I'm a Emeritus Professor of International and Interdisciplinary Studies from Morehead State University in Morehead, KY. After 10 years of stumbles and false starts with my research, I'm seemingly back on track and will use this blog to record my struggles with writing on early blackface minstrelsy in ante-bellum Philadelphia.
The United States is a large nation of 333 million people with a welter of regional, ethnic, racial, immigrant, urban, suburban, and rural subcultures. At the same time, there is a national culture that is dividing into “mainstream” and “white conservative” wings. Indeed, cultural division is becoming as much a feature of American life as it is in a country like Lebanon. With Trumpism, much of the media and academic attention has been focused on the rapid changes in cultural conservatism, especially the rise of the conspiracy world and its overlapping with the religious right and gun culture. But outside conservative critics, there has not been as much focus on the mainstream part of the cultural divide.
A word on the term “mainstream.” So much of American culture is tied up with the country’s destabilizing politics. Democrats like to stigmatize conservatives as ignorant, uncivilized, and bigoted if not dumb, and pay special attention to statements like Donald Trump falsely claiming below that Thomas Jefferson was an author of the Constitution.
But in thus treating conservatism as “the other,” Democrats do little reflection on their own symbolism, practices, and loyalties and how those have changing. For their part, conservatives have terms like the “left,” “woke,” and “intolerant” by which they criticize political opponents and also American culture more generally as opposed to conservatism. Tim Carney of the conservative outlet The Washington Examiner complains that the “Left’s domination” of the media, academia, and corporate life make all these institutions uncomfortable and unfriendly places for conservatives like Kevin Williamson (fired by The Atlantic), Bari Weiss (resigned from New York Times), and Meghan McCain (quit The View).
However, opposition to “woke” workplaces does not say much about the nature of the cultural commitments of the media, academia, or corporations. Likewise, Tim Carney’s critique of the media, academia, and corporate America more generally, any “major non-conservative institution” is an indication that he’s not speaking about a kind of disposition or mood of these organizations. They’re not “just” hostile to conservatives. Likewise, it’s not a regional phenomena, a tech thing, or some sort of conspiracy stemming from “George Soros and his allies.” The “dominance of the left” is also much bigger than the political left in the sense that it would apply to corporations that support the Republican Party and it’s policies of lower taxes on the wealthy and restricting the electorate. It’s also bigger than the Democratic Party. What Tim Carney is chastising is mainstream American culture and its values, practices, and symbols rather than just the “left.”
On Monday, Oct. 11, Jon Gruden resigned as coach of the Las Vegas Raiders as a result of bigoted emails sent to buddy Bruce Allen who was then president of the Washington “Redskins.” I’ve always had a soft spot for the Raiders and especially loved Jack Tatum, Willie Brown, Kenny Stabler, and the roughhousing, tough talking, big play image from the early 1970’s. As a high school defensive back and linebacker, I especially loved “clotheslining” and the way an end or running backs head snapped back when the hit stopped their forward momentum.
But in 1978, Daryl Stingley of the New England Patriots was permanently paralyzed by Tatum and I began to realize that it was all wrong. In fact, I was living in Oakland at the time, working in a restaurant on Alameda Island, and living on the corner of 10th and 23rd. It was a momentous time with the Jim Jones massacre and George Moscone/Harvey Milk murders but the part of me that still loved Jack Tatum was shadowed by a shame that’s still with me.
I always assumed the Raider organization hired Jon Gruden to bring back the swaggering brio of the 70’s Raiders. And Gruden’s emails were “old school” racial stereotyping of DeMaurice Smith, head of NFL Players Association, who Gruden referred to as having “lips the size of Michellin tires.” These kinds of images have deep roots in the history of white culture, emerging into popular culture with the blackface minstrelsy of the late 1830’s and 1840’s. It’s easy to think of images of black people with super-sized lips and noses, chimp-like teeth, furry arms and legs, and hyper-extended feet and heels as just being “mean” or “demeaning.” But the imagery used by Gruden served to identify black people as a not really human form of “comic substance” and to justify any form of discrimination, sadism, or violence as entertainment for white people. What Gruden was doing in his email was sharing a demeaning image of a black man for Allen’s entertainment while not only justifying a refusal to take DeMaurice Smith seriously but an urge to grind him into the dust.
While Gruden’s racism has a history, it was also closely aligned with Gruden’s homophobia (in relation to Michael Sam), exploitative sexism (topless cheerleader photos), and misogyny (put downs of NFL Commissioner). In many ways, Gruden was living the mainstream of post-segregation white conservative culture. He was more than willing to work with black athletes and was perhaps even willing to share locker room camaraderie with them. Likewise, Gruden probably had no particular problem with black Americans voting, serving on juries, or running for office in cities like Oakland but he also reserved the right to use racist language with his white friends and perhaps enjoyed racist jokes as much as any other “regular guy.” By the time, Gruden began his career in the late 1980’s, this was an “old school” post-segregationist kind of white racism–being able to engage with black people at work but insisting on being able to make racist jokes, comments, and observations with other white guys. It was part of white and male bonding and stood in stark contrast to the kind of liberal wimps who “cried racist” or would care about brain damage from playing football. Being that kind of old school old school also meant adamant opposition to Colin Kaepernick, Eric Reid, and black protests against police violence. Like many white conservatives, Gruden saw his racial stereotyping and racial politics as color-blind instead of “racial.”
But Jon Gruden learned last week that being old school on race, gender, and sexual orientation is now taboo. The NFL central office, the NFL Players Association, and the most influential players in a league that’s 70% black, are committed to an official civil rights ideology of diversity, inclusion, and valuing black people, Asian-Americans, Hispanics, women, LGBT people and other groups protected under civil rights law and custom. and other racial minorities. The same official ideology is held by black publics, liberal/left whites, corporate sponsors, and the mainstream news media. That current version of civil rights ideology is elaborated in opposition both to legal segregation like that of the “Jim Crow South” AND the “old school” stereotyping, joking, stereotyping and informal discrimination of the Jon Grudens and Bruce Allens. The prevalence of old school thinking among owners, executives, and white fans makes the NFL a racist organization and would make any systematic enforcement of the official ideology a monumental task. However, the advocates of civil rights ideology have clear ideas about the moral turpitude of Gruden’s old school bigotry, don’t believe that old racists, misogynists, and homophobes have a place in the NFL, and acted quickly and skillfully to remove Gruden once the full range of his bigotry became a matter of public record. The quickness with which Gruden was either forced or induced to resign is a strong measure of both the moral consensus around civil rights ideology and the sophistication and eagerness of several parties to act on that moral consensus. Jon Gruden had been working in the NFL and football for almost 20 years, but he was gone in a day with the added taboo of never being able to work in professional football again.
Jon Gruden was expelled from the NFL through the workings of the official culture of the National Football League and its stakeholders. That’s not “cancel culture” as conservatives would have it. That’s just culture.
Trump voters are creating a “herrenvolk” political culture where white conservatism has a symbolic anchor in “simple” and “authentic” patriotic gestures like the Flag, the Pledge, and the “Star-Spangled Banner.” Like conservatives everywhere, Trump voters have a hunger for tradition as a guarantee of their moral rightness, but conservative political traditions and historical figures have come under such intense attack in the post-Civil Rights era that conservatives have had to either give up on or de-emphasize Columbus, the Pilgrims, the Puritans, the Old South, the Confederacy, pioneers, McCarthyism, and other badges of conservative honor. Unable to identify with liberal political movements and figures, conservatives have more or less retreated to George Washington as the sole guarantor of the conservative version of national honor.
But that’s not enough and conservatives have been working overtime to shape Donald Trump into the kind of mythic figure who functions on such a monumental scale that he can substitute for almost 250 years of the honored historical traditions to which conservatives are so poorly connected.
They are also creating a set of cultural rituals in which displaying flags, re-enacting the Pledge of Allegiance, and singing songs like “the Star-Spangled Banner” and “America the Beautiful” that identify them as “simple,” “authentic,” “patriotic,” and thus superior in virtue to the liberal coastal elites and Black Lives Matter, Critical Race Theory, LGBT, and feminist activists who condescend towards them as “bigots.” Real “patriots” practice and revere such rituals while all the enemies of conservatives ignore, disdain, or rebel against them.
Thus revealing themselves to be “enemies of the people” just as much as the mainstream media.
At the rally for Virginia GOP gubernatorial candidate last night, the Pledge and Flag ritual was made extra special by the American flag flown at the Jan. 6 Insurrection. But herrenvolk conservatism need not be limited to political rallies. As is the case with Trump reverence, all segments of the religious right, gun culture, and the conspiracy world can rally around herrenvolk patriotism and feel a sense of identity in opposition to the rest of the country.
This is a highly condensed version of my early blackface material written for the Midwest Popular Culture Association in Minneapolis last weekend. Citations are still in development.
This paper concerns developments in blackface minstrelsy from the emergence of T.D. Rice and his “Jim Crow” act in the early 1830’s to the months just before the founding of the Virginia Minstrels in 1843. My research mostly concerns Philadelphia, but blackface was a massive cultural phenomena in the northern and western parts of ante-bellum America. My narrative approach will be to start at the end of the period with “Lucy Long” and then move backward to discuss other minstrel performers going back to Rice. By the time “Lucy Long” was published in 1842, several discourses on “blackness” had been incorporated into blackface performance, including blackness as exposure and vulnerability, blackness as criminality, blackness as sickness, blackness as comic substance, and blackness as femininity. One questions addressed in early 1830’s blackface minstrelsy was the extent to which black people could be viewed as having a “place” in society. By the early 1840’s, the question was decided in the negative as blackface songs became celebrations of the torture and humiliation of black people. In the minstrelsy view, black people had no legitimate place in society except as an object of white voyeurism and sadistic enjoyment.
According to blackface performer Billy Whitlock, he originally wrote the music for “Lucy Long” in 1838 with T. G. Booth providing the lyrics. The song seemed to have become prominent by 1842 when two versions were published, one by George Wittig and a second by black bandleader Frank Johnson. Costuming as a black woman represented an extension of the cultural logic of blackness and femininity that had been part of Philadelphia popular culture since before Rice and Jim Crow. Workingmen’s writers of the late 1820’s had represented themselves as being attacked by creatures like vampires and incubi that preyed sexually on women and, thus, they attributed a stereotyped femininity to their own male bodies. When Rice dressed up in blackface and rags to perform Jim Crow, he embodied an image of slavery that had even more feminine connotations of vulnerability and weakness. That was part of the transgressive thrill with “Jim Crow.” When a performer like Whitlock costumed as a black woman playing “Lucy Long,” he enhanced the identification of blackface “blackness” with femininity even further.
I’m just from old Warginny,/ To sing a little song, ‘T is all about by sweetheart/De lubly Lucy Long,/Oh take your time, Miss Lucy,
“De way dey bake de hoe cake,/In warginny neber tire,/ Is to stick de dough upon de foot,/And hold it to de fire/ Take your time, etc.”
“Yes Lucy is a pretty girl,/Such lubly hands and feet/When her toes is in de market house,Her heels is in Main Street,/ Take your time, etc.” (My emphasis)
Ostensibly, “Lucy Long” is about the romantic hesitancy of an attractive young black woman, “My Lucy is a pretty girl,/ My Lucy’s berry tall.” But the idea of “Lucy Long’s” attractiveness was subverted by her gigantic feet stretching from the “market house to Main Street.” The length of Lucy’s feet made her a monstrosity rather than a “pretty girl,” in fact making a cruel joke out of her pretentions to be pretty. The “unnaturalness” here is not just a matter of Lucy having poorly apportioned body parts but that she seems to be a combination of recognizably human and completely inhuman qualities—a kind of abomination. The exaggerated size of Lucy’s feet also had a phallic quality which conveyed the further abomination of being a male appendage attached to a female body. The image of black women having unnaturally long heels went back at least as far back as Edward Clay’s “Life in Philadelphia” lithographs (1828) which represented the feet of black women and men extending at length both forward and backward from the heel. Along with hyper-extended feet, Clay portrayed black people as having ape-like faces and furry arms, chimp-like teeth, and large, rounded derrieres that identified them as deformed amalgamations of human and animal. This raises questions about the implications of Clay’s pictures for black people fitting into society. Before the 1820’s, black people were 10-15% of the Philadelphia population but were so little represented in popular culture that they were not even seen as “the other.” To the contrary, the focus of Clay’s lithographs is on black people buying clothes, talking about weather, courting, and drinking tea, but also as absurd kinds of beings because of their misshapenness and monstrous mixture of human and animal. From Clay’s point of view, black people were a comic substance living in society but definitely not belonging there.
Despite appearances, the discourse on blacks as comic substance was an element in the early blackface performances of T.D. Rice as “Jim Crow.” Contrary to Clay, T. D. Rice represented blackness in terms of the poverty and vulnerability with which white laboring men viewed themselves. Not only did he black up his skin, Rice wore shoes full of holes and ragged, patched clothes to represent the poverty associated with blackness and enhanced the racial effect by adopting black dialect. The figure of “Jim Crow” represented everything laboring men in Philadelphia saw in blackness and feared in themselves—encompassing poverty, vulnerability, slavishness, and degradation.” The popular culture of laboring men in Philadelphia was sprinkled with images of men facing hydras, falling into delirium tremens, and partially “occupied” by cork legs taking them to their deaths. However, instead of seeking out ways to overcome the fears over his body, Rice embraced that degradation and displayed it in public as a white man performing the black figure of “Jim Crow.” As a result of performing this racial transgression and embracing the degradation involved, Rice represent himself as having a super-charged masculinity and an unshakable sense of male bodily integrity.
In the hands of Rice, “Jim Crow” was the master of an environment so full of danger that other men could hardly avoid death or disaster. Far from perceiving vulnerability, “Jim Crow” affirmed an exaggerated masculine power and punctuated each story of his dominance with the laughing refrain: “Weel about and turn about and do jis so/ Eb’ry time I weel about and Jump Jim Crow.” Far from following Clay in representing “blackness” as comic substance, T.D. portrayed “Jim Crow’s” “blackness” as a degradation that needed to be “embraced” for white men to embody a full masculinity as men and citizens. However, it is very likely that Rice and his audiences incorporated Clay’s views on blackness as comic substance into their appreciation for the figure of “Jim Crow.” Clay’s lithographs were popular in Philadelphia and continued to be reproduced for a decade. Likewise, Rice himself was aware of Clay’s work, did a “lyric commentary” on “Life in Philadelphia” in 1833, and included material from Clay in his 1835 play Bone Squash Diavalo. Lhamon argues that Rice viewed Clay’s lithographs as a satire on black dandies but Clay’s claims were about blackness being deformed and absurd by nature. What’s fascinating and horrible here is that Clay’s portrayal of black otherness in terms of abominations would have added an even more degradation to the representation of “blackness” and made the embrace of blackness an act of even more transgressive symbolic power than dressing and performing in blackface alone. The same can be said for the stigmatizing of blackness as criminal and disease. A reviewer argued in 1833 that Rice could have done without performing blackface “for we should have supposed that the “infected district” and the Mayor’s Court room, exhibited quite a sufficiency of the “African variety.” Lhamon’s Jump Jim Crow argued for an expansive perspective on the black influences on Rice. The same should also be the case for all the demeaning representations of blackness that would have pervaded Rice and his audience. By comprehending “blackness” in such demeaning ways, audiences may have understood the racial transgressions of blackface in a manner even more powerful than Rice.
After 1835, blackface minstrelsy became a two-tier music and entertainment field for much of the next decade. T. D. Rice continued to dominate the field and expanded his repertoire by writing plays like TheVirginia Mummy, and Bone Squash Diavalo. At the same time, a second generation of blackface artists gradually gained prominence and were given prominent billing in Philadelphia venues. Performers like W. Myers, Jim Sanford, J. W. Sweeney, and the Pelhams continued some motifs from Rice, but also developed their own version of blackface. Largely forsaking Rice-style improvisation, newer performers employed standard popular song format, and danced recognizable jigs. But the biggest departure was the younger performers following Clay and identifying blackness as a “comic substance” of monstrously misshapen bodies and gross incompetence. There was also a shift in the focal point of blackface entertainment as newer performers oriented their songs around the ridicule, humiliation, and physical suffering of black people. As a result, reveling in the (fictional) pain of black people became a second discourse through which blackface reinforced white masculinity
This combination can be seen first in songs like “Jim Brown” (1836) and “Jim Along Josey” (1838). Like “Jim Crow,” the characters of “Jim Brown” and “Josey” were former slaves whose talents triumphed over everybody and everything. “Jim Brown” impressed the girls with his banjo tunes, the opera audience with his fiddle, and the Mayor and Corporation as a band leader. With “Josey,” it was his dancing—“Dey try it on at de chalky whites ball/But de independent nigger beat dem all.” But where the talents of Rice allowed him to portray “Jim Crow” with an enhanced masculinity, “Jim Brown” and “Josey” draw heavily on the ideas of black otherness in Clay’s lithographs. In the case of “Jim Brown” the songbook’s cover sheet represents him as both ludicrous and monstrous. “Jim Brown” was drawn so big that he wouldn’t be able to stand in his apartment, and his left hand is given a fur-like appearance which is reinforced by his wife and daughter also being drawn with furry arms and legs. In “Jim Along Josey,” a friend was exaggerated in an inhuman way that harmed him: “My one berry good fren was Romeo Prescott/Him Heart so warm set fir to him wescot.” “Romeo Prescott” is thus represented as having an inhuman kind of body that generates a dangerous heat and therefore begins to consume him when it sets fire to his waist coat. Other forms of torture included curing a tooth ache by filling another man’s jaw “wid cob sause and wid oil/Den sat upon de fare until he make it boil.” “Jim Along Josey” portrayed black men as being the comic substance of extended heels, overheated hearts and lack of perspective and common sense with a super-human ability to bear the pain of something like boiling sauce in his jaw. With “Jim Along Josey,” the comedy of “black nature” was extended from the enjoying the awkward amalgamations of black body parts to deriving pleasure from the inordinate amount of pain that could be inflicted on black men and women.
With the 1840’s, the setting for minstrel songs began to shift towards Southern plantations. In “Massa is a Stingy Man,” the plantation owner’s stinginess served as a pretext both for humiliating black people and satiating white audiences. The plantation image of “We’ll drink whisky all de week/and buttermilk o’ Sunday” can be seen as primarily motivated by the longing of laboring white men in the audience for an alcohol utopia where their depression-era vulnerability and anguish could be drowned out by the constant pleasures of the bottle. In this way, “Massa is a Stingy Man” encouraged the white audience to identify with an image of black men being satiated by whiskey and buttermilk. In this way, “Massa is a Stingy Man” provided a basis for white laboring men to identify with images of blackness. [i]
“Sing come day, go day, We’ll drink whisky all de week, And buttermilk o’ Sunday . . .Hoe cotton, dig corn, Den we feed de niggies, An oh, lord Moses, What a luscious time for niggas.”
In two of J.W. Sweeney’s songs, the basis for white identification with blackface images of blackness was everyday work tasks, managing oxen in “Jonny Boker” and mowing a corn field in “Whar do you cum from.” At the same time, there was also a humiliation of black men that provided a second type of masculinity charge. “Massa is a Stingy Man” contained several examples. Pelham put the derogative term of “nigger” in a diminutive form that rhymes with “piggies” and made the feeding of black slaves into burlesque entertainment. Deploying the word “nigger” had a similar effect in the songs of Sweeney. In “Whar did you cum from,” the phrase “Knock a Nigger Down” was employed as an emphatic refrain to every verse the same way that “Ketch that nigger” and “Help that Nigger” were used in “Jonny Boker.” One of the consistent elements in the blackface of the late 1830’s and 1840’s was the constancy, forcefulness, and versatility with which performers used the term “nigger” as a source of pleasure. Much as a laboring man in the traditional culture could instantaneously “drown his cares” and reconstitute a sense of themselves as independent men simply by drinking alcohol, a white laboring man could enjoy a miniature celebration of black degradation by using the word “nigger.” For a performer like Sweeney, the term “nigger” defined bla ck men like “Jonny Boker” as objects of racial entertainment while allowing white men in the audience to define their white masculinity against black humiliation.[iii] When the blackface singer intoned “Hoe cotton, dig corn/Den we feed de niggies,” the feeding of black slaves serves primarily as a form of comic or burlesque entertainment for whites with the comic dimension reinforced by the last two lines “of Oh lord Moses/What a luscious time for niggas.” If the masculinity of white laboring men was enhanced by the racial transgression of blackface, it was enhanced yet again by the humiliation of black characters in the newer minstrel songs of the late 1830’s.
My wife is an nurse practitioner who has been working full time at a hospital somewhat like this for the last two weeks as Kentucky deals with the Covid disaster. She’s stressed out and tired but also energized and determined as she does what she needs to do. Like people all over the country she’s responded with a steady effectiveness to the Covid crisis.
In relation to that, I had an odd moment last night while I was doing one of my short walks to get some exercise with a daily goal of 10,000 steps. It works for me as part of my effort to get in improve my health as I deal with a diabetes diagnosis from last February.
And it’s working. I’ve lost 40 pounds and am taking less diabetes medication now than I was before I was diagnosed as diabetic rather than “pre-diabetic.”
As I was walking out with the dog, I passed by an outdoor gathering with a very nice family hosting a group of senior citizens (i.e., people even older than me) and calling them to come into the house to get their food. I haven’t formally introduced myself to them but always say “hi” and maybe make a little small talk when I go by their house.
But more people had arrived as I was walking back and I heard a friend and former colleague call my name and stopped. In a chit-chatty kind of way, he asked if things were getting better for my wife at the hospital but was surprised when I responded “no, they’re getting worse. Her patients are deteriorating.” At point, a distance opened up between us. He was at a party, Covid didn’t seem to be a current fact in his life, and he expected to hear good news but got the exact opposite. At the same time, I was not in a party frame of mind and completely undisposed sugarcoat things. The Covid pandemic is an encompassing fact of life at our house and I’m stressed from dealing with it even on a second hand basis.
My friend said something like “well, thank Mary” and moved back toward the party and I mostly understood and genuinely hoped everyone had a good time.
The U.S. has always been multicultural with an E Pluribus Unum idea that the country forms one nation out of the multiplicity of ethnicities, races, cultures, and traditions. Of course, It never really worked. Even among the white population, the white South was separate from the national culture and the legacies of the Lost Cause, segregation, and white racial violence were ignored by those like Samuel Huntington who postulated a unitary culture.
However, the situation has changed dramatically since the earthquake of Obama’s election as the first black president in 2008 and the follow-up shock of Trump’s election eight years later. What’s happened in the U.S. is the onset of two “integrative” or common cultures that are both changing so rapidly that the country can be said to be undergoing SIMULTANEOUS cultural transformations while also at the same time developing into a dual national culture nation–“E Pluribus Duo” according to Garrison Keilor.
Sacrifice as Working Principle.
In response to the pandemic, white conservatives have made sacrifice into an important part of Trump-centric identity. What does this mean? The Covid pandemic entails the risk of catching the disease and dying for every part of the American population. Within the multicultural and socially liberal part of the population, the disposition has been to reduce the risk through masks, social distancing, and vaccination and support government efforts to mandate these practices. To the contrary, Trump-centric conservatism has made “refusal” to reduce Covid risk and “defiance” of public health efforts into principles of conservative identity and have been willing to see large numbers of people be infected and die from Covid rather than cooperate (or “obey” as conservatives say). And it’s not an abstract principle either. In practice, conservatives have been seriously ill themselves and still refused to cooperate with mitigation and vaccines, seen their friends and co-workers die and still refuse cooperation, and also seen their parents, spouses, and children die and still refuse cooperation. To Trump-concentric conservatives, the most important priority is maintaining the refusal to cooperate that they view as crucial to white conservative identity. If those closest to them die from Covid, that’s a sacrifice they are willing to make. In this sense, an acceptance of human sacrifice has become a working principle of Trump-centric conservatism in the U.S.
One example of the extent of the acceptance of human sacrifice can be seen below. Conservative Montana cartoonist Ben Garrison not only refused to be vaccinated but also refused to go to the hospital after coming down with Covid. The same was the case with his wife and two children. Garrison believes he and his family caught Covid while going out to dinner with another couple. Refusing to cooperate with public health, Garrison (and evidently his family) were unvaccinated while also engaging in no mitigation themselves and accompany at least one infected person. This is one of the realities of Covid. Once someone is infected, the disease is likely to knife through families because symptoms don’t emerge for a couple weeks. With CovidIn this sense, Garrison was willing to risk his family as well as himself in going out to a restaurant with a couple who probably weren’t either vaccinated or masked. Given that there have been 42.9 million cases and 688,000 Covid deaths in the United States, the risk was real but Garrison was willing to risk himself, his wife, and his two kids in the name of his conservative beliefs about Covid.
While I was teaching Global Studies at Morehead State University in Kentucky, one of my arguments about Trump was that he wanted the United States both to shift its alliances toward authoritarian regimes and become a “rogue super power.”
And that’s largely what happened.
During the Trump years, the United States tilted away from the NATO democracies, Japan, and South Korea and towards Russia, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Poland, Hungary, and North Korea.
In the days leading up to the 2020 election, the book reveals, American intelligence showed that the Chinese believed that Mr. Trump planned to launch a military strike to create an international crisis that he could claim to solve as a last-ditch effort to beat Joseph R. Biden Jr.
The Chinese also view the United States as particularly unstable
On the Jan. 8 call, General Li suggested that Chinese leaders feared that the United States government was unstable. He pressed General Milley over the course of an hour and a half about whether the military was going to take action.
The Chinese idea was that Trump’s idiosyncrasies made the United States an unstable super power capable of going rogue and launching unprovoked nuclear attacks. But the likelihood is increasing that Trump’s idiosyncrasies have become the dominant view of the Republican Party and that the United States is now in a position of always being just one election away from being an imminent danger to the rest of the world.
The Freedom to Vote Act proposed by the Dems has 60%+ super-majority support. The same was the case with Biden’s American Rescue Plan, the proposed American Jobs Plan, support for gay marriage, support for Roe v Wade, increasing taxes on the wealthy and other core elements of the Democratic world view. One way to understand much of the energy coming from Fox News, the religious right, the obstruction tactics of Mitch McConnell, and the work of conservative media figures like Chuck Todd is that they want to keep the already existing Democratic super-majority from coalescing into a ruling coalition.
President Joe Biden is going through tough times and its showing up in public opinion polls. The surge in the Delta variant, withdrawal from Afghanistan, Haitian refugee situation, and problems in passing an infrastructure bill have all had a negative impact on public opinion with Biden approval sinking from 52.4% two months ago to 45.4 in the latest FiveThirtyEight.com poll index.
According to Amy Walter, who has taken over as the head of the Cooke Political Report, Biden’s problems come down to questions of “normality” and “competence.” According to Walter:
When Biden was running for president, his message was pretty straightforward: I’m the guy who will bring normal back to Washington. Where President Trump was unorthodox and chaotic, Biden would be conventional and organized. Trump ran the White House like a reality show, Biden stocked his cabinet and high-level staff with Washington insiders with establishment credentials. He was going to usher in an era of boring, but predictable.
Biden was able to create an appearance of normality by rolling out COVID vaccines quickly and effectively. But that was all a mirage. “Normality” went out the window with the Jan. 6 Insurrection, the continued promotion of the Big Lie by the right-wing media, and then vaccine refusal among white conservatives. A majority of Republicans believe Trump is the “true U.S. president while the same survey found that 2/3rds of Republicans believe Biden won the election through fraud. Likewise, a “majority (56 percent) of Republicans support the use of force as a way to arrest the decline of the traditional American way of life.” Vaccine rejection has gone down from 32% to 16%, but that 16% is still almost 35 million people and they’ve maintained their hard core stance in the face of the current Covid surge associated with the Delta variant.
In the United States, “normality” is no longer a settled thing and hasn’t really been settled since Obama’s election as the first black president in 2008. What will sooner or later become the “normal” for a Democratic administration is pursuing a radical reformist combination of a civil rights agenda, infrastructure spending, climate legislation, and lowering the wealth gap while also managing the on-going Republican refusal to engage with policy issues, the proliferation of conspiracy theories, and the right-wing refusal to cooperate and violent resistance to the operations of federal and state government. That’s not to mention militia and paramilitary violence.
Being able to deal with both sides of the “new normal” will also be the measure for Biden administration competence. Needless to say, the short and medium term future in the United States is civil and political unrest at best and fascist takeover at worse. If Biden and the Democrats want to be seen as competent, they’ll have to deal with this situation in at least a somewhat satisfactory way.
Senator Krysten Sinema of Arizona returns to infrastructure negotiations with the Biden administration and other Congressional Democrats. Given that Sinema is actively trying to undermine the Democratic agenda, she’s definitely not the cool kid in the room.