Let me get this straight: the most openly racist president since Andrew Johnson is running for re-election in 2020 and suddenly- in the middle of 2019- a debate about slavery reparations breaks out? Let’s add a little bit more spice to this stew: the most racist president in the last 150 years is also the least popular president in the history of American polling. And again, seemingly out of the clear blue, the issue of reparations is front and center on nationwide news? I smell a rat- a tall white-haired rat wearing a wide-lapeled suit. Or more specifically, I smell Roger Stone.
This gambit has Roger Stone written all over it. I honestly don’t know if he is the diabolical mind behind this but if he is not one of his disciples has certainly learned his craft quite well. And because these political goblins are indeed crafty, the Democrats are falling for it. This issue is a political loser if ever there was one regardless of the substance of the matter. It is well designed to tear the Democratic field and voters apart in a way that will let the worst president in US history ride incumbency to a second term.
Set aside for the moment that there is no rational argument that could be mounted against Congress STUDYING the issue of reparations. That is all that has been formally proposed up until now. Not PAYING reparations, just STUDYING the issue. But the questions from reporters and the answers from the candidates have been veering into specific policies and legalities and justifications. Its a complex dance on a floor full of landmines that is awkward even when they don’t miss a step. How long can that last before somebody says something that splinters the coalition of voters the Democrats need to send Trump’s ass to Mara Lago or Moscow for good?
So if you doubt this was an exceptionally slick political trick, just ask yourself if this debate favors problem solvers or culture warriors. It could not be clearer that the political parties are now drawn strictly along those lines: the Democrats are digging in their heels on being the party of problem-solvers while the Republicans will take extreme measures to manufacture problems just to bolster their culture-warrior cred. Remember the caravans in the run-up to the 2018 mid-terms? That bit of political performance art bombed and the problem-solvers thrashed the culture-warriors and took back the House. You can bet your check Roger Stone and his minions took notice.
In the after-math of that historical beat-down, I am sure they realized they’d gotten all they could get out of the imaginary brown threat at the border. And that would have prompted them to turn America’s attention- and pent-up tensions -back to its original imaginary apocalypse: the black menace rising in their midst. This will be the message in the conservative echo-chamber from the summer of 2019 until November of 2020: “Forget about those brown savages crossing the border to take away that orange picking job you always wanted- look at these n****rs about to take your house as reparations for slavery!”
By every imaginable measure this debate is a culture-warriors wet-dream for the 2020 election. And it is a nightmare for problem-solvers. The reason is simple: reparations is a deeply complex issue that does not lend itself to bumper-sticker language. Culture warriors have always played that game better but the problem-solvers have been catching on lately. “Medicare For All” has gotten strong traction even if all 18 candidates running for the Democratic nomination have divergent views of what that actually means. It looks like Elizabeth Warren is on the verge of making “Break Up Amazon” a thing. Even if it turns out to be “Break Up Google” or “Break Up Facebook” it still works. But what is the catchy bumper sticker for rectifying the defining original sin of America’s founding? Good luck with that one.
Everybody who has ever thought about what reparations actually means knows that any process of redress would literally take years to formulate and then even more years to implement. Any dog you may have in that fight will be long dead before black folks get anything from Uncle Sam beyond “Damn y’all. Slavery really sucked. My Bad.”
Republicans and Trump insiders know he is a deeply compromised candidate and an absolutely ineffective president. He is a total embarrassment to the nation. He doesn’t know how our government works- either at home or abroad. And his greatest victory to date has been Bill Barr’s four page summary of the Special Counsel Investigation Report that DOESN’T exonerate him of obstruction of justice. This guy needs a substantive discussion during this presidential campaign like he needs a hole in the head.
What he really needed desperately was a durable distraction from his sorry record. That silly “Pocahantas” bullshit was never going to cut it. He needed something with policy substance that would excite his base and possibly even peel off some soft-serve Democrats. One thing we have learned from American political history is that NOTHING beats issues of race when it comes to distracting voters.
This slavery reparations thing is better than “Hillary Clinton’s emails” because, you know, Ivanka and her emails. This slavery reparations thing is also a lot better than the “Uranium One / Clinton Foundation deal” because, you know, Jared and the 666 building. Hell, I’d go as far as to say that this slavery reparations thing is even better than W’s “gay marriage” hustle from 2004 because, you know, Pete Buttigieg is a viable candidate for president now so that one really backfired.
This slavery reparations thing could truly be the gift that keeps on giving. Once a candidate jumps on that train, it’s not like they can jump off without committing political suicide. This is the classic case of a primary issue pulling a candidate into a zone that they can’t recover from for the general election. I can hear Roger Stone in his secret strategy meeting in his evil lair right now: “If this slavery reparations shit gets big enough the GOP could win enough House seats back in 2020 to support Trump in repealing the damned 13th 14th and 15th Amendment altogether!” Don’t fool yourselves for a second into doubting that the true goal of conservative power-mongers is to do exactly that- roll back every single effort that has ever been made to help black people rise from the degradation of subhuman servitude to the status of full citizenship- equal with those who once held them in bondage. If they had all three hammers, I have no doubt they would drive that spike right through the heart of America.
It may be nearly impossible to trace this issue back to the planted reporter that asked one of the candidates about reparations and got this ball rolling. Or to the staffer on one of the campaigns that’s an undercover Roger Stone stooge. But regardless of how he may have floated this issue into the atmosphere that the Democrats must breathe during the primaries there is only one answer that needs to be given to any question about this going forward: “I support Congress conducting an in-depth study of the issue and reporting back to the American people what they find.” After that, just shut up and move on. No trying to show how smart you are (Cory) or how committed you are (Elizabeth) or how high-minded you are (Kamala) or how progressive you are (Beto). Everybody has to dive away from that live grenade and save yourself- and the whole country- from the misery of a lame-duck President Trump. Because the first order of business for a lame-duck Trump would be pardoning Roger Stone from the federal conviction bearing down on him. Only God knows what would be next.