In perhaps the most famous passage of his "I have a dream" speech at the March on Washington, Martin Luther King Jr. offered a vision of a color-blind society: "I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not by judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character."
A beautiful dream. Yet despite all the progress that has been made in civil rights since 1963, and the even more remarkable change in racial attitudes, including the two-time election of a black president, that dream is under threat today. It is being killed not by Southern rednecks, but by progressive identity politics.
Dr. King painted a vision of a color-blind society based upon the quant idea that all people share a fundamental human identity and cannot and should not be defined by the color of their skin or their gender. In other words, all lives matter. Identity politics and its faithful handmaiden political correctness assume the opposite – i.e., race and gender define the essence of a person.
The fundamental premise of political correctness is that there is only one permissible manner to think about any particular issue, each according to his race or gender or other defining trait. When various heterodox Jewish temples indulged in mourning rituals after Donald Trump's surprise victory, the message was that there is only one correct way for Jews to vote.
American blacks are repeatedly bombarded with the message that they must either think one way or they are traitors to their race. Thus Benjamin Barber, a prominent academic who worked in the Clinton administration, commented before the election that blacks who considered voting for Trump were like the Jewish kapos in the concentration camps and must be sick in the head. And just last week, Marc Lamont Hill, a black CNN commentator, slurred those blacks who met with Donald Trump as "mediocre Negroes."
Such defining of permissible opinions by race is ever more pervasive. The Smithsonian Institute has just opened a National Museum of African American History and Culture. The new museum could find no room to celebrate Clarence Thomas, the second black justice on the Supreme Court and the longest-serving. Tom Goldstein, the founder of SCOTUSblog, has called Thomas the most influential sitting justice in terms of his jurisprudence. But because he is a judicial conservative, the Smithsonian deems his life story – he lived his first seven years in a house without indoor plumbing -- to be unworthy of celebration.
Lest there be any question about the reason for Thomas's omission, consider some of the other prominent black thinkers and politicians left out of the new museum: Tim Scott, a black Republican senator from South Carolina, one of the Confederate states; Thomas Sowell, one of America's leading public intellectuals; Walter Williams, another conservative professor of economics; Shelby Steele, a fellow at the Stanford's Hoover Institute; Kenneth Blackwell, Cincinnati's last Republican mayor; and Martin Luther King Jr.'s niece Alveda King, a pro-life advocate. All, needless to say, are conservative, and thus not deemed proper blacks.
WHAT OF BENJAMIN BARBER'S ARGUMENT that any black supporter of Donald Trump must be mentally deficient or a black "kapo"? What is the underlying assumption? Basically this: Democrats will spend more on social programs, i.e., give more money to black people and the bureaucracies that channel them money than Republicans and that is a good thing.
But there are good reasons to question that assumption. Under the first black president, the income gaps between black and white Americans have only increased. The only beneficiaries of the most tepid recovery from a recession in American history were those with money to invest in a bull market spurred by historically low interest rates. Meanwhile, the percentage of Americans in the work force declined to Depression-levels, with blacks hardest hit.
Among the thirty American cities with the highest murder rates, all, or almost all, have been under exclusive Democrat rule for decades. Chicago and Detroit are powerful testimony to the benefits (or lack thereof) of continuous Democratic governance for urban blacks. Not one Democratic politician has confronted or challenged the Black Lives Matter movement, but since the movement's demonization of the police hit full stride, starting with Ferguson, murder rates have shot up 60% in ten heavily black cities.
When Daniel Moynihan wrote his famous report on the breakdown of the black family, at the very start of President Lyndon Johnson's Great Society, the illegitimacy rate was 25%. Today it is close to 75%. As a young man, black economist Walter Williams used to sleep in the cab he drove, and Thomas Sowell writes of sleeping on hot summer nights on the fire escape. Doing the same today, in the black ghettos in which they grew up, would be suicidal.
Reviewing Michael Woodsworth's The Battle for Bed-Sty: The Long War on Poverty in New York City, John McWhorter, a black professor of linguistics at Columbia, cannot avoid the uncomfortable conclusion: "Few could deny a simple fact about Bedford-Styvestant: "There is all but no indication today that a Great Society effort over occurred."
SOME OF THE GOVERNMENT INTERVENTIONS championed by Democrats have achieved no results; others have had negative unintended consequences on blacks; and others simply ignore the needs of the black community.
In the first category would be Head Start, "the poster child for federal aid to education," in Walter Russell Mead's words. Here is Time magazine's liberal Joe Klein summarizing a comprehensive study by the Obama administration's Department of Health and Human Services: "We spend more than $7 billion providing Head Start to nearly 1 million children each year. And finally there is indisputable evidence about the program's effectiveness . . . : Head Start simply does not work."
One of the unintended consequences of that favorite progressive panacea – sharply raising the minimum wage – is to dramatically lower the number of entry level jobs and thereby deprive young blacks of the chance to work and acquire the habits of doing so. State licensure – not just to be a doctor but to be a manicurist, hair stylist, or gardener – make it harder for poor people, including blacks, to work in these fields. Progressive zoning regulations designed to make cities more orderly have resulted in the loss of small manufacturing and repair shops from the inner cities and the jobs that went with them.
In many cases, apparently beneficent treatment of blacks harms the vast majority. When the Department of Education determines that any differential in the rates of discipline between white and black students is presumptively racist, even when those meting out punishment are black, the result is that the most disruptive elements go undisciplined, and the schools in which black children learn become anarchic blackboard jungles.
In some cases, the progressive agenda could be described as objectively anti-black. The Democratic Party is in thrall to public teachers unions, and thus, in the main, hostile to charter schools. But charter schools and vouchers often offer the best hope for inner city children to escape failing public schools.
CHARLES MURRAY has been urging for decades the thesis that the Great Society programs have created a culture of dependence and fostered a breakdown in lower-class family life. In his view, the results have nothing to do with race. The same has taken place among the British underclass, which is overwhelmingly white.
At the outset of the Great Society, it was thought that the primary barrier to black ascent was a lack of opportunity and that the answer lay in connecting blacks to jobs. That may have been true then, writes John McWhorter, but it is no longer the primary problem. Too many young black men do not work even when jobs are available. They have grown up "in communities in which it is not considered abnormal for a man not to work regularly for a living." That norm, he notes, "did not exist before the late 1960s," i.e., until the outset of the Great Society.
Whether or not Democrats set out to create a culture of dependency, there is no question that it is essential to their current electoral strategy. They have to convince blacks that Republicans want to put them in chains, or at the very least return them to the days of Jim Crow and poll taxes. As Van Jones, Obama's original Special Advisor for Green Jobs, notes: In order to win, Democrats have to win 90 to 92% of the black vote. If only 70% hate Donald Trump and 30% are open to his argument, and he can persuade half of that 30%, he wins. Blacks therefore must be taught that it is a betrayal of one's race to even contemplate deviation from the Democratic line.
Who benefits from the dependence of blacks on government welfare? Well, for one billionaire environmental alarmists, like Tom Steyer. They could not sell their job-killing agenda on its own. So instead, they fan racial resentment and promise to "take care" of blacks in return for their votes, even as they lessen their chances of finding work. A Faustian bargain for blacks.
UNQUESTIONABLY, I HAVE PAINTED with a broad brush and treated simplistically difficult issues of social policy. My purpose was only to show that a black American does not have to be a "kapo" to speak to Donald Trump.
I do not know whether Donald Trump or other Republicans have better solutions for the inner-city blacks, or even whether there are "solutions" in the short term.
But inner-city blacks have clearly not been well-served by being automatic Democrat voters. They would be better off returning to Dr. Martin Luther King's vision of blacks as human beings as free to think for themselves and as capable of doing so as anyone else, not as people whose race must determine their votes.
They have no less reason to believe that Donald Trump is sincere when he proclaims his goal of transforming America's inner cities than they do for trusting the sincerity of generations of Democratic politicians.