James Baldwin’s Journey Through Politics

Thirty years ago I wrote an essay, “The Election Time Blues.”  It spoke about how political discourse in America was depressing; at least, it depressed me, and it continues to do so.  When crime is on the platform, it becomes even more depressing.

Both Democrats and Republicans have played the “crime card” in seeking election or reelection.  Think Nixon’s War on Crime (1968), Rockefeller’s War on Drugs (1973), Reagan’s War on Drugs (1980), Bush I’s War on Crime (1988)  (using the Willie Horton Effect), Clinton’s War on Crime, and Terrorism (1992), and Trump’s attempt to use the crime card in his reelection bid (2020).

As we enter the presidential sweepstakes, as the usual suspects line up to run, I’m rereading James Baldwin’s essay, “Journey to Atlanta,” written in 1948.  This election cycle, we already know what to expect.  Democrats will make empty promises to its Black constituency, the most faithful bloc of voters for the Dems, and Black voters will vote for them simply because Democrats appear to be the lesser of two evils.  Trump will ask Black voters, “What do you have to lose?’  And the sad thing is the truth in Trump’s statement, and we know that truth isn’t often uttered from his lips!  But Trump’s point is better said by James Baldwin:

It is considered a rather cheerful axiom that all Americans distrust politicians….  Of all Americans, Negroes distrust politicians most, or, more accurately, they have been best trained to expect nothing from them; more than other Americans, they are always aware of the enormous gap between election promises and their daily lives.  It is true that the promises excite them, but this is not because they are taken as proof of good intentions.

President Biden has indicated that he is running for reelection.  He doesn’t really excite his constituency, although he appears to be a decent fellow.  Other than choosing a Black woman as his running mate, and nominating a Black woman to the United States Supreme Court – and I in no way diminish the import of those two acts – Joe is just another politician who can’t really deliver on campaign promises.  In fact, campaign promises are just that: promises, unpaid promissory notes.

It is worth noting that James Baldwin’s note on election promises holds true today, more than 60 years later.  There’s that saying that the more things change, the more they remain the same.  That isn’t entirely accurate.  I think it’s fair to say that as a nation America is not that far removed from 1948; at least, not as far removed as she should be.  As Joe has said, “We are better than what we present.  The proof, though, Joe, is in the pudding.  As Isabel Wilkerson writes in her phenomenal book, Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents, that stuff we would like to put behind us, the history of slavery and segregation, lies deep within the permafrost of the America tundra.  Blame it on global warming.  The permafrost has melted and those ugly things seemingly frozen in the past have resurfaced.

There was a time when as Americans we talked of “the best and the brightest” aspiring for political office for the good of the nation, people seemingly with convictions and not simply on a power grab, people who rose to meet the moment – think Abraham Lincoln, FDR, Truman and JFK.  It is not enough to wax nostalgic.  We need people to rise to the moment.  We also need people to get out the way and pass the baton.  Lastly, we need to purge the Halls of Congress of Scoundrels and Scalawags and people waiting to die in office.  This is the journey, we, voters, and the people we vote into office, need to take.


About William Eric Waters, aka Easy Waters

Award-winning poet, playwright and writer. Author of three books of poetry, "Black Shadows and Through the White Looking Glass: Remembrance of Things Past and Present"; "Sometimes Blue Knights Wear Black Hats"; "The Black Feminine Mystique," and a novel, "Streets of Rage." All four books are available on Amazon.com.
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1 Response to James Baldwin’s Journey Through Politics

  1. Mark Chapman says:

    Brother Eric, I couldn’t agree more. And Baldwin knew that JFK and LBJ, for all their alleged support for civil rights, feared MLK, Jr. and supported Hoover’s twisted wiretapping of his hotel rooms. As you point out. Trump v Biden in 2024—THIS is the best we can do? Where are the Beto Rourke’s, Gavin Newsomes, Raphael Warnocks in the Democratic Party that can run in 2024 so Joe can sit down and enjoy the remainder of his life? Running for President at age 82!??? What does this say about the Democratic Party? No need to raise the same question about the Republicans…for obvious reasons. This is why Scripture says, “Do not trust in princes (presidents) who can not save…Blessed are those whose hope is in the Lord their God” (Psalm 146:3-7). Thanks for reminding us of Baldwin’s wisdom.

    Liked by 1 person

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