Whistlin’ Dixie: The Slave Power rises again


by Rich Broderick | September 8, 2009 • Like the birther cult, like baseless claims that Barak Obama is a secret Muslim, socialist or fascist – take your pick – like the lies about “death panels,” like the frightening displays of armed unreason at this summer’s townhall meetings, the trumped up controversy over the anodyne speech the President delivered to schoolchildren on Tuesday was just another face of the same murderous belief: Barak Obama is not, and never can be, the legitimate President of all the United States because he is a black man who has usurped power in a country bequeathed by God to the white “race.” Furthermore, he must be prevented from serving out his term by whatever means – but preferably by violence as a means of scaring off any future would-be Presidential contenders who happen to share his skin color.

Ground Zero – Rich Broderick teaches journalism, serves on the board of the Twin Cities Media Alliance, and sometimes still finds time to write for the TC Daily Planet.

In the decades leading up to the Civil War, opponents of slavery coined a term for this demonic strain of American life: The Slave Power. The name was a catchphrase describing not only the stranglehold the slave states, which contained a dwindling minority of the country’s citizens, maintained over the White House, the Supreme Court and the Congress, but also a pattern of tactics – tactics we see being trotted out again today – wielded to crush the nation’s soul and trample its conscience.

Rhetorically, the Slave Power’s representatives then and now work to create a moral universe in which everything is turned upside down, where lies become the truth, atrocities are long-overdue acts of justice, victimizers proclaim themselves to be innocent victims, and those actively plotting to subvert the country are transformed into the putative target of ever more outlandish plots supposedly being hatched by their opponents.

Tactically, the arsenal of the Slave Power ranges from the artful use of parliamentary procedures to cram its wishes down everyone’s throat – the Fugitive Slave Law, which made the refusal to help track down and return slaves to their rightful “owners” a felony, being the most notable success in this regard – to insistent and ever more hysterical threats of violence, to violence itself, including beatings, assassinations, political murder, rape, torture, terrorism and, eventually, treason.

If there is one thing that we have learned over the past 250 years, it is this: when it comes to the Slave Power, including its current avatars among the Republican Party and rightwing media, there can be no compromise. The Slave Power will not and never has negotiated in good faith. There is no concession too generous or too craven to satisfy its ever-escalating demands, just as there is, for the Slave Power and its minions, no lie too base, no hysterical accusation too ludicrous, no rhetoric too belligerent, no tactic too violent or heinous to employ in order to achieve its ends. The Slave Power cannot be reasoned with and it cannot be trusted. It can only be suppressed.

For this task we cannot look to Barack Obama, however gifted he might be. Those who expected him to come into office swinging were engaged in wishful thinking. Though his election certainly did represent a critical breakthrough in the racial stalemate, it could only have been achieved by a man whose most highly developed skill is the ability to avoid triggering America’s hypersensitivity to “black anger,” especially black male anger. Obama is the Jackie Robinson of American politics, not the Muhammad Ali: to reach that point, we will have to go through several more rounds of black politicians reaching the White House. 

So, what is to be done? How should we respond to this latest manifestation of the Slave Power in our midst?

Well, it is important to remember that the legal system of American apartheid known as Jim Crow was not brought to an end by a politician or team of politicians from either of the two major political parties. It was finished off by a movement – the Civil Rights Movement – that transcended partisanship by inspiring solidarity in the most diverse range of American citizens, from people walking in the footsteps of Jesus to those weaned on the Communist Manifesto, from northerners and southerners, blacks and whites, Asians, Hispanics, and American Indians, all moved to action by a call to their deepest moral sense of what is right and what is wrong.

In a way, then, we should be thankful to the Rush Limbaugh’s and the Glenn Beck’s and the birthers and even to our reprehensible man-child Governor, Tim Pawlenty, for forcing us to confront again our country’s most shameful streak. We are an impatient people looking for quick fixes, conditioned by a consumer society to expect someone else to solve our problems for us. But the Slave Power is not amenable to quick fixes or painless, over-the-counter remedies. Like kudzu it can only be controlled, not eradicated. To fight it effectively, we need to resurrect something analogous to the Civil Rights Movement

Fortunately, we have reason – based upon historical precedent – to hope that if we take such a step we will once again be able to suppress the Slave Power, at least for another generation.

Bear in mind: if you had traveled to, say, Philadelphia, Mississippi, in 1955 and told the mayor or the chief of police there – both of whom would have been members of, or working in collusion with, the Ku Klux Klan – that within only 10 years the whole legal edifice of Jim Crow segregation would have collapsed, never to be restored, the gentleman would have, if you were lucky, laughed in your face and given you till sundown to quit the county.

If you’d gone on and informed them that within only 43 years of the collapse of legal apartheid, a man born of a Black African father and a White American mother would be elected to the highest office in the land, you would have been fortunate to have escaped lynching.

And yet, within 10 years, Jim Crow was dead, and in 2008, the country elected Barak Obama President despite whatever Rush Limbaugh or Glenn Beck or the birthers – or Tim Pawlenty, for that matter – might say about it.

Every country, including ours, is a contradiction, a vortex of competing forces, some noble, some venal, some out-and-out savage. It falls upon this generation – as it does to every generation – to determine which force comes out on top this time around.