At the end of Dave Chappelle’s latest comedy stand-up Equanimity, he brilliantly explains how proximity hinders one from seeing the broader picture. He explains how standing too close to an elephant prevents the observer from realizing what is in front of her. One must step back and inspect from a distance in order to get a full understanding and gain a broader awareness. Dave used this story to explain how the horrific tragedy that befell Emmit Till set into motion a series of events that actually advanced justice. Intimacy engenders myopia and impedes discernment.
This same analogy is apropos when it comes to explaining our politics and the way injustice is concealed when we stand too close to partisanship. As long as we are loyal to dogmas above ideas, we will always see a part of the puzzle only to end up getting bamboozled by the status quo. One must step back not only from the elephant but from the jackass as well in order see how both parties are using the same playbook to hoodwink their followers. This is a hard task for most of us; ideological affinity is a form of tribalism that shapes our world views and informs how we react to externalities. For this one moment at least, I’m asking Democrats, Republicans, left, right and all in between to put away political allegiances and read this article with an open mind.
To understand the current political climate, we must go back to turbulent 60’s and scrutinize how America was intentionally ghettoized by the ruling class. At the apex of the Civil Rights Era, Republicans made a strategic decision to play on the fears and anxieties of “white” Americans by pivoting away from fiscal issues and focused on social sectarianism. Xenophobia became the lynch pin of the GOP; minorities were portrayed as a menacing threat to American ideals and values. As the era of Jim Crow and de jure segregation was drawing to a close, the Republican establishment cynically drew on the angst of “white” voters by stoking racial resentments and using dog whistles to attract disaffected Democrats and disgruntled Caucasians who sensed that America was slipping away from them.
Richard Nixon successfully deployed the Southern Strategy to capture the White House by leveraging the pent up frustrations of the “silent majority” to consolidate votes in the former Confederate states and beyond. The racial lines became even more absolute as America was Balkanized by a party that saw jingoism as an opportunity to gain power and enhance their electoral fortunes. The otherizing tactics used by Nixon in the 1968 with ruthless efficiency was perfected by Ronald Reagan in the 1980 election. Reagan used the imagery of the welfare queen and urban criminals to soundly defeat Jimmy Carter. In the process, he pushed Republicans to the right and pushed non-“white” and urban voters into the arms of Democrats.
This is a narrative that is freely pushed by the liberal establishment. What is left out of this analysis is that Democrats also decided to pivot in order to gain a swath of voters. Where Republicans deployed the Southern Strategy, Democrats turned to the Urban Bamboozle as they too used dog whistles and paternalism to attract marginalized communities, silence dissent and demonize rural “whites”. Both parties implemented a business plan; they identified their base, crafted a message to that base and then vilified their opposition to create an “us versus them” paradigm. Where Republicans spoke to the antipathy of “white” working class voters in rural America, Democrats targeted “minorities” in urban areas. Both parties painted the other side as the bogeymen who were out to get them, instill a sense of fear and manufacture clan loyalty among their supporters.
Standing too close to either elephants or jackasses prevents one from seeing how both parties are using the same blueprint to divide the nation and reap political boons. Sadder yet is that people on both sides end up fighting each other instead of uniting to defend their common interests. As I noted in the past, if you strip away politics, most liberals and conservatives would agree on the core issues. People on the left and on the right agree that power should be returned to our communities, that we should keep more of our earnings, that there should not be one set of rules for the rich and another set of rules for the rest of us and almost everyone will agree we should have equality of opportunities.
Instead of focusing on these areas of agreement, we are continually conditioned to bicker with each other along sectarian lines. Farmers in Kansas are facing the same economic anxieties that office workers in San Francisco are enduring. “Black” folks in the cities are being buckled by the same pyramid scheme that is fracturing “white” folks in exurbs. This is not to diminish the scourge of racism, sexism and exclusion and how their legacies still haunt our nation, but these issue are exacerbated as economic imbalances worsen. There can be no social justice without economic inclusion. As Martin Luther King once noted:
“All these problems are tied together. One cannot be concerned just with civil rights. It is very nice to drink milk at an unsegregated lunch counter—but not when there’s Strontium 90 in it.”
Strontium 90 is a radioactive agent that causes cancer and is a pathogen that is lethal when too much of it is introduced to organisms. King was noting that having the right to drink at a milk counter without having the means to pay for it is drinking milk that has poison in it. Freedom in theory while being grounded in the reality of economic inequality is akin to being gifted a car without an engine in it. Click To Tweet
Self-induced political apartheid inhibits us from seeing how the system is gaming us. Partisan fidelity and labeling get in the way of consensus between all sides of the political and social divides. This is, of course, how the the status quo wants it; if a time ever arrived when left joined right and “white” united with “black”, the days of crony capitalism on Wall Street and the kleptocracy in Washington DC would be over. What is getting in the way of the change that most of us yearn are the very thing we keep turning to for solutions—politics and social stratification are cul-de-sacs disguised as pathways.
Both parties and the political class as a whole have weaponized identity politics. They use human suffering as stepping stones and advertise the advancement of a few as progress for all. If more people step back and observe how both parties operate, there would be a collective Agent Kujan moment as partisans drop their coffee mugs in an act of mass awakening. The gig would be up as the citizenry would realize that Donald Trump used the Southern Strategy to capture the White House the same way Barack Obama turned to the Urban Bamboozle to become the first bank president. Alas, we are so focused on personalities that we keep missing the zoo for the trunks and jackasses. After one party gains power by promising change only to deliver nothing but broken promises, the other party steps in with the same promise of change only to deliver the same outcome. We have become a society of masochists hoping to be redeemed by sadists.
As long as we keep focusing on what makes us different instead of realizing what we all have in common, we will keep getting stepped on by the very people we keep idolizing. This bears repeating, RICH PEOPLE DO NOT WANT CHANGE. If you kept winning at a blackjack table where everyone else was losing, would you ask for a new dealer? Why then do we expect the gentry to give us a new deal when their interests lie in keeping the status quo intact. The media-politico complex are not interested in solving the issues that gash at society nor are they motivated to ameliorate suffering. In fact, they are incentivized to add fuel to the fire that is scorching all of us; the more tribulations we have the more fortunes they accumulate. Mo’ problems for us is mo’ money for the neo-aristocracy.
My people, by that I mean all humans, please stop falling for the bamboozle. If we want to bend the arc of history towards justice, we—the suffering poor, the struggling worker and the toiling entrepreneur—will have to bend it on our own. Don’t let the punditry in corporate media and the blowhards in the political class keep pulling the wool over our eyes. Our enemies are not the people who are struggling just like us. Demagogues and shills are injecting hatred into the public square for a reason; they’re inciting hatred betting that rage will keep diverting our eyes from our ultimate goal–justice for humanity without regard to identity. Step away from both elephants and jackasses; standing too close to either is blinding us from seeing the solutions. #HoodwinkingUS
To both slave and master, freedom is fearful::
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Check out the Ghion Cast below where I discuss demagogues and firebrands intentionally fracture us so that we can fight each other instead of uniting to defend our common interests.
Originally from Ethiopia with roots to Atse Tewodros II, Teodrose is a former community organizer whose writing was incorporated into Barack Obama's South Carolina primary victory speech in 2008. He pivoted away from politics and decided to stand for collective justice after experiencing the reality of the forgotten masses. His writing defies conventional wisdom and challenges readers to look outside the constraints of labels and ideologies that serve to splinter the people. Teodrose uses his pen to give a voice to the voiceless and to speak truth to power.
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