By Dr Selwyn Cudjoe
August 12, 2020
Last Tuesday, Joseph Biden, the nominee of the Democratic Party, selected Kamala Harris to be his running mate in the next US presidential election. If she is elected, she will become the most powerful woman in the Democratic Party and a strong candidate to become the first US woman president.
Harris was not selected primarily because of her academic brilliance, political acumen or prosecutorial experience, although she possesses all these attributes. She was selected because black democrats demanded that a black woman be selected because they saved Biden’s candidacy when it was floundering.
We all remember that when Biden’s primary campaign arrived in South Carolina he was on the verge of dropping out. James Clyburn and the black electorate rescued his candidacy.
From that point on, blacks in the Democratic Party were determined they would be rewarded for their efforts. Harry Reid, the former Senate majority leader, acknowledged that race was one of the most important factors in selecting Harris. He noted: “I think he [Biden] came to the conclusion that he should pick a black woman. They are our most loyal voters and I think that the black women of America deserved a black vice-presidential candidate.” (New York Times, August 14.)
There is a deeper backstory to this narrative. In 1863, when Lincoln freed the slaves, the Democrats were the slave party; the Republicans were the liberal party. In gratitude, black people supported the Republican Party for close to 100 years until Lyndon Johnson, a Democrat, was elected in 1964. Thereafter, black people supported the Democratic Party until the election of Barack Obama in 2008. This time around the blacks demanded their pound of flesh and got it.
This is what mature politics is all about. I will support you, but you must reward me for my support. You must never take my vote for granted. That is what I tried to say when I endorsed the UNC three weeks ago. The PNM should never take the black vote for granted.
Although I endorsed the UNC “this time around”, I emphasised that I remain a member of the PNM. It did not mean that I had abandoned my blackness (as some people have said) and the party, even though I reserved the right to vote for another party in the future if I believe the PNM is not attending to the needs of black people, its primary constituents.
Such political considerations are not unusual. Tomorrow night the Democrats begin their convention to formally select their presidential candidates. John Kasich, a Republican and former governor of Ohio, an important swing state in the presidential election, will be one of the three major speakers at the convention. Kasich has not left the Republican Party. All he says is I will not support President Trump and the Republican Party because of how they have governed over the last four years.
A few weeks ago, George Bush, a Republican and former president of the US, spoke at John Lewis’s funeral although Lewis refused to attend his inauguration. Bush explained his decision: “John and I had our disagreements, of course, but in the America that John Lewis fought for—and the America I believe in—the differences of opinion are inevitable elements and evidence of democracy in action.”
This is how politicians, at their best, behave. They allow for disagreements but always retain the right to act as their conscience bids them to act. They never lose their idealism, their hope or their faith. They keep pushing on because they believe in the correctness of their position. I supported UNC and endorsed Jearlean John because I had hoped they would see that looking out for black people’s concern would be in their own best self-interest.
The PNM won the election. Black people voted for the party overwhelmingly although the overall numbers of voters decreased by about ten per cent. The PNM even lost one seat in the process. Yet, the major question remains: are black people tenacious enough to demand that they be rewarded for their unremitting support over the years? Or, will PNM go back to business as usual?
Last week I condemned UNC’s “despicable portrayal of black people in one of their ads”. This racist portrayal and stereotyping continue incessantly on social medial. Jason Gordon, Catholic Archbishop, has bemoaned: “It is clear in this country right now that we are blinded by race.” (Express, August 14.) We should stop treating racism as a taboo subject we can’t discuss.
There may be one T&T on the surface, but another on the inside. We may portray ourselves as an island of racial harmony, but there is a deep underbelly of racial distrust in the innards of our society. There may well be a perfect ending to our story, but these deep racial undertones and acerbic condemnation of those who express different points of view are inimical to the well-being of our society.
On October 29, 1941, when things seemed bad for his nation, Sir Winston Churchill offered his nation the following advice: “Never give in. Never, never, never give in—in nothing great or small, large or petty. Never give in except to convictions of honour and good sense. Never yield to force; never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy.” (These Are Great Days)
Let us fight tenaciously for our positions, but let us remember the words Churchill appended to the frontispiece of his book, History of the Second World War: “In War, Resolution; in Defeat, Defiance; in Victory, Magnanimity; and in Peace, Good Will.”
Our society still has a long way to go when it comes to honouring and respecting peaceful dissent.