What you think of Black Lives Matter says a lot about you, and possibly a lot more than you want people to necessarily know if you're a politician. This is because the movement and its praiseworthy objectives are the closest thing to a litmus test that really means something in the presidential campaign.
If you haven't been paying attention, Black Lives Matter is a social movement that has grown from a hashtag into a political force as it campaigns against violence toward African-Americans. It emerged out of the 2013 acquittal of George Zimmerman in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin, and has organized protests focusing on the broader issues of racial profiling, police brutality and inequality in the criminal justice system.
Like the Occupy Wall Street movement, Black Lives Matter is decentralized, and like Occupy Wall Street, you are likely to agree with it if you think racial inequality in its many guises is a root cause of America's ills, and in the case of Occupy Wall Street, that social and economic inequality and corporate influence of government are root causes of global ills.
Politicians in general have approached Black Lives Matter with caution. It is, after all, a third-rail of social activism. Not surprisingly, support has broken down along party lines with Democrats praising the movement and Republicans demonizing it in yet another clumsy attempt to cover up the party's antipathy to minorities.
President Obama supports the movement, as does the Democratic National Committee, while Bernie Sanders has been an outspoken supporter and Hillary Clinton a supporter, although a seemingly lukewarm one. Republican views vary from the negative to the apocalyptic, with Ben Carson calling the movement "silly" and Chris Christie condemning it for falsely claiming it advocates the murder of police officers.
"It’s like saying, 'Because the Ku Klux Klan calls themselves Christian, Christianity has a problem and needs to answer for the Ku Klux Klan,' " said political talk show host Kenneth Murdock in parrying Christie's claim.
"I think everybody understands all lives matter," Obama said in defending the movement. "I think the reason that the organizers used the phrase 'Black Lives Matter' was not because they were suggesting nobody else's lives matter. Rather, what they were suggesting was there is a specific problem that's happening in the African-American community that's not happening in other communities. And that is a legitimate issue that we’ve got to address."
Then there is FBI Director James Comey, who has given voice to the unhelpful view that scrutiny of police conduct and the threat of exposure through viral social media videos has generated a "chill wind blowing through American law enforcement over the last year."
Black Lives Matter and Sanders, who was a Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee organizer in the 1960s and is campaigning on the need to address inequality, would seem to go together like hand in glove.
"To be honest with you," he explained on ABC's This Week With George Stephanopoulos, "given the disparity that we're seeing in income and wealth in this country, it applies even more to the African-American community and to the Hispanic community."
So why then has Sanders, among all the candidates, been the target of Black Lives Matter activists, who have disrupted his rallies? Because Sanders is the best way to bring the movement's concerns to the mainstream of the Democratic Party.
A LOGICAL CULMINATION
Black Lives Matter is a logical culmination of the many branches of the civil rights movement, and when viewed from that perspective, the hostility it has engendered among too many whites and noxious blacks like Ben Carson is understandable if repulsive.
I have my own personal issues with Black Lives Matter, chiefly that there is a willful naïvete among many of its leaders that was absent in the movements of the 1950s and 60s, although like the racists of an earlier era, the movement is viewed by them as an expression of anti-white hatred. Yet the movement's consciousness raising has been formidable, and it's fair to say that a Chicago police officer would not be charged with the murder of Laquan McDonald, as well as the resolution of some other recent high-profile cases where there has been a semblance of justice -- even if it has been justice delayed -- without the movement.
Yet people like the terrorists who attacked the Black Lives Matter protesters in Minneapolis last week seem even bolder than their white supremacist forebears, undoubtedly because we live in an era when Republicans like Donald Trump have put down their dog whistles and are delivering blatently racist messages. In fact, the Republican Party has become America's biggest hate group.
Perennial Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee well represents the They're Agin' Us view when he claims that if the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. were alive today, he would be "appalled" by the movement's focus on the skin color of the people who are disproportionately killed in encounters with the police.
Besides being patently false, Huckabee's argument betrays an indifference to black suffering and an ignorance of the history the civil rights movement, which from its infancy focused on bringing an end to violence against African-Americans. King's goal was to force the White House and Congress to confront the fact that African-Americans were being killed with impunity for "offenses" like trying to vote and for equal protection under the law.
Huckabee's view, as well as the bile spouted by Christie and his ilk, are pathetic in historic and contemporary contexts, but then they are merely standing at a figurative schoolhouse door like George Wallace did in trying to protect the crumbling facade of a political party that is being washed away by an unstoppable demographic tide.
THE VILENESS OF DONALD TRUMP
Did anyone really believe that a slew of black ministers were going to come together on Monday in New York to endorse that vilest of race baiters among the president candidates -- Donald Trump?
Of course not, and when the sun rose over the Big Apple on Monday that endorsement press conference -- promoted through the usual Trump showmanship as including exactly 100 black ministers --had been revealed as a classic Trump bait-and-switch: Ministers who thought they were meeting to promote a racial dialogue were bailing from the trap Trump had set for them in droves. And poof! the press conference was suddenly cancelled.
Bishop Clarence McClendon, a Los Angeles-based pastor who like Trump has appeared on reality television (The Preachers of L.A.), was invited to the meeting but will not attend. "The meeting was presented not as a meeting to endorse but a meeting to engage in dialogue," he said.
"I'm like a few seconds from bowing out of it," said Bishop Hezekiah Walker, founder of the East New York-based Love Fellowship Tabernacle church and leader of a Grammy-winning gospel choir. "There's always a side of me that wishes and prays for hope, and it just seems like the more I'm trying to say, 'Give this guy a chance' . . . the worse things get. He's constantly doing something."
Bishop Corletta Vaughn, senior pastor of The Holy Ghost Cathedral and a star of the Oxygen reality series Preachers of Detroit, said she too invited to the meeting but will not attend nor endorse Trump.
"Trump is an insult and embarrassment. But he represents the country we have become," she said on Facebook. "ZERO experience . . . Flaunting a ticket of unbridled bigotry, sexism, racism and everything that is wrong with America."
The feckless Politico, yet again missing the bigger picture, describes the botched endorsement rollout as "an embarrassing setback for a campaign struggling to combat the perception that its candidate is racially divisive." The reality is that Trump is beyond embarrassment.
"We’ve been called Uncle Toms, sellouts, coons . . . We have preachers calling us 'prostitutes on a pole,' " lamented Ohio pastor Darrell Scott, Trump's liaison to the black evangelical community and organizer of the event. "If Donald Trump said that, the entire nation would be in an uproar."
Wrong again. Trump is beyond embarrassment.
Politix Update is an irregular compendium written by veteran journalist Shaun Mullen, for whom the 2016 presidential campaign is his (gasp!) 12th since 1968. Click HERE for an index of previous Politix Updates.
IMAGE COURTESY OF HANDS UP UNITED