October 2016 Archives


Well, Buckaroos, believe it or not, it is time once again for the Ol' Bloviator's fearless and feckless quadrennial estimate of our ever-sorrier state of electoral affairs. It's hard to recall, or even find in the historical record, a presidential campaign where the choice put to the sovereign voter has come down to so joyless a decision on which candidate is less repulsive, however marginally, than the other. Let's face it, we can readily check the "liar," "corrupt," "schemer" and several other boxes in the nefarious for both, and if Donald Trump loses this race--it is hard to think of any "winner" emerging from this God-awful mess-- it will be because he has pulled off the Herculean achievement of being more repugnant than his opponent. (In fact, he has supposedly racked up the most prodigious negativity ratings in the storied history of Gallup tracking.)

 Trump's opponent, meanwhile, may garner a more than substantial electoral vote margin, but she entered the campaign as largely self-damaged goods, and as over-the-top as Trump's attacks and characterizations of her may have seemed, she will emerge, almost unthinkably, with her credibility even more tattered. If she does put up the anticipated big numbers nationally, she will do so while providing the almost scandalously scanty coattails of someone who claimed the election by a proverbial gnat's whisker. Yes, the O.B. knows as many four Democrats are poised to pick up senate seats, but if they do, their thank-you notes should go not to the person at the head of their ticket for lifting them up, but to the GOP standard bearer for pulling his own people down. Constant rumors of unethical and immoral conduct and innuendo are a family tradition for the Clintons, as are their predictable counter-claims that they are being persecuted by shadowy right-wing ideologues and other bitterly partisan conspirators. We may be assured that even if the email flap that has dogged Hillary's campaign this year ultimately dies down, her time in office, however long it may be, will be constantly punctuated by rat-a-tats of disclosures and allegations of ethical misconduct, tantamount to the serial "bimbo eruptions" that dogged her hyper-sexed hubby.

Perhaps we should wait to see what actually happens on November 8, but where's the fun in that? From where things stand right now, it seems a reasonable bet that a great many Americans will go to bed that night relieved that Donald Trump is not going to be president but depressed that Hillary Clinton is. Those curious about how the nuts and bolts of this seemingly contradictory projection came together should look first to the vaunted "Blue Wall" of eighteen states, plus D. C., accounting for 242 of the 270 electoral votes needed to win that have voted Democratic in the last six elections. We were assured several times this fall that the Blue Wall no longer exists, but you certainly can't prove it by the current polls, which show Trump either out of the running or trailing significantly in all of them. The Republicans have a "Red Wall" of their own, of course, but consisting principally of the bulk of the Old Confederacy plus the fly-over states, it boasts but 102 electoral votes. (See the adjoining chart showing the Blue Wall/Red Wall division of the electoral vote pie.)

Consistency crop50.jpg

We all know the polls are "rigged," of course, but they are still the best thing we have to go on, and they currently show Trump with little prospect of chipping a single brick off the Blue Wall. If we look at how Trump is faring poll-wise compared to the actual showing of Mitt Romney in 2012, he is trailing in North Carolina, but seems to have at least a decent shot at besting Romney by claiming the "toss-up" states of Iowa, Ohio, and Florida. Accounting for 53 electoral votes among them, these states are no small prizes,but, according to the accompanying projection, courtesy of realclearpolitics.com, even if he pulls this off, he would still stand at only 234 electoral votes compared to Hillary's projected 304, leaving him well shy of the magical 270 total needed to make 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue go all Trumpazilla. 

RCP50 % crop.jpg

Beyond that, Trump is facing enough of a challenge in traditionally red-to-the-roots states like Georgia, Arizona, and, for God's sake, UTAH (!) that his campaign has had to devote precious time and resources simply to hold onto his once-presumed base--time that could have been spent in states he needs desperately to drag into the GOP column.

Curiously, although Trump seems to be shut out of the White House by an impenetrable barrier of Democratic voting consistency, he actually owes the continuing viability of his candidacy to a corresponding pattern of Republican partisan rigidity. In fact, Sam Wang points out that despite all the apparent ups and downs of his campaign, D.T.'s support has remained "level as a pond" at roughly 41 percent.  Citing the rapid rise in partisan polarization over the last generation, Mr. Wang notes that from 1952 to 1992, the average swing or range, plus to minus, in a presidential candidate's support over the course of a campaign was 17 percent, while, over the last six elections it has shrunk to only 8 percent. More remarkably still, despite what seemed one politically disastrous incident after another, including his thrashing at the hands of the family of Capt. Humayan Khan, Donald Trump's support has varied by only 4 points, between 39 and 43 percent. The pundits have asserted more than once that Trump's backers represent a sorely disaffected minority upset over immigration, outsourcing, political correctness, and other conditions contributing to a sense of lost opportunity and relevance. This may well be true of his most strident followers, but if you are looking for somebody likely to vote for ol' Donnie, your best bet is still your nearest Republican (Ditto and vice-versa for a Hillary voter, as well )  The Republican ranks may also hold a number of "silent voters" too embarrassed to tell a pollster that they actually plan to cast their lot with The Donald on November 8, but while their boy may fare well enough in the popular tally to sorely discomfit the Left, Middle, and even some on the Right,  it appears at this juncture at least that these resolutely mute voters will suddenly have to let loose with one hell of a bellow to affect the actual outcome.

The O. B. has recently become less interested in the campaign itself than in its aftermath. He has already noted that Hillary is likely to emerge looking and feeling as though she has done fifteen rounds with Boom Boom Mancini. (Eat your heart out, Warren Zevon.) Beyond that, when Trump's irresponsible, vengeful nonsense about a rigged election and his invocation of the "Second Amendment crowd" elicit comments to the effect that if Ms. Clinton is allowed to take office, and "has to go by any means necessary, it will be done," we are reminded that the demise of Trump the Candidate will not mark the end of Trump the Menace or, more troubling still, the powerfully frightening mindset he has so recklessly exploited. 

Emmett Till's "Then" Isn't Our "Now"*

             Sixty-one years ago this month, a Tallahatchie County, Mississippi, jury acquitted Roy Bryant and J. W. Milam despite a pile of  damning evidence that the two had abducted, beaten, and then shot Emmett Till, a young Chicagoan scarcely a month past his fourteenth birthday, for violating a strict racial taboo by whistling at Bryant's wife. Since that day, the Emmett Till case has often been cited as both a catalyst for the Civil Rights movement and, more recently, as a trigger for black mobilization on a scale comparable to the "Black Lives Matter" movement. Understandable as they might be, these leaps to conclusions and connections simply don't square with either historical or contemporary reality.

 After Emmett's body was fished from the Tallahatchie River, with his neck bound by barbed wire to a cotton gin fan, his mother, Mamie Till Bradley, was determined to let "the world see what they had done to my boy" and insisted on an open-casket funeral which revealed a corpse so horribly bloated and bludgeoned that it was barely recognizable as human. Not only did tens of thousands of mourners in Chicago file by the horrific sight in the casket, but when Jet Magazine ran an exclusive photograph of Emmett Till's battered and bloated head, that issue sold out so quickly that more copies were printed, and the photo ran the following week as well. The trial itself drew coverage from the major television networks and more than seventy reporters and photographers, representing such major print outlets as the New York Times, Life, Look, and Time, and several black newspapers and magazines and a sprinkling of foreign publications as well.

The trial proceedings offered a real-life template for a fictional southern courtroom drama straight out of central casting, complete with a big-bellied sheriff spewing racial epithets and a defense attorney who exhorted an all-white jury in a 63 percent black county to do their "Anglo-Saxon" duty by freeing the defendants. Compounding the affront to justice, in January 1956, Look Magazine published a story in which Bryant and Milam, their tongues loosened by a nice paycheck and the shield of double jeopardy, admitted to the crime, with Milam explaining coldly he had decided to "make an example" of young Emmett "just so everbody [sic] can know how me and my folks stand."

Yet, even after singer Nat Cole was brutally beaten onstage by Klansmen in Birmingham a few months later, neither the television networks or major U.S. papers like the New York Times chose to make southern racial violence a focal point, and with Cold War anxieties rendering social agitation seriously suspect, a year after Emmett's slaying scarcely 6 percent of Gallup Poll respondents outside the South thought civil rights was the nation's most pressing issue. Meanwhile, fearful of a savage backlash from white southerners, television executives forced award-winning screenwriter and "Twilight Zone" creator Rod Serling to eviscerate not one but two screen plays (the first in 1956 and another 1958) based on the Emmett Till story by cutting out any reference or suggestion of southern settings, characters, or racial practices before they were aired.

 If John Egerton was correct in observing that while the Till case "stirred the nation's conscience momentarily, the attention span was short and the South slipped back into the shadows," what of its supposed catalytic effect on the crusade to end racial injustice? It was true enough that when questioned about it, Rosa Parks admitted that thinking of poor Emmett had strengthened her resolve in the three-month interval between his death and her act of defiance that sparked the Montgomery Bus Boycott in December 1955. Yet plans for such an action had not only been in the works well before Till's slaying, but were modeled on a similar boycott by blacks in Baton Rouge two years earlier. NAACP leaders in Mississippi and elsewhere were also filing petitions for compliance with the Brown decision before Till's murder.

            While the adult generation of black activists were vividly familiar with the South's long history of racial atrocities, their children, especially those in Emmett's age group, were much more vulnerable to the horrors of the Till affair, especially the terrifying casket photo so jealously guarded by Jet that few of their white peers ever saw it. Young Cleveland Sellers could not shake the feeling that the ghastly figure in the casket "could have been me or any other black kid around that same age," They were only teenagers in 1955, but it was surely no coincidence that, when a new decade dawned with less than 1 percent of school-age southern black children in integrated classrooms and southern black voter registration only 4 percent higher than it had been in 1956, it was four frustrated members of the Till generation who boldly took seats at an all-white lunch counter in Greensboro in 1960. This action, in turn, helped to spawn the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee whose more aggressive and confrontational approach attracted a number of Till's peers, including Sellers and Joyce Ladner, who could easily identify "ten SNCC workers who saw that picture [of Till's body] in Jet magazine, [and] remember it as the key thing about their youth that was emblazoned in their minds."

 Instead of an immediate and dramatic spark for black activism, the Emmett Till tragedy proved more akin to a seed pod, which, at maturity, released a deferred but timely burst of pent-up energy and anger from a young adult generation whose adolescence had been taken hostage by fear. Current concerns about an extended spate of controversial killings of black Americans have stirred several well-known filmmakers to revisit the Till story. This is welcome news, especially if they resist such facile comparisons as likening the impact of the 1955 murder of Emmett Till to that of  the 2014 Ferguson, Missouri slaying of Michael Brown, which is seen as triggering the "Black Lives Matter" movement, on the grounds that "both events galvanized a black community that had been unheard and spawned movements around what many saw as particularly egregious racial incidents." In reality, the Black Lives Matter campaign testifies to nothing so much as the hard-won advances in black, political, social, economic, and technological empowerment that have marked the last three generations.  Such a rapid, aggressive, coordinated and broad-based response would have been unthinkable to black leaders struggling in the 1950s to mobilize their impoverished, disfranchised, uneducated, and historically brutalized constituencies in an era of virtually unchecked racial terrorism when, by any valid measure, black lives mattered far less than they do today.

*A modified version of this essay appeared under a different title on TIME.COM.



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