By Dr. Selwyn R. Cudjoe
October 03, 2016
This year’s US presidential election is perhaps the strangest of them all. In 1964, I witnessed my first US election when Barry Goldwater of Arizona challenged President Lyndon Johnson in the aftermath of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination in 1963. As a Southerner, he realized the difficult tasks that faced the nation. His challenge was to insure that black citizens enjoyed the same rights as white citizens which he achieved when Congress passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 that outlawed discrimination on the basis of race, color or religion. In 1965, he signed the Voting Rights Act that removed the legal barriers that prevented blacks from voting.
In 1964, black demands for justice and a white backlash were in the cards. Goldwater declared: “Extremism in the defense of liberty is no Vice.” His campaign slogan read, “In your heart, you know he is right.” These inflammatory positions led to the birth of the modern conservative movement. Many respectable Republicans (Ronald Reagan, Jacob Jarvis, Nelson Rockefeller, William Buckley, Edward Brooke) emerged. Donald Trump is the worst example of that political tendency.
Trump is so reactionary that the New York Times, in its 2016 endorsement of a presidential candidate, refused to compare Trump’s claims to that office with those of Hillary Clinton. It ran a full-throttle endorsement of Hillary on Sunday (Sept. 25) and a vigorous repudiation of Trump on Monday (September 26) that highlighted his unfitness to hold the highest job in the US.
Trump is a magnificent farce and failure. He made his money by every means necessary but money alone does not confer political legitimacy. Edward Luce pointed out Trump’s fraudulence in “The Art of Defrauding America.” He underlined “the false equivalence” that characterized the media’s election coverage; a mistake the media (with the exception of Fox News) are now trying to correct.
Luce argues that at a time of acute polarization, such equivalence “is gold dust to Mr. Trump.” He continues: “He may run a pay-for-play foundation but so do the Clintons. He may refuse to release his tax returns. But Mrs. Clinton hid a private email server. After a while, everyone seems equally bad. In reality, the Clinton Foundation raises billions for philanthropic causes and its published accounts meet industry standards. Mr. Trump, on the other hand, has used his to make political donations, buy portraits of himself and settle law suits” (Financial Times, September 26).
Although I am not unmindful of the Clintons’ transgressions against black people, I will support Hillary in this election. Bill Clinton’s 1996 Welfare Reform Bill cut over $55 billion from the welfare rolls between 1996 and 2002. Michelle Alexander noted President Clinton presided over “the largest increase in federal and state prison inmates of any president in American history” (The Nation, February 10).
While I oppose her husband’s savage welfare cuts and her tirade against young black men (she called them “super-predators” who had “no conscience, no empathy”), I am inclined to accept the New York Times evaluation that “She is one of the most tenacious politicians of her generation, whose willingness to study and correct course is rare in an age of unyielding partisanship.” My heart was gladdened when she acknowledged, in her first debate with Trump, that having her own email server while she was secretary of state was a mistake. I have been waiting for her to apologize, unequivocally, for some of these excesses so she can engage the electorate honestly.
There is no doubt that Hillary is better prepared than Trump to lead the United States for the next four years. I supported Bernie Sanders during the primaries and sent him a small financial contribution because I thought he was more trustworthy than Hillary and better able to make the drastic changes (he called them revolutionary) that the US requires at this time.
Hillary won. Now I feel duty bound to support her and will knock on some doors for her in New Hampshire to help her solidify her lead there. Given the unstable nature of this year’s election, New Hampshire’s 4 electoral votes can be the difference between winning and losing the election. In 2000, Al Gore lost New Hampshire by 7,000 votes. Had he won that state, he would have been the US president.
After President Johnson signed the Civil Rights Bill he said “We [meaning Democrats] have lost the South for a generation.” Trump, according to Paul Krugman, has brought out a large segment of “white nationalists” to the fore. A Clinton victory is necessary. It will derail a reactionary, Republican order that has kept the nation in check since 1964. It may even mean that African-Americans, Latinos, Asians and other minorities may be able to breathe a little more easily.