The Donkey In The Room
The Democratic Party, reparations, and the legacy of slavery
THE DONKEY IN THE ROOM
The Democratic Party, reparations, and the legacy of slavery
I write as someone who has voted for Democrats for most of my voting life. I traveled to Ohio in 2008 to canvas for Obama, walking door to door in Cincinnati for months. I voted for Clinton in 2016. I voted for Jorgensen this past presidential election. I have no loyalty to any party, but only to the beautiful dream of this Republic. I sympathize with John Adam’s sentiment when he wrote:
”There is nothing which I dread so much as a division of the republic into two great parties, each arranged under its leader, and concerting measures in opposition to each other. This, in my humble apprehension, is to be dreaded as the greatest political evil under our Constitution.”
Tom Steyer, presidential candidate for the Democratic Party in 2020, said in an interview with Yahoo News regarding the legacy of slavery:
“I don’t think we can be the country that we want to be until we acknowledge the past and move to accept the mistakes this country made that are dramatic and obvious, and then repair the damage.”
This sentiment has become pretty popular among Democrats lately.
Obama, speaking about the legacy of slavery in 2015 said:
“What is also true is that the legacy of slavery, Jim Crow, discrimination in almost every institution of our lives—you know, that casts a long shadow. And that's still part of our DNA that's passed on. We're not cured of it.”
The House will be voting on HR 40, a bill to create a commission to study slavery reparations for black Americans; it was advanced in April 2021, after being rejected every year for 30 years. The Senate introduced companion legislation as well. Biden has stated that he would support a commission.
However, 80% of Americans polled by Reuters disagreed that the United States should use “taxpayer money to pay damages to the descendants of enslaved people in the United States.” About 1 in 3 Democrats and 1 in 5 Republicans agreed. That split is very interesting. Democrats are more likely to support using taxpayer money to pay for reparations than Republicans.
Despite the overwhelming disapproval of reparations by Americans, according to a 2019 Pew study a majority of Americans—63%—do still think that the legacy of slavery affects black people in the United States today. The two parties are split regarding that as well:
“Democrats and those who lean to the Democratic Party (80%) are far more likely than Republicans and GOP leaners (43%) to say the legacy of slavery still affects the situation of black people in American society today.”
Many Democratic politicians, rather than supporting reparations, support expanding government social welfare to all Americans, thereby affecting black Americans the most, as they are most likely to benefit from social welfare programs, statistically. Thus, progressive economic and social policies are proposed as a way of addressing the legacy of slavery.
For a political party that supposedly cares so much about the legacy of slavery and how it has affected black people and still affects black people, a person might expect that it would be particularly acutely aware of how it was part of that legacy. Or at least, a person might expect it should be. I mean, Tom Steyer did say that acknowledging the past would be necessary.
Corporate journalists who support the Democratic Party seem to agree. It seems to be a popular virtue sport these days to write an article about something in America’s history that demonstrates its awful sin of slavery and point out how Americans must remember it if we are ever to atone. For example, The Washington Post published an article about how we “choose to forget” things about American origins. The author was particularly concerned about how we remember the Mayflower, which brought the Pilgrims, but not the White Lion, which brought slaves. He quotes an American abolitionist in 1857:
“Here are two ideas, Liberty and Slavery—planted at about the same time, in the virgin soil of the new continent; the one in the North, the other in the South. They are deadly foes.”
And of course, there is the 1619 Project, published by the New York Times, which was explicitly written with the intent of affecting how America remembers its past. A professor tweeted appreciatively:
“[T]he 1619 Project…is not about history. It's about memory; about what parts of the nation's past we should hold in our memories going forward & about how we tell the story of the nation to our children.”
Nikole Hannah-Jones, the creator of the 1619 Project, tweeted in response:
“He is right: The fight over the 1619 Project is not about history. It is about memory.“
Personally, I am all for remembering the complex relationship our country has had with slavery and liberty. I think we should be concerned about what aspects of our Republic’s past should be held in our memories and the memories of our children. I find the abolitionist’s quotation in the Washington Post article quite powerful, and I think it reflects starkly what the Civil War ultimately answered, that is, whether slavery would be abolished from the Republic or whether it should continue. To my great gratitude, it was abolished. The idea of liberty prevailed over the idea of slavery. Perhaps it was simply one battle for liberty that was won. For after slavery was abolished, a new reign of terror rose up and sought to oppress the black people who had just been liberated. Then after 100 years of terror, the civil rights movement eventually largely abolished that terror.
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One would think that people so concerned about what we remember from our past and people so concerned about how the legacy of slavery affects black people today would acknowledge the obvious and indisputable fact that it was the Democratic Party that was the “the South” and the Republican party that was “the North.” The Party that fought for slavery was the Democratic Party and the Party that fought for liberty was the Republican Party. No Republicans were in the South; and the vast majority of Democrats in the North rooted for slavery. Indeed, Andrew Johnson, a Democrat, who took over the presidency when Lincoln was assassinated, returned land that was given to freed black people by Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman, intended as reparations, back to the slavers. Let that sink into your memory. Black people received enormous amounts of land from Gen. Sherman, a Republican. A Democrat, Johnson, returned the land to the Democrats of the South, those who fought for slavery, over the resistance of Radical Republicans.
For any commission studying reparations for slavery, one would imagine that simple facts such as these would be relevant: the Democratic Party was the organization that fought to keep slavery going, leading to 600,000 American deaths, and the Democratic Party was the organization that seized reparations from black people that had been given after the war. However, given that the House and Senate bills were written by the Democratic Party, and that the commission will be largely directed by the Democratic Party, and that it is largely being promoted by the Democratic Party, and that the Democratic Party is more concerned about “narrative” than history, I suspect that the Democratic Party will “decenter” itself from the “narrative” of slavery—and fix the blame firmly on the innocent: “Americans.”
After all, we can see how much the Democratic Party values accuracy when presenting its own history by simply looking at “Our History” on its official website:
“For more than 200 years, our party has led the fight for civil rights, health care, Social Security, workers’ rights, and women’s rights.”
The blatantly obvious historical revisionism should be astonishing to anyone who actually cares about the “memories” Americans should have about the legacy of slavery. Just look at this enormous lie that the Democratic Party brazenly places for everyone to see, right below its photo of Biden, who is joined by a phalanx of black people. 200 years fighting for civil rights! It conveniently starts its own timeline at 1920—almost 100 years after the actual formation of the party. 200 years ago it was chasing down escaping slaves. Around 150 years ago it was fighting to preserve slavery in the American Civil War. Notice also how there is no mention of Black Laws or Jim Crow in its timeline. But it does mention the Civil Rights Act of 1964 that Lyndon Johnson signed.
The Washington Post and the New York Times supposedly care deeply about America remembering the legacy of slavery—they just don’t care about America remembering the legacy of slavery accurately. The Washington Post and the New York Times are deeply concerned about how the Mayflower is remembered but not the White Lion, but don’t give two shits about how the Party that fought for slavery blatantly misrepresents itself today on its official website, focusing only on its participation in the relatively modern civil rights movement and ignoring its war to preserve slavery. How haven’t their new legions of “fact checkers” and “disinformation experts” caught this big fish? The last time I checked, the Pilgrims weren’t around anymore; but the Democratic Party is one of the most powerful organizations in the country, if not the world. And that power derives more or less directly from having fought a war for slavery, stealing reparations from freed black people, and implementing “systemic racism” (Black Laws and Jim Crow) for 100 years. Perhaps, however, it is no surprise that The New York Times, an organization that is owned by a family whose ancestors owned slaves is writing historical revisionism to shift the memories of Americans to the periphery of the legacy of slavery from the center of the legacy of slavery, the Democratic Party.
Furiously sectarian Democrats will fight to absolve the Democratic Party from the guilt of slavery. They will have no qualms about condemning Americans in general or white people in general, or the South, or even the Republican Party (!) for the legacy of slavery—but if someone suggests the Democratic Party holds premier culpability, expect a vigorous and passionate defense.
The two primary ways Democrats attempt to exculpate the guilt of the Democratic Party is by invoking two “narratives”: the Big Switch and the Southern Strategy. The Big Switch narrative generally suggests that there was some process in which Democrats and Republicans “switched” ideologies or platforms. The Southern Strategy narrative generally describes the Republican use of racial resentment, mainly throughout the 1960s and 1970s, to appeal to longtime Democratic voters in the South. These two narratives are integrally related. Typically, the Southern Strategy is used as a way to bolster the legitimacy of the Big Switch.
Thus far, the source online that does the best job of defending those two narratives that I have found is here—it both articulates the narratives in their most nuanced form and also provides the most persuasive evidence I have found supporting them. A good source for the generic and naïve form of the narrative that is part of so much of the American consciousness can be found on History.com—that beloved source that, apart from informing the public about the legacy of slavery, also “explores the controversial theory that extraterrestrials have visited Earth for millions of years.”
These two narratives’ greatest leverage resides in the fact that there is some truth to be found in both of them. There has been a shift in the parties and the political demographics of the country from the 1950s to today; and the Republicans did have a Southern strategy in the 60s. However, what makes these two narratives myths is “the idea that the GOP of today more closely resembles the Democratic Party of yore (particularly on matters of race), and vice versa”—and that the reason the GOP resembles the Democratic Party of yore is because of its Southern strategy to court the Southern racists with appeals to their racist sentiments. Those two specific points—that the Republican Party resembles the Democratic Party of yore and the Republican Party became dominant in the south because it employed a Southern strategy designed to win over racists—are both false.
The conclusion that these two premises inevitably are meant to entail is that because the parties switched (or began switching if a Democrat is more nuanced and realizes the former is easy to disprove) in the 1960s, the Republican Party inherits the sins of the Democratic Party prior to the 1960s and the Democratic Party inherits the virtues of the Republican Party prior to the 1960s. The motive is to shift any moral blame for slavery and Jim Crow onto the Republican Party—because the parties switched.
Let me start off by discussing the “Southern Strategy.” The origin of the the term comes from a variety of sources, including newspaper articles, but primarily from a discussion Lee Atwater had with Alexander Lamis. The entire transcript is available here. Typically, what you will find is a reference to a particular segment of the discussion, as you can find on the Wikipedia page for Lee Atwater:
“Y'all don't quote me on this. You start out in 1954 by saying, ‘Nigger, nigger, nigger.’ By 1968 you can’t say ‘nigger’—that hurts you. Backfires. So you say stuff like forced busing, states’ rights and all that stuff. You’re getting so abstract now [that] you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is [that] blacks get hurt worse than whites. And subconsciously maybe that is part of it. I’m not saying that. But I’m saying that if it is getting that abstract, and that coded, that we are doing away with the racial problem one way or the other. You follow me—because obviously sitting around saying, ‘We want to cut this,’ is much more abstract than even the busing thing, and a hell of a lot more abstract than ‘Nigger, nigger.’ So, any way you look at it, race is coming on the back-burner.”
Unquestionably, that sounds pretty wretched. Unfortunately, it is extracted completely out of context. First, the quotation doesn’t even include the first two sentences of Lee Atwater’s comment in that part of the discussion. That quote begins with: “Here’s how I would approach that issue as a statistician or a political scientist. Or as a psychologist, which I’m not, is how abstract you handle the race thing. Now once you start out…”. The quote on Wikipedia not only doesn’t include the first two sentences, but it also starts in the middle of the sentence he is speaking. And this is a great example of why Wikipedia is often not a good source (at least a final source) for anything political.
Atwater is responding to Lamis’ suggestion that Reagan was appealing to the racists because he won the Wallace voter. He explains to Lamis a theory, and how he would approach it as a psychologist. And he says “don’t quote me on this” because his explanation is going to include the word “nigger”—which we all know may destroy a person’s career if spoken now, but back then it was still sufficiently unpopular. And his theory, the Southern Strategy, is that in order to win, any politician in the south in 1954 had to say “nigger, nigger, nigger,” but then by 1968, doing that actually hurt a politician because of the changing perceptions of race. Then, to reach those voters, a politician might need to oppose stuff like forced bussing and support states’ rights and such. And now politicians promote cutting taxes and other economic things and subconsciously that may sway racist voters—but “I’m not saying that.” And he isn’t just talking about Republican politicians; he is talking about Democratic politicians as well. He says: “The candidate who best handled the segregation issue between ‘54 and ‘66 basically was the winner. Importantly, the race question was the top, was the issue in all Southern races. This continued up to ‘70.”
He also discusses repeatedly the “blue collar voter.”
“Until 1980, and a little bit until ‘76, the race issue was how you approach that man. Plus, the most conservative guy on fiscal matters always tends to have their vote, and the toughest son of a bitch in national defense and foreign policy are always going to have their vote.”
In 1976 Jimmy Carter, a Democrat, won their vote. Not a Republican. Did Jimmy Carter use racism to win their vote? No? Then why make the assumption that Reagan did? If Carter can win without using the race issue then Reagan can as well. And that is what Atwater says. Carter ended up losing to Reagan in 1980. And he didn’t just lose the South. He lost the whole country.
In the Wikipedia quotation presented above, Atwater is speculating, because Lamis asked him to speculate, about racist Wallace voters and how someone—a “statistician or a political scientist…or a psychologist”—might explain how Reagan won them over. But there is no indication from what he says that the reason Reagan is running on those things is because Reagan is racist. There is often a general assumption among progressives that conservative economic policy is racist because inevitably one thing economic conservatism promotes is cutting taxes, and social welfare programs require taxes, and black people disproportionately use social welfare programs.
However, racism needn’t be the reason why people support conservative economic policies, as those same people may also donate to social programs that help black people or they may simply not want to use their money to support programs they haven’t voluntarily decided to support; or they may just think that conservative economic policy will actually improve the lives of black people in the long run; or they may feel that it is immoral on principle to tax people heavily for anything that is not essential for the functioning of the government. That does not mean the people must have antipathy toward black people. Lamis assumes that Reagan must be racist or specifically targeting racists because he ran on lowering taxes. This is nonsense. American revolutionaries were substantially motivated by an opposition to taxes, but that doesn’t mean they were opposed to taxes because they were motivated by some sort of racial animus. Sure, the vast majority of them were probably racist, but that isn’t what motivated their anti-tax sentiments. Taxes can be perceived as unjust, and race has nothing to do with that perception.
“Conservative” positions in general are often portrayed by progressives and other opponents as being essentially racist, but those positions can be held by people who are strongly supportive of the uplift of black people and have even dedicated their lives to it, such as civil rights activist and founder of the 1776 Unites project, Bob Woodson. Woodson even developed an opposition to forced bussing because he thought it was harmful at times to the education of black students. Atwater notes that it is possible that some voters subconsciously might find certain “conservative” positions appealing due to their racism, “but,” he qualifies his speculations, “I’m saying that if it is getting that abstract and that coded, that we're doing away with the racial problem one way or the other.”
Indeed, early in his discussion he explicitly says the following:
“the Reagans did not have to do a Southern Strategy for two reasons.
Number one, race was not a dominant issue.
And number two, the mainstream issues in this campaign had been ‘Southern issues’ since way back in the ‘60s. So Reagan goes out and campaigns on the economics and on national defense, the whole campaign was devoid of any kind of racism, any kind of reference.”
Republicans unquestionably ran immoral campaigns that attempted to appeal to racist voters in the 1960s and 1970s. But that is not necessarily why they won the campaigns they did win. In fact, Richard Nixon lost the deep south to Wallace in 1968. And that is because he didn’t focus on trying to win those states. This is confirmed both by Nixon himself and by Kevin Phillips, who performed voting analysis for Nixon’s 1968 campaign, in his book, The Emerging Republican Majority, published in 1969. The book discusses Republican strategy and voting behavior in general, including in the South, and has become a legend among many Democrats as representing a Republican Southern Strategy bible. Phillips writes in a preface to the 2014 updated edition that the book was not a blueprint for Republican strategy at the time, but rather a “detailed, historically framed analysis of regional and cultural shifts that had already been in motion for a quarter of a century,” and that Nixon had only read memos based on the book's analysis a week before the election. Furthermore, the book’s analysis implies that Nixon's support for civil rights and voting rights would contribute to the support of Wallace, running on the American Independent Party ticket, in the deep South and keep “third party flames flickering.” At the time, of course, Phillips could not know that Wallace would quickly settle comfortably back into the Democratic Party, appealing to the same racist Southerners that Nixon had not focused his campaign on. In any event, if some Republicans did appeal to the racism of Southerners, that does not in and of itself mean that Democrats did not do the same thing.
One element of the myth of the Southern Strategy is simple omission: Democrats were more successful in the south than Republicans in the 1960s and 1970s, which were the height of Republican attempts to appeal to Southern voters by leveraging racist sentiments. Eighty-three Southern Democrats in the House voted “Nay” on the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Of those, only two (John Jarman of OK and Albert Watson of SC) changed their party affiliation to Republican. Those 83 Southern Democrats were inevitably appealing to the racists of the south. How many Southern Republicans did not vote “Yea”? Eleven. Because that is all there were. (Similarly, only one Senate Republican from the South, the only one, voted “Nay.” Of the 21 Southern Democrats who voted “Nay,” only one changed parties afterwards: Strom Thurmond.) The South was primarily Democratic. The Democratic Party had been appealing to the racist sentiments of the South since before it even fought its war for slavery and it continued to do so in the 1960s and the 1970s. It even did so in the 1980s, as demonstrated by the fact that Joe Biden appealed to the racists of the South when, in 1987, he bragged about getting an award from the archsegregationist George Wallace, and said that his state was on “the South’s side in the Civil War.” Yes, that Joe Biden, our current president. In 1976 Biden supported a measure to restrict bussing that was sponsored by Senator Robert Byrd, the West Virginia Democrat and ex-KKK member who had filibustered the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Kamala Harris even brought this up during the debates for 2020, essentially accusing Biden of supporting segregation.
The archsegregationist George Wallace continued as a Democratic governor of Alabama until 1979. In his campaign for Governor in 1970 he ran an explicitly racist campaign—no resorting to “dog whistles.” The following image is an ad he ran. Yes, what you see is seven black boys around a white girl.
Some Democrats take the fact that in 2005 RNC Chairman Ken Mehlman apologized for the behavior of the Republican Party in the last few decades of the 20th century as evidence that the “Southern Strategy” ushered in the “Big Switch”:
“By the ‘70s and into the ‘80s and ‘90s, the Democratic Party solidified its gains in the African American community, and we Republicans did not effectively reach out. Some Republicans gave up on winning the African American vote, looking the other way or trying to benefit politically from racial polarization. I am here today as the Republican chairman to tell you we were wrong.”
It is certainly good evidence that “some Republicans” either didn’t bother trying to appease black voters or straight up leveraged racist sentiments, but it certainly isn’t evidence that the parties “switched.” It just means that the Republican Party has demonstrated some level of self-awareness and willingness to acknowledge its history. The Democratic Party, though—I don’t recall it apologizing for its behavior during the war for slavery, for its Black Laws, for Jim Crow, or for the post-‘60s campaigns like Wallace’s that it ran. We can look at the Democratic Party’s history page as a measure of its self-awareness. The notion that the two parties switched because the Republican Party engaged in some bad behavior in the 1960s is absolutely ridiculous given that the Democratic Party fought a war for slavery and instituted Jim Crow while the Republican Party never did such things. Furthermore, even if the Republican Party did appeal to racial resentment in the twentieth century, the Democratic Party did not cease leveraging racist sentiments after 1964.
It took 30 years after the 1964 Civil Rights Act for the Republican Party to gain a majority of congressional seats in the South. It is unquestionable that there was a transition in the political composition of the Southern states. But the data shows that Republican Party dominance followed primarily from the South becoming more economically conservative, even as it became increasingly less racist, and the Democratic Party becoming more economically progressive. Race surely played a part, particularly given that many Southerners were racist and economic conservatism, although it is not inherently racist, can still be appealing to a racist who does not want the economic policies of progressives to prevail for the racial groups they hate. We can have situations where racists support a platform or a politician that is not racist, simply because the platform or politician incidentally supports what racists want.
As for progressive economic policies, they themselves are often in fact racist, insofar as they directly attempt to benefit one racial group at the expense of others. Hence, for example, Biden has implemented programs for minority farmers that help them economically, but exclude white farmers. That is racial discrimination. Certainly, white racists, as well as non-racist white people who do not want to be discriminated against, will oppose such a policy. But it doesn’t follow that because white people don’t want to be discriminated against, they must be racist toward black people. This would make no more sense than the idea that black people who don’t want to be discriminated against are racist.
Now, it should be clear that the two parties did not have any dramatic switch, and the transition that did occur was not simply because of a strategy to win Southern votes by appealing to the racist sentiments of voters. The Democratic Party has been doing that since its inception 200 years ago, and it continued to do that after 1964. The Republican Party was particularly bad about it in the 1960s and 1970s, but still no worse than the Democratic Party. The only party that “switched” was the Democratic Party after 1964 when it quickly realized that its segregationist brand would no longer win a country, even the Southern parts, that had begun to embrace the racial vision espoused by many civil rights activists such as Martin Luther King, Jr.
The Republican domination of the South is in some sense a testament to the effectiveness of the civil rights movement. The once solidly Democratic South, fanatically loyal to the Democratic Party, slowly lost its loyalty, and likewise, migrations from the North occurred, and this all led to the opportunity for the Republican Party to make gradual but substantial gains by primarily appealing to issues other than race. In the 1980s, Reagan won the whole country, not just the racists; and the racists were beginning to be less and less significant to a victory in the South.
What now divides the two parties more than anything else is their economic philosophies—“conservativism” and “progressivism.” In practice, the differences can often be less pronounced, but in their expressed ideology, the difference is quite dramatic. When the Civil War was fought between liberty and slavery, the two parties’ perspectives on race were arguably what most separated them. The Republican Party believed that the enslavement of black people should be ended, while the Democratic Party believed it should continue. Following the Civil War, the Republican Party believed that black people should have their civil rights protected, while the Democratic Party sought to oppress them. After 1964, the only difference is that the Democratic Party no longer sought to oppress black people in the way it did before and it no longer sought to extend slavery and Jim Crow. The Republican Party did not pick up a pro-slavery, Jim Crow platform. That would have constituted an actual switch. The Republican Party never implemented “Jim Crow 2.0,” despite the obscene propaganda about it in the past few years. It’s as if the people promoting the idea never bothered to learn about what it was actually like during Jim Crow for black people, or simply don’t care, since so many Democrats have been so well groomed to simply accept ideas like that reflexively. Nor, of course, did the Republican Party ever implement “slavery 2.0.”
Perhaps the reason many Democrats are so capable of believing that the parties switched is because they have yet to actually fully “acknowledge the past” and the party’s legacy of slavery, racial terrorism, and race baiting. Instead, they are convinced that Republicans’ race baiting in the 1960s is somehow magically equivalent to fighting a war for slavery and then nursing a racist terrorist organization. Or maybe they are ignorant. At one point in my life I simply was not particularly conscious of the history of the Democratic Party. And much of what I had been exposed to, even in school, reflected the propaganda that is represented most clearly on the party’s official timeline. Historical accounts sometimes simply omit mentions of the Democratic Party, even when they are talking about the Confederacy. And I somehow even absorbed the belief about the “Big Switch” from my upbringing, even though I do not recall where it came from. The Democratic Party is extremely powerful and is supported both by corporate media and by educational institutions. Its propaganda is so powerful that it can claim it was fighting for civil rights for 200 years and no large media organization even points out the obvious lie.
Now the Democratic Party is seeking to investigate reparations for the legacy of slavery. The Democratic Party website excludes mention of it, its presidential candidates say that acknowledging the past is necessary, and ex-presidents say that the legacy of slavery is part of our DNA. Nay. It is part of the Democratic Party’s DNA. If the Democratic Party desires reparations for slavery, it should begin by acknowledging the central role it played, fighting a war to keep it going, stealing reparations that were given to freed black people after the war, and then the continued oppression of black people for a hundred years. And then it should redeem itself, and pay the reparations itself, rather than having innocent Americans pay for the crimes it is guilty of. Other powerful institutions, such as Harvard University are doing exactly this. The Democratic Party draws its power and its wealth from a brutal war for slavery and 100 years of racial terror. It must acknowledge and repair its past. Immigrants from India have nothing to do with its crimes and should have nothing to do with the reparations for them. The Democratic Party now uses the legacy of slavery to try and manipulate people into feeling that its economic policies are necessary to redress the past—centrally the Democratic Party’s past. It wishes voters to think that giving it more and more government power is a fix for social problems that are rooted in its legacy, yet it does not even acknowledge that legacy. Remember, behind its banner of black people and its embrace of Black Lives Matter—essentially political blackface—it is the Party of Slavery, a legacy of white supremacy that it now officially scrubs from its history on its public website.
Most Democrats may scoff at the suggestion that the Party owes reparations even if they don’t completely dismiss the Party’s responsibility or they recognize the parties didn’t switch in any meaningful way. They might make the argument that the Democratic Party is simply not the same as it was 150 years ago, which is of course true. But that is irrelevant to calculations of its debt. The Democratic Party is an organization with a lineage of wealth and power, like a Church, or a corporation. If the Democratic Party can find guilt in “America”—even though America was eventually divided into two factions, one of which ended up defeating the Democratic Party in a civil war—and if the Democratic Party can imagine that the legacy of slavery for “America” ought to be acknowledged or redeemed in some way, then surely the Democratic Party can find itself guilty as well. If Shell Oil enslaved a race of people 150 years ago and 50 years ago decided to embrace civil rights, Shell Oil would still be culpable for its actions 150 years ago. Its redemption would depend on restitution for its crimes. The stakeholders of Shell, post civil rights, would be still benefiting from the crimes that Shell committed 150 years before. Again, this is exactly what Harvard recently determined about its own rise to prominence on the backs of slaves.
Democrats should acknowledge the Democratic Party’s past, and reconcile that with the way the Democratic Party is currently presenting itself as the “party of civil rights.” The Democratic Party will be the Party of Slavery until it redeems itself. And the only way for that to happen is if Democrats “speak truth to power” and bring to light the darkness of the Democratic Party’s past. They must “do the work” and bring about change in their party and provide the reparations from its coffers that their party stole 150 years ago. Otherwise Democrats are complicit in that past, selling their souls for the hope of their political goals, accepting the manipulation of history and turning truth into “narrative.”
The Democratic Party now perversely embraces the Cult of the Awoken—a cult of postmodern racism that faithfully projects the darkness of the Democratic Party’s past onto innocent people today. The Democratic Party may have abandoned its platform of slavery and Jim Crow, but it now has another racist platform: “equity,” which requires the use of race-based policy to eliminate any statistical disparities among racial groups, on the ignorant assumption that disparities are always evidence of discrimination. Its solution is, ironically, racial discrimination: or as the Orwellian phrases go—anti-racist discrimination. It now leverages black racism, white guilt, and white racist paternalism to advocate for racist policies and policies that increase the power of the government to seize wealth—the party’s hope being that more and more power will go to it to control our lives and labor.
“Democracy dies in darkness”—that is the slogan of the Washington Post, one of the most pro-Democratic Party media organizations. Strange, their concern for Democracy, when they are apologists for the Party that fought a war to keep democracy and freedom from black people, a Party that has argued in court that it has no legal obligation to run a fair, democratic, election, a Party that cloaks its own past in darkness. Darkness is what so many Democrats are in. Darkness shrouds the party’s legacy. Our Republic desperately requires that light be brought to the darkness of the Democratic Party’s past. Either the Democratic Party should redeem itself through the light of honest self-reflection and reparations, or it should perish, as it ought to have done after the Civil War.
Jeffrey Peoples is a human with access to the internet and libraries. He works as a software engineer and has a B.A. in Philosophy from UCLA. He has a Substack where you can learn more about him and read more of his writing on a variety of topics including politics, philosophy, religion, and ethics. A previous version of this essay appeared on his Substack here.
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