How should one comprehend what’s happening today in American politics, and the arch of American history that brought us to this moment?
How can a Democratic President and a Democratically controlled House and Senate pass a physical infrastructure bill, yet can’t or won’t pass an urgently needed human infrastructure bill or voting rights bill?
On a recent St. Louis Public Radio podcast, Politically Speaking with Jason Rosenbaum, I commented, “If you’re Black in America doing politics, Republicans have a tendency to be existential enemies. And white Democrats are totally unreliable.” This observation about Republicans is self-evident unless you’re the character Stephen in “D’Jango Unchained” or Clarence Thomas or Tim Scott. But what about white Democrats? Why are they always a day late and a dollar short when it comes to the issues that are critical to the general welfare of the Black community?
I’ve always politically divided white America into two groups. There are white folks who know better. There are white folks who won’t do better. Whenever America is at a moral or political fork in the road, the question remains the same. What are white folks who know better willing to do about white folks who won’t do better? What do you call it when white folks who know better agree with the white folks who won’t do better?
There’s a one-word answer, bipartisan. Bipartisanship is agreement or cooperation between political parties that usually oppose each other's policies. The compromises are called bipartisan if they reconcile the desires of both parties from an original version of legislation or some other proposal.
If Thomas Jefferson’s 1776 Declaration of Independence was the casus belli for the American Revolution, James Madison’s 1787 Constitution is the raison d'être of American government and politics. American politics has been a 244-year exercise in reconciling the irreconcilable differences of white America.
Usually, but not always, when white America finds itself at moral forks in the road, it concerns the condition or status of Black people. It always concerns the condition or status of some marginalized group.
Black people in America mistakenly believe that the moral/political dilemmas that white America wrestles with are about us. Nothing could be further from the truth. These existential questions are always about who they believe, or who they want to believe, themselves to be.
Our status as sentient beings has never been more than a distraction to white America in its struggle to define what America is.
This lack of definitional clarity is why we misunderstand arguments about slavery. Because we were the enslaved people, we think they’re arguing about us. The argument was about the system of chattel slavery and its proper role in the nascent United States. No matter which side of the argument, nobody was arguing for justice or the humane treatment of enslaved Black people.
The fundamental dilemma at the founding of the country was the political reconciliation of slavery. Enslaved Black people were the human sacrifice that made the constitutional compromise that birthed the United States possible.
From the inception of the Constitution until 1860, almost every major political argument and compromise was about medicating, not resolving, the status of slavery. If the Civil War settled the status of slavery, it didn’t settle the status of Black people. After a heroic, but brief attempt at multiracial democracy, America tired of the effort.
In order to restore national unity (white unity), newly emancipated Black Americans were sacrificed to 100 years of Jim Crow apartheid. The Compromise of 1877 was a classic example of American political bipartisanship.
When candidate Joe Biden said he wanted to be a bipartisan president, he was signaling he would be a president who knows better but was willing to accommodate the white America that won’t do better.
We should not be surprised that things we consider the most essential, like voting rights and the $3.5 trillion human infrastructure bill, are struggling to maintain establishment Democratic support.
Luther Ingram’s R&B classic “(If Loving You Is Wrong) I Don’t Want To Be Right” has a lyric that explains bipartisanship, and why Democrats who know better feel compelled to accommodate Republicans who won’t do better.
If loving you is wrong, I don’t wanna be right. If being right means being without you, I’d rather lead a wrong doing life.
I know it’s a downright disgrace, but as long as Democrats have Republicans by their side, they don’t care what the people say.