Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Crisis: Precipitation and Management

Martin Luther King, Jr. precipitated Crises through his oratory, through marches and demonstrations, and through massive rallies. These Crises became Crises of Conscience for Americans. King used the lofty rhetoric of our Founders, of the Constitution, of our most honored thinkers, jurists and Presidents as catalysts to shame Americans for their willingness to oppress or allow the oppression of Americans in America, the millions of not-White Americans who had long been condemned to the margins, to the underbelly, to dispair.


Our Enemies Abroad -- at that time, the World-Wide Communist Conspiracy -- were only too eager to exploit America's shame and hypocrisy, to play up every aspect of the Civil Rights Movement and its suppression. Every firehose, dog, and bludgeon used against peaceful Americans advocating the rights guaranteed to all in the Constitution was played up for everything it was worth in the Communist propaganda media of the day. Proof, they said, of the Fraud that was America.

J Edgar Hoover's FBI considered King and his ilk to be traitors and dupes of the Communists, spied upon them, and eventually would infiltrate and act as provocateurs within their organizations.

Racism was a fundamental tenet of American political, social and economic belief. It was at the root of the American experiment. From the beginning, it was almost impossible to imagine America without a racist core belief.

Yet King and his allies went against it directly and forcefully. And they won.

Well, they won the Battle. Whether they have truly won the overall war is yet to be seen. It will depend in part on who is designated the Enemy du Jour once this Muslim business is done with. If we wind up in a permanent state of War On Terror, and The Terrorists continue to be defined as easily spotted individuals who don't join the Consensus of Autocratic Rule and openly and devoutly cheer the Leader, who speak different languages, have different religions, and don't necessarily have an approved appearance, we may well find ourselves back in the racist morass we thought we had emerged from. We are nearly there as it is given the widespread antipathy toward and fear of The Muslims.

In the context of his times, King was contending with a highly reactionary Southern culture, which could not conceive of its very survival without full-on racism, White Supremacy, segregation, and ruinous racial discrimination and exploitation of the Black underclass. Of course many white Southerners at the time had actually long since got beyond that primitive way of thinking in their individual lives. But the Southern Culture was seemingly immovable, frozen in time. Many of the racist attitudes in the South were commonplace throughout the country as well. Segregation was a way of life; racial discrimination was simply what one did, wherever one was. Law may not have enforced all these practices, but custom most certainly did. While King's struggle was mostly in the South, nowhere in the country was entirely free of the taint of racism and racial discrimination.

King was contending with Southern Culture, but he was also contending with a largely oblivious governing system, in the localities, in the States, and at the Federal level. That governing system was nearly entirely Progressive -- long since adopting the basic tenets of Progressivism.

As I attempted to point out earlier, Progressivism is not an ideology; it is an operating system for government. The adoption of Progressive operating systems in the United States got going in earnest near the turn of the 20th Century, becoming all but universal by the end of World War II. As an operating system, Progressivism had adopted many of the beliefs and customs current at the time of its first successes, including racism. There is little doubt that White Supremacy was taken as an article of faith by early Progressives, and a whole other detailed examination of that aspect of the Progressive Movement needs to be made, but for now let's just say that the way most government was organized and operated at the time of King's major efforts was deeply and intimately racist.

Changing that proved somewhat easier than changing the racial customs on which the Progressive governing systems were based. That's not to say it was easy, just easier.

Part of King's genius was to understand that if you tweak the operating system -- change the laws and the way the system works -- customs can be changed as well.

But the question is where and how...

For generations, Blacks had struggled for equality through the courts and legislatures and essentially gotten nowhere until 1954, when the Supreme Court ruled that segregated schools were not "equal" -- undermining the premise of legalized segregation and inspiring a fierce reaction. Attempts at integration did not proceed easily in many areas, not solely in the South, and progress was slow to say the least.

Government was of little help, with the exception of those few occasions when troops were sent in to cities in the South to enforce integration. Needless to say, Whites did not respond positively.

Congress had passed some Civil Rights legislation, including the Civil Rights Act of 1957, but enforcement was lacking.

It took King's precipitation of Crisis and the subsequent management of that Crisis to force a Change of Conscience (particularly but not exclusively among white Southerners) which led to the decline and near-ending of legal segregation and racial discrimination in most aspects of public life in the South and throughout the country.

And it took a Crisis of Conscience within the Progressive governing system to ensure the enforcement of Change. That was a somewhat more complicated situation. The catalysts for that Crisis and subsequent Change included Dr. King and his work, but it also included the nation's self-examination following the assassination of President Kennedy, and its subsequent rededication to become a better America, a Great Society as it were, under President Johnson.

To be continued...

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