Aristotle often linked the politician to a craftsman. The analogy is vague because politics, in the strict sense of legislative science, is a practice of practical knowledge, while a craft like architecture or medicine is a form of productive knowledge.
Aristotle, where are you now? The Congressional Black Caucus unified its forces to get a Democratic-controlled House of Representatives to pass an omnibus police reform bill, even naming it for George Floyd. But knowing it would never see the light of day in the Republican-controlled Senate, nor gain a signature from the most overtly racist president in our lifetime, it failed to assuage many.
A new generation of Black leaders has emerged who came of age during the Michael Brown protests. They challenged the old order. Black establishment Congress members are not necessarily out of step with their younger challengers, but rather, have become out of tune. The St. Louis establishment has erred on the side of practicality: to wait for seniority to put increased power in their hands, to compromise, to achieve measured change.
No longer will Black politics operate in this way. Locally, as in many parts of the nation, a younger generation of Black leaders is emerging and making waves.
We see it in the young fresh faces of many members of the Missouri General Assembly, of new state Senator Steve Roberts, of new St. Louis County Prosecutor Wesley Bell. We see it in the re-election of St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kimberly Gardner. We see it in the upset of Congressman Wm. Lacy Clay by Cori Bush.
While Clay had delivered much to the community, he was dependent on the old sources of political money which tied him, for better or worse, to what was seen as the establishment in a time of revolution.
The status quo of being in a state of stasis is no longer acceptable. Despite the rise of Black elected officials in many of the nation’s largest cities and counties, the inability to qualitatively change the lives of their constituents must be at the forefront of public discourse. To do less would be to continue the great disconnect and betray the future.
As for Aristotle, it’s evident in such a diverse socio-political era that the masterpiece of the craftsman has turned into a shameless creature who is laughing at its creator.
Joshua Peters is a former Missouri state representative.