbed a pitchfork and charged the barricades of privilege in the US. And as has been widely reported, Obama moved to implement many of his policies by frequently resorting to a kind of executive fiat. In that regard, he more closely resembles his successor than he would likely be willing to admit.
The Post recalls Obama commenting as follows on the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King’s famous March on Washington in August 1963:
“After the civil rights era (of the 1960s), what had once been a call for equality of opportunity, the chance for all Americans to work hard and get ahead, was too often framed as a mere desire for government support, as if we had no agency in our own liberation, as if poverty was an excuse for not raising your child, and the bigotry of others was reason to give up on yourself.”
Obama was an inspiring figure whose election in 2008 made most Americans truly proud of themselves and of their country. But he was no flaming liberal and neither, it appears, are his black brother and sister Democrats as the US heads to 2020.