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Est. April 5, 2002
May 03, 2018 - Issue 740

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Jack Johnson, the Clintons,
Democrats’ Midterm Messaging

"The Clintons, like aging sports superstars, cannot
give up the limelight, and are thus becoming those
unwanted and uninvited dinner guests who keep showing up.
In this era of the #MeToo movement, the Clintons, with
all of their sexual and misogynistic baggage, picked the
absolute worse time to reenter the political fray."

Trump Updates to the Midterms:

  • Sources indicate that Trump’s attorneys, in the investigation of his presidential campaign’s collusion with Russia, have leaked the draft questions that Special Counsel Robert Mueller has prepared for a proposed deposition of Trump.

  • Stormy Daniels (Stephanie Clifford) and her attorney, Michael Avenatti, are intensifying pressure on Trump with a newly filed suit accusing him of defamation.
  • Trump and his Republican allies are encouraging Democrats to pursue impeaching him as a way to rally support among those who voted for him to become President and to increase their turnout in the 2018 midterms. The Trump team is giddy that the Democratic billionaire, Tom Steyer, is spending tens of millions of dollars of his own money to pursue the impeachment endeavor to their advantage.
  • Kanye West has stated that “slavery was a choice” since blacks were in it for 400 years, and he has also released a song in which he praises Trump. Trump in return has tweeted praise of Kanye for his support.

Trump has found another distraction to generate Republican support and turnout in the 2018 midterms. As noted in last week’s column, the Trump administration is putting the finishing touches on a pardon for the first African American heavyweight champion, Jack Johnson (1908-1915). He was indicted and eventually jailed on trumped up charges by the U.S. government primarily based on his breaching of Jim Crow racial and legal codes of the time, especially his open dating and marrying of white women. (See essay on Jack Johnson by Dr. Al Tony Gilmore in this issue of BC which provides a fuller context about this news item.) The plan is to announce the pardon at the most opportune time when it would be most disruptive to the emerging Democratic wave which threatens Republican control of the U.S. House and Senate.

The overall strategy is to depress the votes of African Americans, a critical component of the Democratic base and to rebuke former President Barack Obama who refused to exonerate Johnson for his alleged crimes. Obama was petitioned to do so by filmmaker Ken Burns, who produced the documentary, “Unforgiveable Blackness: The Rise and Fall of Jack Johnson,” Sens. John McCain and Harry Reid, and numerous other celebrities and sports figures. The Obama Administration stated that it was following a presidential tradition of only pardoning living individuals. However, Bill Clinton posthumously commissioned Johnson C. Whittaker as a Second Lieutenant from West Point in 1995 after he was thrown out prior to graduation in 1880. In 1999, Clinton granted a posthumous pardon to Lieutenant Henry O. Flipper, the first black West Point graduate who had been dismissed from the Army in 1881for “conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentleman,” and falsely accused of having a relationship with a white woman.

Trump’s camp believes that it can cause enough disillusion with the Jack Johnson pardon to reduce the black turnout (although those blacks who do will overwhelmingly vote for Democrats) by enough of a percentage in states and districts held by Republicans that they will be able to hold their majorities. “The black voter turnout rate declined for the first time in 20 years” in the 2016 presidential election after a high of 66.6 percent in 2008 when Obama was on the ballot. In addition, the black turnout has dropped in each of the subsequent midterms to date. The plot is for Trump to also use his black followers, led by Kanye West, to promote his assistance to African Americans through this clemency for a black first who was wrongly indicted and imprisoned. The Trump machine hopes that the impact will be somewhat similar to then Sen. John F. Kennedy’s call to Coretta Scott King in October 1960 when he expressed concern about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. who had been taken to a Georgia prison in the middle of the night. King was later released, in part, through efforts of the Kennedys. It is not expected that African Americans will suddenly vote Republican but rather that many will stay home on Election Day.

Bill and Hillary Clinton are also coming to Trump’s aid by inserting themselves into the 2018 midterms. Naively, they believe that their presence will be a boost to Democratic candidates across the spectrum. They are anxious to get back on the campaign trail to redeem their political reputations. Their goal is to weigh in on the races of politicians who have supported them in the past. While neither Clinton has any hopes of returning to office, their objective is to regain and maintain influence with successful candidates up and down the Democratic ticket: U.S. Senators and Congresspersons, Governors, and state legislators. In other words, their aim is to remain politically relevant and to weigh in on issues they care about. Leading Democrats wish that they would stand down and enjoy their forced retirements. The last thing that Democrats need is for them to be on center stage, which they will be, no matter how hard they try to operate under the political radar. The Clintons, like aging sports superstars, cannot give up the limelight, and are thus becoming those unwanted and uninvited dinner guests who keep showing up. In this era of the #MeToo movement, the Clintons, with all of their sexual and misogynistic baggage, picked the absolute worse time to reenter the political fray.

But the most serious obstacle to Democrats’ midterm success, despite their positive poll numbers, is their continuing lack of a cohesive message that galvanizes their base. In particular, Democrats as a party have been reluctant to enthusiastically embrace the teachers who are protesting and striking in Republican red states over benefits, pensions, and wages. The number of states and teachers engaged in the struggle to save public education is increasing weekly, and this would be an appropriate time for Democrats to lock in their base and to reach out to voters who voted for the Republican takeover of the majority of governorships, state legislatures, and House and Senate seats. This combination of clinging to polls and ignoring the surrounding political dynamics is what led to Democratic defeats in 2016. Moreover, Democrats continue to deny the keen political judgments of Donald Trump who has consistently defied the political outcomes that have been predicted.

The aforementioned challenges cast a dark cloud over a potential Democratic rebirth. The question is whether the Democrats will stop doing the same thing over and over again, expecting a different result.

links to all 20 parts of the opening series Columnist, Dr. Walter C. Farrell, Jr., PhD, MSPH, is a Fellow of the National Education Policy Center (NEPC) at the University of Colorado-Boulder and has written widely on vouchers, charter schools, and public school privatization. He has served as Professor of Social Work at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and as Professor of Educational Policy and Community Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Contact Dr. Farrell. 

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Executive Editor:
David A. Love, JD
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