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Bill Cosby, Greek Tragedy, and Yet Another Tabloid Scandal

Even on a day full of news of grave international import, the most compelling story here in the United States was probably comedian Bill Cosby being convicted on three counts of sexual assault. The tale is tawdry enough for tabloid fare, but it also involves complicated matters of race and class and sex and celebrity and various other downright vexing aspects of American culture, and you’d have to go back to the days of classical theater to find a more riveting tragic fall from the heights to the depths of human existence.
Even if you’re one of our several non-American readers or slightly more numerous under-30 American readers, you’re probably aware that Cosby was once a much beloved entertainer in this land. He was handsome and humorous and endearingly humble, his home-spun observational comedy had a familiar appeal to just about anybody. He had best-selling comedy albums, appeared on all the network variety shows, went on to co-star in a hit television series, had a Saturday morning cartoon, made some popular movies, starred in an even bigger hit television series, was a well-paid pitchman for various sugary foods, and earned the nickname of “America’s Dad.”
He was black, too, and of course that is unavoidably involved in Cosby’s rise and fall. His best-selling comedy albums and variety show appearances and prime-time co-starring role in “I Spy” were civil rights breakthroughs back in the ’60s, and both black and white audiences felt good about it. Cosby had ghetto cool, but he was not at all threatening, which white people appreciated and even the most burn-it-down sort of black radicals in the ’60s didn’t mind. He played an inner-city high school teacher in a fairly popular television show in the ’70s, then had a runaway hit with “The Cosby Show” in the ’80s playing a physician married to a lawyer with a cast of lovably mix-upped sit-com kids in a ritzy Philadelphia neighborhood. Some black and white critics complained that Cosby was presenting an atypical slice of black American life, but far more black and white fans praised him for an aspirational portrait of America’s possibilities, and he parlayed his popularity into a lucrative career in commercials.
As he got older and richer he gradually retired from show business, but he became more outspoken in his political opinions. The Temple University graduate and up-from-the-ghetto success story spoke the usual civil rights rhetoric about white racism, but he more frequently preached the importance of education and frankly stated that the middle class values of both black and white America were superior to the social pathologies of the black and white ghettos, and for the first time in his career Cosby was controversial. By the time rumors that Cosby was a serial rapist were widely circulated, it was because of the edgier black comedians sharing what was long regarded as common knowledge in show biz circles, along with some of the edgier feminist white comediennes, and after 60 or women had gone on record alleging that Cosby had drugged and molested or raped them Cosby wasn’t getting the same sort of support that O.J. Simpson enjoyed in his race and sex and class trial for a double murder he sure seemed to have committed.
When Cosby faced his first indictment a couple of years ago celebrity still had its California privileges, and the trial ended in a hung jury. The second time around the judge allowed an extra four of those 60 of Cosby’s alleged victims to tell their stories, which were unsettlingly similar to the complaining witness’ tale, and by then countless women had brought down numerous Hollywood and news media and political big shots accused of lesser outrages, and the guilty verdicts on all three counts of sexual assault surprised no one. No one rallied around the once-beloved entertainer, and neither will we, but everyone had some sense it was nonetheless a damn shame.
Cosby used to be an undeniably funny fellow, but his classic routines with their universal home-spun verisimilitude will never again sound the same. His classic sit-com about a classy American family will look too different for any future late re-runs, too. Cosby’s hectoring arguments about the superiority of middle-class values to ghetto pathologies are still valid, as far as we’re concerned, but they obviously now lack Cosby’s previous moral authority.
It’s good news, we suppose, that most black Americans no longer rally around even a sold-out-to-the-man sort of brother the way they once did with the odious and obviously guilty and already convicted wife-beater O.J. Simpson, although we worry that’s at least partly because they resented Cosby’s more sensible advice. It’s good news, too, that all those undeniably victimized women out there are getting some righteous payback on their victimizers, but we expect that sooner or later they’ll ruin some innocent fellow’s life. We note that some of the right-wing talk radio hosts who routinely stand accused of racism are among the few sympathizing with Crosby, but they’re usually suspicious of even the most credible women’s allegations that some powerful man has abused them, and they don’t deserve any credit for the opportunistic color-blindness.
It’s a damned shame, too, that such a handsome and humorous and seemingly humble fellow as Crosby, who did so much to enrich America’s culture, was also such a seriously flawed human being. By now we’ve read enough Greek tragedies and tabloid scandals to know that’s how things go, though. We’ll hold out hope that Crosby and his victims and the American culture and the rest of humankind continues its fitful pace forward, and that we all find peace somewhere along the line.

— Bud Norman

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Simpson vs. Trump in the Ratings War

On an otherwise nice early spring Monday, two remarkably unsurprising headlines grabbed our attention. One was about former football hero O.J. Simpson’s “hypothetical” confession to double murder in an old but only recently aired interview with the Fox News Network, and the other was about the Republicans on the House committee investigating the “Russia thing” soon releasing a report that there’s nothing to it.
At this point we won’t worry about a libel suit and will come right out and say that Simpson damned sure seemed guilty of that long-ago double murder from the start, and we never doubted that sooner or later he’d eventually get around to confessing it in some weaselly way. Still, if you were anywhere near a television or newsstand way back when the trial occurred you couldn’t escape it, as it was the runaway reality show hit of the year, even if the whodunnit part of it was obvious from the outset. It featured a handsome football hero and a gorgeous ex-wife and her hunky younger suitor, it happened in a famously ritzy Los Angeles suburb, there were colorful lawyer characters involved, so Hollywood’s best screenwriters couldn’t have written a more blockbuster script. The handsome football hero and accused murderer was black while the gorgeous ex-wife and her hunky younger suitor were white, too, and with the combination of Los Angeles’ troubled racial history and the ritzy suburban location and the domestic violence it also made for all sorts of think pieces about race class and gender in the more serious media.
The prosecution had Simpson’s blood at the crime scene, the victims’ blood at his home and on his automobile, serial numbers and credit card receipts proving Simpson owned the bloody glove found at the crime scene, and the fact that Simpson had attempted to flea justice on the a live broadcast that got bigger ratings that any Super Bowl or the series of finale of “M*A*S*H.” Simpson’s defense offered no plausible alibi and a bundle of vague conspiracy theories so crazy they wouldn’t fly on “InfoWars,” and if you were sticking to the facts it was pretty simple. At the intersection of race and class and gender it’s hard to stick to the facts, however, especially in our reality show culture, and the Simpson trial provoked all sorts of reactions.
We had several white friends — mostly women, oddly enough — who insisted that Simpson couldn’t be guilty of such a heinous crime because he seemed such a nice guy in all those post-game interviews and the movies and commercials he’d done after his playing days. Pretty much all of our black friends bought into the conspiracy theory that the racist police had pulled off an elaborate conspiracy to frame the black guy. All in all it made for a damned convoluted debate about the outcome.
Two of our better black friends are a couple of colleagues at the newspaper where we labored at the time, both of them fine journalists who usually adhered to the facts of a story, but they both believed the conspiracy theories, and it made for some strained conversation over coffee. We tried to point out that it would take one hell of a conspiracy to so quickly plant the defendant’s blood at the crime scene and the victims’ blood on his automobile at at his home, not to mention that very specific glove, and that the same racist police had let Simpson off lightly after repeated complaints of domestic abuse, but they were unconvinced. Simpson’s ex-wife’s had put pictures of her bruised and bloody face in a safe deposit box to document the repeated domestic abuse, just in case she wound up murdered, but several of our mostly women white friends still insisted he seemed too a nice guy to murder his wife.
At this point in the distant future pretty much everyone figures that yeah, O.J. did it and might as well confess, as there’s not much to do about it now, but the same sort of superficial considerations still cloud the public’s assessment of more pressing matters. The Republicans on the House committee investigating the “Russia thing” have their own obvious reasons for concluding there’s nothing to it, as do many of our white friends and fellow Republicans, and by they have own ┬álegitimate racial grievances and are as obstinate about as their conspiracy theories as our black friends once were about Simpson’s innocence.
We try to point out that even the Trump-appointed heads of all the intelligence agencies agree that the Russian government meddled in the past presidential election on Trump’s behalf, and that various Trump campaign and administration officials have already either pleaded guilty or been indicted or recused themselves for various suspicious and undisclosed contacts with Russian officials. We note that the top-notch special counsel investigation has come up with even more circumstantial than those hapless LA County prosecutors could muster against Simpson, that the hapless Trump defenders on his legal team in the House investigating team and talk radio are offering up conspiracy theories that would have embarrassed Simpson’s lawyers, and it makes for some strained conversations over coffee.
Sooner or later the heat of the moment dissipates, though, and the cold hard facts of the matter become apparent. In retrospect we’re not at all surprised that a mostly black jury from Los Angeles would vote to acquit Simpson, and even in this moment we’re not surprised that an all white group of House Republicans would conclude that there’s nothing at all to that whole “Russia thing.”
People are like that, no matter their color nor their political persuasion.

— Bud Norman

A New Deal For Black America from an Old White Guy

Republican nominee Donald Trump outlined a “New Deal for Black America” on Wednesday, and we have to admit that to such middle-aged white folks as ourselves it made a lot of sense. Even the skeptical scribes at the impeccably liberal Washington Post had to concede that his speech in the crucial and traditionally-Republican-yet-largely-black and suddenly swing state of North Carolina was “heavy on policy specifics,” especially by Trump standards, and it specifically addressed the educational and economic and criminal problems that clearly afflict too much of black America. How black folks of any age will respond remains to be seen, but our guess is that they’ll largely reject the messenger if not the entirety of the message.
We especially liked the part about charter schools and other parental choices for education, even if it wasn’t so bold as to come right out and mention vouchers and privatization, and we expect that much of black America will as well. The current system of one-size-fits-all education has resulted in an inarguable racial gap, educational outcomes are the most reliable predictor of economic outcomes, and they always will be unless there’s an economically disastrous and politically impossible quota system imposed on the country, and any old Republican nominee can make a persuasive case that for all their black-friendly reputation the Democrats are too beholden to those stubborn teachers’ unions to ever allow any significant changes in the cushy-for-teachers but ineffective-for-students current system. All the public opinion polls show that this is one of those internecine Democratic interest group conflicts that any old Republican nominee should be able to exploit, and Trump’s undeniably anti-establishment reputation makes it all the more exploitable, so we’ll give him credit for trying, even if more than the usual 95 percent of black voters ultimately don’t.
Without addressing that educational racial gap you really can’t address that economic racial gap, absent those quota systems that Trump surely wouldn’t consider, but Trump also proposed tax holidays and other economic incentives for investment in the most blighted black neighborhoods, and he managed to avoid his past suggestions that pretty much of all black America except his black celebrity friends live in such blight, and the scribes at The Washington Post seem slightly worried about it. Such hard-core capitalist and middle-aged white folks as ourselves have a mixed reaction to his proposals, some of which seem like the usual bad bets waged by government that realists would avoid, we can only imagine that Trump’s supporters on the defiantly white nationalist alt-right will be even more annoyed, and we can’t blame any black folks of any age for pointing out that at no time in his hard-core capitalist life did Trump ever lay down any bets on black America’s more blighted communities, except for maybe Atlantic City, where everyone else he was in business with went bankrupt while he boastfully pocketed millions.
Trump’s old-school Republican “Law and Order” themes should also arguably appeal to the lawful and orderly majority of black Americans, and have a special resonance with that law-abiding and ordered majority of black America’s minority who have to contend with black America’s most blighted neighborhoods, but we don’t expect his more specific policies will prove popular with most black folk. Trump and his now-ubiquitous surrogate former New York City Mayor Rudy Guiliani are by now associated with the “stop-and-frisk” policy that allowed police wide latitude to stop and frisk random pedestrians, who more often than not were non-white, and a generally indulgent attitude toward police shootings of civilians, who are also more often than non-white. Such middle-aged white folks as ourselves are willing to concede that most more-or-less reasonable searches as seizures in the most blighted areas of black America will mostly involve black folks, and that police shootings of civilians are more often than not quite justifiable no matter the races of the shooters or shot, but we’re also hard-core Constitutionalists who admit there’s some reasonable-search-and-seizure issues involved. We’re also such policy wonks that we have to wonder how much stop-and-frisk had to do with the undeniable drop in the number of murders and other crimes committed in New York City during Giuliani’s generally successful mayoralty, given all the other shrewd law enforcement measures he enacted, and we have enough law-abiding orderly black friends that we can understand their gripes about that time some cop made an entirely unreasonable search, and we can well understand why they might want a harder look at those times when the police shooting of a civilian wasn’t so clearly justified.
Any old Republican nominee should be able to make a nuanced case that the Democratic nominee and the rest of her party are going to get a whole lot of black lives that really do matter killed, and that in the meantime those lives will mostly be spent in economic inequality because of Democratic policies, and that it’s largely because of an educational gap that those teachers’ unions won’t allow the Democrats to address, but Trump has problems making the case that any other old Republican nominee probably wouldn’t have. His family business has been dogged settled cases over housing discrimination, he still insists that those vindicated “Central Park Five” defendants should be jailed despite scientific evidence to the contrary, his ham-fisted “What have you got to lose” line still resonates in the ears of all sorts of black Americans who have something to lose, those defiantly white nationalist supporters on the alt-right are still on board, and even such old-fashioned Republican and trying-hard-not-be-racist middle white folks as ourselves aren’t quite buying it. That Democratic nominee is at least as awful, whether you’re white or black or anything in between, so at this point in this crazy election year we don’t expect it will make much of a difference either way.

— Bud Norman

The Latest Skirmishes in the Race Wars

Two more black men were fatally shot by police this week, this time in Charlotte, North Carolina and Tulsa, Oklahoma, and both communities suffered from the rioting and looting that now routinely follows these incidents. The initial news reports were once again inconclusive, all the same arguments regarding law enforcement and race in America were once-again re-hashed, both major party presidential nominees once again weighed in, and by now there’s a numbing familiarity to it all.
This time around the initial news reports out of North Carolina appear exculpatory for the black police officer in a largely black police department with a black Police Chief accountable to a largely black-run municipal government who shot a reportedly armed and black-life-threatening black man, which didn’t seem to give pause to the rioters and looters and their “Black Lives Matter” apologists, while the available videotape and press accounts and even the official police statements out of Oklahoma suggest that the black man shot by a white officer was unarmed and no imminent threat to the bevy of officers who had surrounded him, which somehow resulted in what seems to be a slightly more restrained round of rioting and looting than occurred in North Carolina.
By now we’ve learned to await further reports before reaching any tentative conclusions about these recurring things, and to be grateful that our tentative conclusions don’t settle these matters. The established facts that the shooter in North Carolina was a black man and that the one in Oklahoma was a white woman are deemed irrelevant in our rightward-leaning court of opinion, and we expect that the leftward-leaning sorts will have their own self-interested reasons for dismissing such information, so the rest of the autopsies and witness accounts and physical evidence and press reports will eventually be more or less resolved and then quickly forgotten. How this affects the presidential race, much less the way this objectively undeniable problem of police shootings and subsequent rioting is either resolved or brought to its unbearable conclusion, is also beyond our powers of conjecture.
The initial reports out of Oklahoma are bad enough that even proudly pro-police Republican nominee Donald Trump said he was “very troubled” by the video he’d seen, and rambled out a stronger anti-police case than we’d make at this point, while Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton was “Tweeting” her shared outraged with even the North Carolina rioters and looters, even if her more expansive later comments made clear that she wasn’t in favor of the random attacks on white people that resulted. Perhaps she’ll be able to rebound by noting how Trump has tentatively presumed guilty a woman who has her own story to tell, and perhaps the North Carolina situation is more complicated that it seems and both candidates wind up looking silly in their premature pronouncements about it, but for now it seems his supporters won’t mind that he prejudged a white woman and with her prejudgment of a ┬áblack man she looks to come out slightly worse from it in this crazy election year. This is no way to judge a case, of course, but there you have it.

— Bud Norman

On Race, Gender, Class, the Olympics, and Of Course Presidential Politics

The 2016 Olympics won’t wrap up until some sort of bizarre post-modern samba-dancing and gender-bending closing ceremony on Sunday evening, but already the American team is assured of heading home with by far the biggest haul of gold, silver, and bronze medals. America’s athletic dominance of the international games has provided a pleasant distraction from the dispiriting domestic presidential election, but of course these days it’s impossible to keep the two events entirely apart.
Over at the reliably liberal Politico.com site a longtime Democratic operative is smugly noting that Republican nominee Donald J. Trump hasn’t yet spoken or “tweeted” a single congratulatory remark about the American champions, reasonably inferring that it’s because their success seems to contradict his campaign theme that “Crippled America” just “doesn’t have victories anymore” and he alone can “Make America Great Again.” The author also rightly notes that Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton has been a far more full-throated rooter for the American squad, and has happily seized on the politically convenient fact that the medal-winners are an exquisitely diverse group according to the racial and sexual and economic class categories that are a Democratic obsession.
A proportional share of those gold and silver and bronze medals have been won by American women, a gorgeous lot of athletes who recall the great Walt Whitman’s poetic notion of an American womanhood as “tann’d in the face by shining suns and blowing winds, their flesh has the old divine suppleness and grace, they know how to swim, row, ride, wrestle, shoot, run, strike, retreat, advance, defend themselves,” but we wonder how many of these women who are “ultimate in their own right — they are calm, clear, well-possessed of themselves” are going to vote for Clinton’s campaign themes that women are victims of American society and she alone can make them great. One of our favorite Olympians of this leap year has been Kim Rhode, who picked up her fifth Gold medal in as many Olympic games for skeet shooting, a sport we have tried and found we have absolutely no talent for, like us she’s a Second Amendment absolutist with no intention of voting for Clinton, and even that Democratic operative at Politico.com concedes that America’s Olympic champions are “presumably as politically diverse as they are culturally.”
Economic class plays its usual role in these Olympics, too, but we don’t expect that any Democratic nominee would want to delve too deeply into that. We’re pleased to note that Great Britain is once again a world-class sporting power, and is currently going nose-to-nose with Communist China for a distant second-place in the medal count, but across the pond there’s usual grousing that too many of those medals are being won by equestrians and rowers and fencers and other sorts of upper-crusty athletes, even if they can’t explain why their more yobbo athletes can’t compete with America’s ghetto stars in the more proletarian events. A lot of America’s medals were won by the sons and daughters of upper-middle class suburbanites who woke up early to get their kids to a swim club or volleyball practice before a long day of school that yielded high grades and SAT scores, and there’s no telling how they’ll vote, and even the sons and daughters of the working class parents who did the same are probably politically diverse.
Over at the reliably Republican National Review, which is so reliably Republican that it’s still NeverTrump, they’re smugly noting that America’s overwhelming Olympic success has come despite the lack of a Ministry of Sports or any other top-down bureaucratic central planning. They argue that America has won “bigly” at these Olympics because individuals of all races and sexes and classes were free to pursue the natural talents they alone knew they possessed, and that such independent and competitive institutions as the members of the National Collegiate Athletic Association were there to provide some much-needed assistance. This strikes us as a more compelling argument, and we can only wish that the Republican nominee wasn’t so cocksure that only he can make America win again that he can’t be shouting “USA, USA” during the closing ceremonies.

— Bud Norman

Over at the Other League

Every now and then we avert our eyes from the desultory Republican primaries and check in on what the Democrats are up to, just as we’ll occasionally glance at the National League standings now that major league baseball is at least underway, but what we find over on the senior circuit of politics is no more heartening.
The putative front-runner in the two-person race, former First Lady and Senator and Secretary of State and long-presumed First Woman President Hillary Clinton, is on a six-game losing streak that includes some embarrassing blow-outs, and all the kids seem to dig her pesky rival, the self-described socialist Sen. Bernie Sanders from the hippie retirement village of Vermont. That’s before the Federal Bureau of Investigation concludes its criminal investigation of Clinton’s well-worthy-of-investigating e-mailing and charity fund-raising activities, which cannot end well not matter what, but it looks as if the fix is in just like one of those phony-baloney professional wrestling matches that the putative Republican front-runner used to perform. None of this is at all heartening when you suddenly recall that this isn’t mere sports, or “sports entertainment,” as the lawyers of professional wrestling like to call their “sport,” and that one of these awful people will likely enter the general election with a realistic chance of becoming president.
The game is played differently over on the Democratic side, too, and in ways that are even more egregious than forcing pitchers to be humiliated at the plate instead of letting a more competent designated hitter take the plate. There’s an unsettling preoccupation with racial and other political identity grievances, for one thing, and it’s lately been the big story. Both campaigns have been hectored by the “Black Lives Matter” movement that is the latest rage among the outsized portion of the Democratic primary electorate that is black, but Clinton’s husband, who was once the first First Black President, and has thus far endowed his frequently betrayed wife with all the political good will of that achievement. The self-described socialists’ promises of perfect economic justice and lots of free stuff is starting to resonate in the “Black Lives Matter” movement, though, and the first First Black President’s welfare reform and tough-on-crime measures are no longer fashionable, and it does make for an interesting situation. Clinton’s husband, who still somehow looms larger than his frequently betrayed yet putatively front-running wife, decided to make a full-troated defense of his past policies, albeit with less throat than his former McDonald’s-fueled from once had, and he threw in some factual stuff about how black folks generally had fared better during his administration than during the first seven-and-a-half years of the First Black President’s administration.
Oddly enough, we found ourselves rooting for the fellow, even if the sorry old son-of-a-bitch is still everything we loathe about the senior circuit. That welfare reform bill he signed really did reduce poverty by forcing people into gainful employment, the tough-on-crime stuff really did save a lot of black lives, which truly do matter, and even though he was forced on both policies by his equally sleazy advisor Dick Morris and the almost as sleazy Republican House Speaker Newt Gingrich and a whole of Republican voters we hope aren’t so sleazy, we see no reason he should apologize for any of these less famous matters. Then again, we’re not rooting for his awful wife, who until recently had been running against her frequently betraying husband to keep those “Black Lives Matter” people on her side.
Still, we can believe that the fix is in and none of this matters, and that it will come down to whether our league can put up a worthy challenger.

— Bud Norman

Meanwhile, at the Democratic Race War

As we avert our grimace from the Republican Party’s reality show of a presidential nomination contest to the Democratic race, we find that things there are no more comforting. The front-runner is still former First Lady and Senator and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who was just godawful in each capacity and is just about as dishonest and corrupt and law-flouting and dislikable a person as you’re likely to find this side of the front-running Republican candidate, and the only still-in-the-running alternative is self-described socialist Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders.
This brief description of the race is disheartening enough, but a closer look makes it scarier yet. The race thus far has been run along racial lines, with Sanders doing well in mostly white states but Clinton winning in all the southern states where most of the whites have long since fled to the Republican party and the remaining Democratic electorate is mostly black, as well as Nevada where the party is mostly Latino, and if that’s the state of racial relations within the oh-so-sensitively-inclusive Democratic Party it does not bode well for the even more ethnically fissiparous nation at large. If all those well-meaning white folks in the Democratic party with their very sincere white guilt can’t come to some agreement with their righteously indignant black brothers and sisters, what chance does the country have when you add all us allegedly racist Republican rednecks into the general election conversation? Not to mention all those Asians, who tend to vote Democrat even though only we allegedly racist Republican rednecks bother to protest the quotas that keep so many of them out of the Ivy League universities, or the Latinos, whose preferences regarding legal and illegal immigration policy run counter to both the economic interests and base prejudices of so many of those righteously indignant black brothers and sisters, not to the mention the exponential intersectionality of all the sexual orientations and gender identities that are involved.
It’s hard enough understanding the relatively simple black-white thing going on in the Democratic party. Clinton lost more than 90 percent of the black vote in the Democratic primaries eight years ago, when she was running against the First Black President, but this time around she’s running as the First Black President’s Secretary of State and the First Lady of the first First Black President, even though the economic statistics for black America have been dire under the First Black President and her service as his Secretary of State was one national security disaster after another and all her first First Black President husband’s policies on crime and welfare and other racially-tinged issues are now anathema to the “Black Lives Matter” movement that claims to speak for all black Americans. Sanders is still in the race because all the most well-meaning white hipsters and their aging antecedents in the party are hot for his socialist brand of everything’s free and we’ll work out the payments later, and we share those well-meaning white hipsters’ surprise, if not their dismay, than their black brothers and sisters aren’t on board for the revolution. If you can recall the ’60s, and were reading Ramparts and The Village Voice and Rolling Stone and The New Yorker and all the right rags, you’d know that the black brothers and sisters were supposed to be the vanguard of the revolution, not the stooges of reactionary resistance of the Wall Street-funded, Wal-Mart corporate-board-serving, Donald Trump’s-third-wedding-attending establishment.
While we have no affection for Sanders, who is after all a self-described socialist, and one who literally honeymooned in the Soviet Union, at that, we’re surprised that so many black Democrats haven’t warmed to him. Some of the celebrity and intellectual black people have, possibly because they’re more worried about losing their status as celebrities and intellectual than they are about their status as black, but the votes are in and the vast majority have so far been for Clinton. That’s mostly been in southern states any Democrat is unlikely to win in the general election no matter who the Republican or increasingly likely third-party nominees are, but there’s been the same trend even in those mostly white states that Sanders won, and as the Democratic Party is currently constituted across all the states the minority vote will likely deliver a majority by convention time, especially when you add in all those “super-delegates” the very diverse party bosses are imposing. The black and Latino factions don’t seem particularly interested in a revolution, especially one led by a Jewish guy from a lily-white state, which seems to matter in that oh-so-sensitively-inclusive Democratic Party, and are perfectly content with the establishment, no matter how much Wall Street funds it or what bargains on Chinese-made goods Wal-Mart is offering, and if their economics interests clash on the immigration issue they figure they’ll pay for that later.
We can almost muster some pity for those poor white hipster socialist revolutionaries, abandoned by the black brothers and sisters they had so assiduously apologized to, beset by a hated “establishment” that turns out to be the party they had always sen as salvation from some other more hated Republican “establishment,” and stuck with voting for Clinton, whose entire career repudiates all their high ideals. Worse yet, they find that a majority of their party turns out not to have ever believed in any coherent philosophy of liberalism, but was only interested in sticking it to the other guys, and for reasons that had something uncomfortably to do with the darkest impulses of an ethnically fissiparous nation, and was striking whatever deal it could for itself.
The poor bastards. Over here on the Republican side a lot of us are finding out that a lot of our political coalition never believed in any coherent philosophy of conservatism, and is more interested in sticking it to the other guy than conserving such freedoms as press and property, and that there’s also a sudden hesitance to denounce even those darkest impulse of an ethnically fissiparous nation, and that the whole sales pitch is that it’s going to be a great deal for those get on board, but at least we won’t have to vote for it.

— Bud Norman

Race and the Race

Democrats are constantly calling for a frank national conservation about race, as if it hasn’t ranked right up there with sports and weather and the sex lives of celebrities as one of the three or four most discussed topics of the past 240 years or so, but there are times when we wonder just how frank they want that conversation to be. Thursday night’s Democratic presidential debate was one of those times.
If you haven’t been following the Democrats’ low-rated reality show, self-described socialist and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, the cranky-and-kooky-old-coot next door character, has lately usurped the starring role from former First Lady and Senator and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who started out as the heroine of the series. A couple of episodes ago a lot of fishy officiating and some suspicious coin tosses delivered an embarrassingly minuscule margin of victory for Clinton in Iowa, then the next week she suffered a rout in New Hampshire, but now the scene significantly shifts to South Carolina. Attentive viewers of the show will have noticed that Iowa and New Hampshire are so chock full of white people that even most of the Democrats there are white, while South Carolina’s white people are so overwhelmingly Republican these days that most of the Democrats in the state are largely black, and although no self-respecting Democrat would care to frankly converse about it that is the all-important backstory to this week’s episode.
The same unmentionable backstory would have you believe that our heroine and aspiring queen is much adored by her would-be black subjects, and there are polls to back this up, but some plot twist might await. She once served as Secretary of State for the First Black President, even though she was once his fierce rival, and somehow remains married to the first First Black President, although no one can quite remember why he was once so beloved by his black subjects, and the lovably-cranky-and-kooky-next-door-neighbor is from a state so white that the Eskimos have 200 words for it, and there’s also something slightly Jewish about him, which is another one of those complicated subplots in these Democratic shows that is best not frankly discussed, but there’s still some uncertainty. Sanders is offering free stuff and a guillotines-and-all revolution, which always have some appeal, the heroine and queen in waiting is looking more and more like a corrupt and incompetent villainess, which eventually dispirits even the party’s most die-hard fans, and Thursday’s debate offered both a chance to make their discreetly worded pitches to the South Carolina’s largely black Democrats.
Which apparently means trying to out-do one another with fulsome praise for the past seven years and a month or so of First Black President Barack Obama’s administration. A truly frank conversation would acknowledge that pretty much every economic indicator from unemployment to household wealth to home ownership to business start-ups indicates that it has been a disaster for black America, race relations have not improved, that the coming downturn is bound to be worse yet, but that went politely unmentioned in the Democrats’ South Carolina debate. Obama’s approval rating among black Americans still exceeds even the worse-than-Depression-era unemployment rate for black youths, and in Democratic politics fealty to his legacy is just as important as advocating minimum-wage hikes that will surely exacerbate that black youth unemployment problem.
The Democrats’ idea of a frank conversation about race is also full of indignant talk about rolling back the community policing and stiff-sentencing policies that drastically reduced the rates of murder and other serious crimes in black communities and throughout the nation at large, which we frankly cannot understand at all. Listening to rich white Democratic lady and the merely well-off white Democratic gentleman from the whitest state in the union you’d think that it was some mean old Republicans who passed all those community policing and stiff-sentencing policies that have locked up so many misunderstood young black men, but we were living in an inner-city war zone at the time and well recall that the rich white Democrat woman’s husband signed the bill they’re talking about the well-off gentleman from the whitest state in the union also voted for it and all of our black neighbors and most of the Congressional Black Caucus were also clamoring for get-tough measures. The “Black Lives Matter” movement, which no doubt includes a few of the thousands of black lives that were saved provably saved by those get-tough measures, is more concerned with the smaller numbers of lives lost to police shootings, however, and therefore so are the Democratic candidates.
A truly frank conversation about the matter would acknowledge that some of those police shootings were entirely justified, such as the one that set off all the rioting and arson and lawsuits and federal investigations in Ferguson, Mo., and that the ones that do arouse the most justifiable suspicion almost invariably occur in Democratic jurisdictions where every agency of the local government is corrupt and the local economies have been devastated by Democratic taxation and regulatory policies. The Democrats pride themselves on frankly noting the racial income inequality in America, and happily ignore the growing inequality over the past seven years and a month or so for the First Black President, but they won’t acknowledge the direct correlation between education or income, or the fact that Democratic-aligned teachers’ unions and Democrat-dominated academia and a general Democratic revulsion to private enterprise and innovation have prevented the voucher and charter school reforms that might address that glaring educational inequality.
In such a gloriously diverse country as America a truly frank discussion about race would also acknowledge that illegal immigration from mostly Latino countries has also had a mostly adverse economic and political effect on America in general and its black citizens in particularly, but there’s also a caucus coming in Nevada and the Democrats there are largely Latino, so the frankness of that conversation was proscribed. Both candidates dared to criticize the First Black President for recently deporting some of the trainloads of unaccompanied minors from Central America in recents years, following many years of non-enforcement of the laws and executive orders about unaccompanied minors that seemed to invite them all in, and although we doubt this played well with South Carolina Democrats they really don’t have any choice except for some Republicans named Cruz or Rubio, or maybe that Spanish-speaking Bush guy with the Latino wife, and it might even be Trump.
Any of those guys could make a convincing pitch to black Democrats in South Carolina or elsewhere, about breaking up the educational monopolies and the big city machines and the plans to make everyone equally poor, but that would require a truly frank national conversation and the democracy of reality television doesn’t yet seem ready for something that real.

— Bud Norman

That White Woman in Seattle and All the New Rules

By now you’ve probably heard about the white woman who was “passing” for black in Seattle, well enough to have to become the president of the local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, and are aware of the chuckles it provoked in the conservative media and the indignant outrage that has resulted over in the liberal press. Count us among the amused rather than outraged, as we’re the live-and-let-live types who indulge people in all sorts of amusing foolishness, but we must admit we’re finding all the new rules hard to keep up with.
Why does that once-august civil rights organization retain the now-offensive term “Colored People” in its name, just to begin with, and why is that term offensive while the eerily similar “people of color” is considered impeccably polite? We’re also confused about why a white person can’t head the local chapter of a national association devoted to the advancement of people of certain colors, because a whole a lot of well-intentioned white people were involved in its founding, and a whole lot of other well-intentioned white people have devoted themselves to the same admirable cause in a variety of other and even more heroic ways, and the advancement of just about everyone in this fissiparously diverse country depends on everyone getting along with one another. Of course there’s also the frequently asked question of why a man who insists on being regarded as a woman must be indulged in his fantasy, but a white woman who insists on being regarded as a black woman is subject to the usual chuckles from the right and the full indignant outrage of the left. We’re further confused about why, given all the hectoring we endure about our supposedly privileged position as heterosexual white Christian males, nobody seems to be trying to pass as something like us.
Way back in our childhood we’d stay up well past our bedtime to catch such old-time late-night movies as “Imitation of Life,” “Pinky,” and “Showboat,” all of which involved light-skinned black women trying to “pass” as white in order to escape the undeniable racial injustice of that black-and-white era, which lasted well into the technicolor days of the “Imitation of Life” and “Showboat” re-makes, and even into our own childhood, but these days all the race-crossing traffic seems to go the other way. That white woman from Seattle is only the most recent to make the news for colorizing her heritage, following the news of some Indian-American sit-com actress’ brother shaving his head and adopting a black-sounding name to get admitted to a medical school with a surfeit of Asian-American applicants and a dire shortage of black ones, and that visibly white Massachusetts Senator whose career at Harvard benefited from her claims to be a high cheek-boned Native American and is currently the fantasy presidential nominee of all the same people who are tsk-tsking about that white woman in Seattle, and even old hippy-dippy folk-singing and obviously white Joni Mitchell’s claims to authentic blackness. The phenomenon of white folks acting and wanting to actually be black is at least as old as Norman Mailer’s famous ’50s essay on the “The White Negro: Superficial Reflections on the Hipster,” was quite apparent at our junior high school in the early ’70s when almost all of the white kids eagerly adopted the slang and fashions and defiant attitude of the black kids who were too often fearful of being accused of “acting white” to keep up with the lessons, and by 1978 the great heroin-addicted Lou Reed was singing a hilariously vulgar song about how “I Wanna Be Black” rather than an, ahem, neurotic middle class college student any mo’. Since then it’s become all the cooler to be black and all the dorkier to be white, whatever “privilege” whiteness might confer on bills-paying and sexually-frustrated honky schlubs such as ourselves, and we can hardly blame that white woman from Seattle for wanting to get in on it.
Still, it hasn’t been adequately explained why her racial preference should be any more controversial than her sexual preference. Had she insisted that her prosthetic status as a male be met with unquestioning social acceptance we doubt that the such respectable liberal publications as Salon.com would be giving her grieve about it, and we notice that most of the surgical crossing of sexual barriers are also away from our side, despite whatever “privilege” our seemingly irrelevant sex might confer. There’s the usual blather about how “gender” is merely a social construct, and “race” a biological fact, but from way back in our childhood we can remember all the blather about how “race” was a social construct and “gender” a biological fact that proved the superiority of women, and the evolution of polite opinion has never been explained. A few years ago those foul-mouthed wags at “South Park” had a vulgar but worth-watching episode about the transgendered teacher and the addled dad who thought he was a dolphin, and how we’re supposed to recognize certain implausible claims but not others, so the subsequent confusion makes it all the more confusing.
There’s something in the arguments we read about “cultural appropriation” and its insidiously racist effects, but we’re only further confused. We have some belly-dancing white women friends who have been accused of degrading the Oriental cultures they’re intending to perpetuate, and we’ve read countless column inches from college-educated black columnists about how Elvis Presley stole the sounds that he couldn’t help hearing through the open windows of his subsidized housing right next to Beale Street and the heart of the blues, and we’ve yet to read a single word about Kathleen Battle or Jessye Norman or Wynton Marsalis or any of the other truly great black musicians who have done similarly well with the undeniably European repertoire of classical music, and we dare anyone to say anything bad about Johnny Otis, who was the undeniably white son of Greek immigrants who grew up in a black neighborhood and went on to be one of the notable and best-selling in the black neighborhoods rhythm and blues artists of the “race record” days, and all of this racial purity cultural stuff, even from the most well-intentioned of the liberal press, has a slightly odious Nazi whiff about it.
Straight and Christian suddenly seems unfashionable, too, and we wonder about how few people are now pretending to be either of them. Way back in our childhood we’d stay up late enough to come across such old movies as “Tea and Sympathy” and “The Trial of Oscar Wilde” which oh-so-subtly conveyed the hard time homosexuals had in the world we were growing up in, and even by the time “La Cage aux Folles” was the fabulously gay hit of ’78 it was about how a homosexual couple had to hide their identities from society. Now the same guy who made the original French “La Cage aux Folles” has a Francophile hit about a man who pretends to be homosexual in order to enjoy social and legal protection from being fired for his incompetence, and the American popular culture acknowledges the same preference. The obscure professional athlete who was about outspoken about his homosexuality got a congratulatory call from the president of the united, the male athlete who was once prominent about was outspoken about his self-proclaimed identity as a woman got the cover of Vanity Fair, and the more recently prominent football play who was outspoken about his Christianity was widely rebuked to keep his crazy beliefs to himself. None of this has been adequately explained, either, but that seems to be where we are.
That white woman in Seattle should be able to survive all the chuckling and indignant outrage according the theories of white prevail, once she re-straightens her hair and stays away from the tanning salons long enough to regain her freckles, and that recently prominent football player should be able to take of himself, judging by his undeniably male physique, but all this talk about racial and sexual and religious identity won’t come to any happy conclusions. Let that white woman pursue all that is appealing about the undeniably cool black people of America, let that prominent football player proclaim his love for Christ, and hope that it has some similarly salutary effect on others, and stop hectoring those bill-playing white male schlubs, and let the likes of Elvis grind out rhythm and blues and those great black divas sing their arias, and perhaps most importantly let those poor black kids out there start learning their lessons in reading and writing and arithmetic without fear of “acting white.” Act however you want, and however will make for your happiest life, and so long as it contributes to everyone with getting along with one another it should further advancement of just about everyone, even such unfashionably straight and white and male and Christian bill-paying schlubs such as ourselves.

— Bud Norman

This Time in Baltimore

Monday’s baseball contest between the Chicago White Sox and Baltimore Orioles was postponed due to rioting, a rare occurrence in the history of the national pastime but what you might expect in post-racial America.
After more than seven years of hope and change the riots all follow a drearily familiar pattern. A young black man dies as a result of an encounter with the police, a mob gathers to demand its version of justice before any facts are known, people who should know better egg them on, and and it all ends badly for the poor black people who are left behind in the rubble. Only the location and details of the death seem to change. This time around it’s in Baltimore, where the rioting has spread right up against the fancy new Camden Yards ballpark, and the young black man died as a result of a spinal while in police custody, but none of that seems to matter.
The latest round of rioting started last summer in the previously unknown St. Louis suburb of Ferguson, Mo., where the tale of a gentle black youth kneeling with his hands up pleading “don’t shoot” turned out to be a clear-cut case of an officer defending himself against a potentially deadly assault by a criminal but caused weeks of arson and mayhem, then moved to New York, where the death of a man non-violently resisting arrest for the very petty crime of selling single untaxed cigarettes as the result of a headlock and a pile of policeman was less clear-cut and resulted in the assassination of two police officers. There was next a shooting of a black man in North Charleston, South Carolina, that was filmed by one of those ubiquitous cell phone cameras and seems to warrant a murder charge against a police officer, but charges were quickly filed in that case and the victim’s family noisily insisted that all rabble-rousers leave their alone, and little trouble has resulted. There are legitimate questions to be asked about the death in Baltimore, but once again the people inclined to arson and looting and violent assaults on people who had nothing to with any of it and just to want to watch a ballgame won’t await the answers.
The apologists for such behavior will explain that the rioters don’t trust the legal system to provide justice, and are therefore somehow justified in their destruction of the property and violent assaults on the bodies of people who had nothing to do with the alleged crime, even if their notions of justice don’t jibe with the facts as they will eventually be proved, but times have changed since those same justifications for charred black neighborhoods were trotted out by the Kerner Commission back in ’60s. Baltimore’s mostly black police force reports to a black police chief who reports to a black mayor, who in turn is held accountable in regularly scheduled elections by a mostly black population, and should that fail there’s always recourse to a federal Justice Department run by a black Attorney General who reports to a black President of the United States, who now apparently believes he is unaccountable to anyone. While the riots held a ballpark full of fans captive over the weekend the president was about 40 miles of interstate away regaling the White House Correspondents Dinner audience with a comedy routine about his attitude toward governance rhymes with “bucket,” and using some Comedy Central comic as an “anger translator” to convey his righteously black indignation with his critics, and all that apologia about the inherently racist nature of America seemed wildly out of date.
Even if you believe that Republicans and other sorts of nefarious white people still run the country along traditionally racist lines, they have clearly had little influence on Baltimore over the past many decades. Baltimore is a Democrat city in a Democrat state, just 40 miles of interstate away from the Democratic White House, and if the Democrats’ divide-and-conquer strategy of electoral politics didn’t cause the riots in Baltimore there’s no denying that it didn’t prevent them.

— Bud Norman