Democrats, Mike Pence, and the “Hang Mike Pence” Party

1. Mike and the Hang Mike Pence Party.

@Mike_Pence, Oct. 19 Freedom is under attack! Having served many years in Washington, leaders in this Nation’s capital have never been more out of touch, more intent on imposing their agenda or walking out on people who don’t have the same point of view.

Mike Pence, Today American Freedom is under attack. Big media, Big Government, Big tech and even Big business have locked arms to advance a pernicious woke ideology designed to control the American people and destroy the American Dream.

These tweets are excerpts from the beginning of former Vice-President Mike Pence’s speech to the right-wing Heritage Foundation on Oct. 19 in Washington, D.C. Mike Pence is one of the strangest figures to ever occupy high political office in the U.S. As straight an arrow as you can find in politics, Pence accepted a VP nomination from Donald Trump while knowing as much as I do that Trump is a pathological liar, con man, rapist, and flaming bigot. Once in office as the VP, Pence spent four years sucking up to Trump in the most demeaning way possible before having Trump approve of the mob trying to kill him for refusing to overturn the 2020 election. Even more weirdly, Pence travels around the country shaking hands, kissing babies, and giving speeches for all the world like he thinks he can win the 2024 nomination of a political party certain to renominate chief insurrectionist Donald Trump.

Why would Mike Pence want to be the head of the “Hang Mike Pence Party?”

2. Democrats in Touch with Public Opinion. I’m interested in the relation between the Democrats and the claims in Pence’s tweets. Of course, the truth is the opposite. Democratic leadership is more in touch with public opinion than any administration in recent history. After Pres. Biden proposed his far-reaching 3.5 trillion “Build Back Better” legislation in 2021, public support for all the various items in the bill was over 50% and in the 70’s for expanding Medicare. Indeed, what public opinion on Build Back Better revealed is that independents were almost as interested in large-scale legislation as Democratic voters. The people with whom Biden, Chuck Schumer, and Nancy Pelosi are “out of touch” are the 30% of conservative voters who hate government, science, and anything that would benefit poor and minority voters so much that they oppose legislation that would benefit themselves.

3. Democrats Imposing a Popular Agenda. To the contrary, Pence writes that “Leaders in this Nation’s capital have never been more out of touch, [or] more intent on imposing their agenda.” One of the things that’s characterized GOP leadership and voters is a sense that white conservatives have become a smaller part of the population and the Republican Party itself is losing touch with urban/suburban majorities. That’s reflected in opinion on a large range of culture war issues as well. Support for reinstating Roe v Wade for the country as a whole is at 60%, gay marriage 71%, stronger gun control 52%, women in the military 66%, a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants 71%, and opposition to restrictions on transsexuals at 64%. Majority and super-majority opinion on all of these cultural issues reflects the extent to which civil rights values have become mainstream in the United States and the extent to which white conservative opponents are now a permanent minority. In 2021-2022, the Biden administration and Congressional Dems have found ways to pass over the Senate filibuster and united opposition from House Republicans to enact their agendas on the pandemic, climate, infrastructure, pharmaceuticals, computer chips, and guns. In other words, the Democrats are in touch with popular opinion and “imposing their agenda” on behalf of majorities. The Democrats represent public opinion and have effectively translated public opinion into far-reaching legislation.

4. Civil Rights as Official Morality. In many ways, Civil Rights has been the official American morality on race, gender, LGBT issues, Native Americans, immigration, and disability since the 1950’s-1960’s black Civil Rights Movement and the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. There aren’t any well known histories of how so much came under the moral umbrella of Civil Rights but there has been a broad forward movement as more populations came under the umbrella of Civil Rights and various modes of white conservative resistance have weakened over time. To give a couple examples, the idea among white people in the 1960’s was that they would need to “tolerate” the presence of black people in “their” schools, stores, restaurants, neighborhoods, and the like. But the ethic of tolerance has given way to an ethic of “embracing” diversity and valuing all groups and cultures whether that’s racial and ethnic groups like black people and Hispanics, various religions like Islam, Hindu (Happy Diwali!), and Buddhism, and the varieties of sexual orientation and gender identity. Likewise, (heterosexual) whites are no longer considered THE reference point for a social ethics of multiculturalism as they used to be as late as the early 2000’s when our daughters were in elementary school. Black people, Hispanics, LGBT folks, and Native Americans, and other groups are routinely seen as defining reference points of their own. Given that the majority of white Americans identify with either conservatism or the extreme right, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to see white people as a reference point for multiculturalism at all.

Pence claims that “Big media, Big Government, Big tech and even Big business have locked arms to advance a pernicious woke ideology” with “woke” serving as a way for conservatives to insult civil rights ethics. In fact, the major institutions of American society do have “official” ethics of valuing racial, ethnic, sexual orientation, and gender diversity, being interested in the history of black people and Native Americans in the United States, the various cultures of immigrants, and transnational cultural connections between cultures in the United States and abroad. “Big Media, Big Government, Big tech, and even Big Business” are also interested in veteran’s status, disability status and accessibility.

Pence isn’t kidding about big business. According to Delta Air: “Thoughtful action combined with a focus on championing diversity, equity and inclusion in the workplace and within our personal lives will play a healing role to help us keep climbing.” Likewise Walmart has “a vision of a workplace culture at Walmart and Sam’s Club where everyone is included – one where associates with unique identities, styles, experiences, abilities and perspectives are understood, supported and championed by their leaders.”

Being the party of civil rights, the Democrats are also the party of the inclusive ideology that is becoming more and more characteristic of American corporations.

In other words, Democrats are on the right side of American social morality as well as public opinion.

Civil Rights and the Biden Tough Model

National Center for Civil and Human Rights Opens in Atlanta - The New York  Times
National Center for Human Rights in Atlanta, photo from NY Times

The stereotype of Democrats among GOP operatives and the media is that they don’t have the provocative, norm-breaking, don’t give a shit “toughness” of Republicans like Trump, McConnell, and Newt Gingrich. According to the stereotype, Dems are constantly being rolled by the latest new GOP procedural trick, deceit, or bit of race-baiting demagoguery and can only respond with impotent “outrage” and more futile calls for bipartisanship. Where Republicans and the media identify the GOP as tough, they see the Democrats as “weak” because Dems want government to function, care about things like education, public health, and social security, and are oriented toward making rules and playing by them.

As always, there are racist themes and variations woven into the fabric of these stereotypes. Black Democratic politicians and media figures are branded as “angry” and “extreme” anytime they show or are even rumored to show aggression. For example, Michelle Obama was famously branded as an “angry black woman” for things she was rumored to have said before her husband was nominated by the Democratic Party. When John Lewis hugged it out with Republicans, it was a magnificent gesture but it was also the only kind of behavior the mainstream media finds admirable in Black Democrats. Stereotypes of Black Dems work as a form of racial control because Black Democrats have to assume the damage the stereotypes can cause as they work out their courses of action. The stereotypes also function to control the behavior of white Democrats and keep them in a kind of rhetorical subordination to their GOP peers. The expectation is that GOP bullies will always pull the football away from the weak, gullible Democratic Charlie Browns and there’s a disturbance in the force any time a white Democrat like Chuck Schumer comes out with full throated partisanship.

The flip side of this exercise in GOP/media racism is that white Democrats are viewed as “tough” or “strong” when they put down their own minority constituencies. This notion of Democratic strength was racialized into the idea of a “Sister Souljah” moment after Bill Clinton putting down rapper Sister Souljah for sounding like a black activist version of David Duke at an event sponsored by Jesse Jackson, thus humiliating both Jackson and the rapper. Over the 2020 campaign and beyond, Joe Biden has been urged by Dave Weigel and Never Trumpers like Matt Lewis, George Will, and Bret Stephens to “show strength” by renouncing George Floyd demonstrators, Critical Race Theory, or White Fragility author Robin DiAngelo. Whether the target for the Sister Souljah Moment campaign is black, white, Ilhan Omar, or Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the idea is for Biden to use the renunciation to solidify a “personal domination” over the Democratic Party by conducting himself on the model of racial domination.

However, President Biden has broken away from “Sister Souljah Moments.” Much has been made of President Biden’s empathy, but he’s also a feisty guy who isn’t interested in taking a lot of crap. Here’s Biden at an auto plant in March 2020.

Joe Biden at Michigan Auto Plant, The Guardian, youtube.com

As the transcript below demonstrates, Biden has no tolerance for the disinformation on what this man is saying and calls him out immediately and personally. Fox News, GOP commentators, and right-wing conspiracy channels devote most of their time to lying, stereotyping, gaslighting, and purveying other forms of disinformation in relation to public issues, the Democratic Party, and Democratic constituencies. All too often, Democrats and liberals respond by being “offended” and “outraged.” But Biden breaks out of that rhetorical box. Instead of being “insulted” or “outraged,” Biden tells his antagonist “You’re full of shit” and reinforces that message at the end of that part of the discussion by also telling him to “stop being a horse’s ass.” An interesting thing about this incident is that white conservatives work hard at provoking “emotional” reactions from Democrats as a way to demonstrate control over political encounters. But in this case, it is Biden who dominates through his angry insults over the right-wing auto worker’s lying and stupidity.

Man: “You are actively trying to end our Second Amendment right and take away our guns.”

Biden: “You’re full of shit. I did not—no, no, shush. Shush. I support the Second Amendment. The Second Amendment — just like right now if you yelled fire, that’s not free speech. And from the very beginning, I have a shotgun, I have a 20-gauge, a 12-gauge. My sons hunt, guess what? You’re not allowed to own any weapon, I’m not taking your gun away at all. You need 100 rounds?”

Man: “You and Beto say you’re going to take our guns –“

Biden: “I did not say that. That’s not true. I did not say that.”Man: “

“It’s a viral video.”

Biden: “It’s a viral video like the other ones you’re putting out that are simply a lie. Wait, wait wait, wait, take your AR, your AR-14, Don’t tell me anything about (inaudible)”

Man: “You’re working for me, man.”

Biden: “I’m not working for — gimme a break man. Don’t be such a horse’s ass.”

That wasn’t all. In his Jan. 11 speech on the “John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act of 2021,” President Biden employed black history to pose the need for voting rights reform in a starkly dichotomizing manner. Beginning with the Jan. 6 assault on the Capitol, Biden opposed the Insurrection to the entire weight of the 1950’s-1960’s Civil rights movement. Biden started with a reference to Atlanta as the “cradle of the Civil Rights Movement and builds further by citing Atlanta’s historical black colleges (Clark Atlanta, Morehouse, and Spelman), the Ebenezer Baptist Church headed Martin Luther King and his father before him and then Birmingham, Selma, the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the Voting Rights of 1965. The Civil Rights Movement was both a monumental exercise in anti-racist public morality and a massive struggle for social and political power that overturned the legal structure of white supremacy against the determined efforts of Southern political institutions and opposition from the white public. For this occasion, Biden emphasized the bipartisan, multiracial character of the Civil Rights Movement with references to the willingness of white liberals to participate in the cause and Republican support for the Civil Rights Act of 1964. However, he also portrays the movement as anchored in black institutions like Morehouse College, black leadership in Martin Luther King, jr. and black courage and determination of Black activists. In Biden’s portrayal, it was primarily black activism that made the Civil Rights Movement such an exemplary moral moment, had results in such monumental historical change, and came to represent everything that was good about America as a nation.

During his Jan. 11 speech, President Biden was speaking as President of the United States as a nation, head of the Democratic Party, and long-time politician. That’s one of the reason why the sense of the accomplishments of the Civil Rights movement, the anchoring of those accomplishments in the Black population, and the function of Civil Rights as representative of the United States as a nation flowed together so well in Biden’s rhetoric.

Adding to the moral and political aggression of Biden’s speech was his identification of the Jan. 6 Insurrection and Trump with the worst aspects of American history and culture—the 250 years of slavery, the Southern segregation system, Ku Klux Klan, 16th Street Baptist Church bombing in Birmingham, and Strom Thurmond. For Biden, the Jan. 6 Insurrection as had historical depth because of the links between Trumpian politics and the kind of evils that marked the conservative traditions and personalities that opposed the Civil Rights Movement. One of the weak points of U.S. conservatism is that there is NO honorable tradition with which white conservatives can identify. This is implicitly recognized by President Biden when he nails the Jan. 6 Insurrection and Trump to the cross of violent white opposition to Civil Rights. response to the Civil Rights Movement. Much of what made Biden’s opposition between Civil Rights and the whole of white supremacist tradition such a power move was that conservatives have so little in the way of American history with which they can defend themselves.

Having constructed such a strong historical sketch, President Biden moved to the main event which was advocating the John Lewis Voting Advancement Act against Republican opposition. GOP state legislatures had passed a wide variety of voter suppression acts all of which were aimed at reducing voting rates among Black voters in particular and Democratic constituencies in general. The John Lewis Voting Advancement Act was designed to counter-act this wave of vote suppression by making states once again get pre-clearance from the Justice Department for changes to their voting laws. Relying on his previous account of the dichotomy between Civil Rights and white supremacy, President Biden then poses a stark choice for Senate Republicans.

At consequential moments in history, they present a choice: Do you want to be the si- — on the side of Dr. King or George Wallace?  Do you want to be on the side of John Lewis or Bull Connor?  Do you want to be on the side of Abraham Lincoln or Jefferson Davis?

Given that there was no chance for the voting rights bill to pass over a GOP filibuster, the underlying purpose of President Biden posing the vote in these terms was to bully the Republicans morally by associating them with many of the great evils of American history. And it worked. The Democrats should use President Biden’s Jan. 11 speech as a template for attacking the Republicans on all kinds of civil rights, cultural, and social issues. The Republican Party has been rooted in white supremacy and race-baiting ever Barry Goldwater voted against the Civil Rights Act of 1964 can be stronger in the political trenches if they keep reminding the Republicans what side they’re on.

MLK and Representing the Nation

Among other things, celebrating Martin Luther King Jr’s Birthday involves a recognition of the monumental stature of King and the Civil Rights Movement in U.S. history and national identity. Because of the signal accomplishments of the Civil Rights campaigns of the 1950’s and 1960’s, Martin Luther King has the same historical stature that the Revolution gave George Washington and the Civil War gave Lincoln. Here at the “I Have a Dream Speech,” King is pictured across from the Washington Monument and near the Lincoln Memorial as he was about to embark on his own most memorialized moment.

+Toward the end of “Letter From Birmingham Jail,” Dr. King wrote that black people “will reach the goal of freedom in Birmingham and all over the nation, because the goal of America is freedom. Abused and scorned though we may be, our destiny is tied up with the destiny of America.” King emphasized the extent to which black people were part of American history and the American people. Although “abused and scorned,” black people were included in the “destiny of America” and had been since the first slaves were brought ashore in 1619. With Martin Luther King’s Birthday as a federal holiday celebrating King and the Civil Rights Movement, the black Civil Rights activists of the 1950’s and 1960’s were not just viewed as “included” in the American story but seen as actors in a crucial part of American history and also representing exemplary representatives of the courage, fortitude, and passion for justice that would make people proud to be Americans. People both at home and abroad could look at the history of the Civil Rights movement and think “this is who Americans are.” In other words, the people and actions of the Civil Rights Movement have become crucial elements in American national identity.

Black Authority, White Racism

My first thought about Tarrant County councilman Tommy Bryant using the n-word this noxiously –“Do we have a house (n-word) in here”–was that he was reaching back to slavery to express his contempt for the black women on the city council. In her Black Feminist Thought, Patricia Hill Collins emphasizes the extent to which controlling images of black women like the “mammy” and the “jezebel” reach back to the slave period. The same is the case with language like the n-word. One of my favorite Morehead State (KY) students observed some time ago that whites had retreated from segregation only as much as they had to. The same is the case with the language of slavery as well.

No doubt Bryant was reaching back. As MSNBC anchor Joy Reid observed on twitter. Bryant seemed comfortable with the language of racial smears. “It’s how easily the word rolls off his tongue… clearly he puts it to frequent use…”

But there’s also a contemporary context. Bryant’s on the city council of Tarrant, AL with two Black women and serving along a Black mayor. Given its 53% black population, Bryant is “forced” to recognize black people as having an authority that’s at least equal if not greater than his. In this context, Bryant’s outburst might be seen as a scream of pain against the black authority in his life and Bryant himself saw it in terms of attacking Mayor Wayman Newton.

Public discourse ignores the extent and significance of both black moral and political authority and white conservative panic over black authority. If there is a historical touchstone of moral authority in American society, it is Martin Luther King and the Black Civil Rights Movement of the 1950’s and 1960’s. That’s not just the case for Black Americans or whites on the center-left, it’s also the case with white conservatives who use King’s “I Have a Dream” speech as the anchor point for their arguments for a “color-blind” ideal. As he was dying, the late John Lewis became an American icon because his suffering a cracked skull during the Selma March made him an embodiment of the suffering and accomplishment of the Civil Rights Era. Other historical figures of moral authority include Rosa Parks, Frederick Douglass, and W.E.B. DuBois while a moral authority also exemplified by Barack Obama, Michelle Obama, LeBron James, Colin Kaepernick, and Black Lives Matter protesters in the present.

A very long book could be written on the presence of black authority in American society. Let me just say that black authority has more than enough of a presence to cause disorientation and panic among white racists like Tommy Bryant and that this kind of racial panic is one of the motivations behind the rise of Trumpism, conspiracy theories, and white nationalist insurrection. Many white conservatives would rather withdraw from society, fall seriously ill, or die than live in a place with as much black authority as can now be seen in the United States.

Keeping Out the Mainstream

What conservatives are smearing as Critical Race Theory is mostly just the civil rights perspectives that have long been mainstreamed into American society. In the final analysis, Laura Ingraham and other white conservatives are objecting to children being taught the underlying perspectives and values of mainstream America.

Luis M Alvarez/AP

LAURA INGRAHAM (HOST): “Universal pre-K is also in the bill. I’m all for educating our youth, but really educating them, not brainwashing toddlers with racist drivel. You think that can’t happen in preschool? Guess again.”

Make Pride a National Holiday

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis ordered Jacksonville to stop lighting up the bridge but #Pride is a patriotic celebration of #LBGT communities and the multicultural, inclusive character of American society. The June 28 anniversary of the Stonewall Riot should be a federal holiday.

And Juneteenth is just around the corner.

A Note on Blackness, Democrats, and American Identity

For all the discourse around Black Americans, there is not much of a sense of the part played by Black people in American politics and society. Social and political discourse is overburdened by dichotomies like conservative vs liberal, moderate vs progressive, identity vs class that don’t fit most Black voters particularly well. The main questions usually posed are whether trends in Black voting help or harm the Democrats. Is Black turnout up or down and what percentage of Blacks are voting for the Democratic candidate? Is that enough for the Democrat to win or lose?

I get it!

On the presidential level, huge Black turnouts and 90% of the Black vote are the only ways for Democrats to win. But the role of Black voters, politicians, and celebrities in shaping contemporary American life and history goes far beyond that and I’d like to briefly suggest ways Black people are the driving force by which the Democrats are defining a new kind of national political culture.

Most of the social movements informing the Democratic Party values and policy are permutations of the Black Civil Rights Movement of the 1950’s and 1960’s. That includes feminism, disability rights activism, LGBT rights movement, and immigrant movements all of which have long been dominated by the civil rights principles and language. As a result, Democratic Party and American discourse is permeated with a language of diversity, inclusion, anti-discrimination, social justice, equity, abortion rights, contraception rights, and salary disparity. There is also a continuous stream of Black, women’s, LGBT, Native, and Hispanic “firsts” which represent civil rights milestones for each group as well as individual achievements. The discourse of “firsts” is one way but an important way in which Kamala Harris, Nancy Pelosi, Pete Buttigieg, and Deb Haaland have broad historical significance. The language and the values embedded in civil rights discourse are also personified by the most iconic figures of the last 60 years. A short list includes Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks, Barack Obama, and John Lewis but also reaches back to W.E.B DuBois, Frederick Douglass, Harriet Tubman, and others. Likewise, works like the #1619Project are indications that the conditions and perspectives of Black Americans are becoming central to the historical sense of American identity.