Last week marked the 53 year anniversary of The Voting Rights Act of 1965. Along with the Civil Rights Act of 1964, it was the culmination of a decade-long drive to expand the civil rights of black Americans.
Shortly after this pivotal moment in American history, famed civil rights leader Bayard Rustin (1912-1987) noted, the “elaborate legal structure of segregation and discrimination had ‘virtually collapsed.’”
Dr. Martin Luther King (1929-1968) said: “There is no more civil rights movement. President Johnson signed it out of existence when he signed the voting rights bill.”
• The Voting Rights Act worked. The number of elected black officials in the South is larger than it was in that era by many orders of magnitude. So is black voter registration.
• In 2018, the number of Americans who remember legal segregation is dwindling fast and, as President Obama once noted, “Each successive generation seems to be making progress in changing attitudes when it comes to race.”
Racism of course still exists and even the charge of racism is a powerful rhetorical weapon. We focus here on the latter.
During President Obama’s time in office, opposition to his policies were attributed to racism by Jimmy Carter and others and that tended to divert discussion from policy to invective.
Recently, President Trump heard CNN reporter Don Lemon interview basketball great LeBron James who said: “He [Mr Trump] is dividing us and what I noticed over the last few months is that he’s kinda used sport to divide us and that’s something I can’t relate to, because I know that sport was the first time I was ever around someone white.”
One does not have to agree with that comment in its entirety to appreciate that Mr. James saw athletics as a force for desegregation and to recognize that he has used his wealth to help his community.
President Trump, however, took a different tack, responding on Twitter: “Lebron James was just interviewed by the dumbest man on television, Don Lemon. He made Lebron look smart, which isn’t easy to do. I like Mike!”
Both Mr. Lemon and Mr. James are black. “Mike” is probably a reference to Michael Jordan
Retired CBS newsman Dan Rather whose career ended in a scandal of false sources smearing President George W. Bush labeled Mr. Trump’s tweet “racist.”
Many will agree. But on the other hand Mr. Trump is somewhat of an equal opportunity insulter when he feels attacked. Some years ago the certifiably brilliant late Charles Krauthammer called candidate Trump a “rodeo clown.”
Mr. Trump responded with this tweet: “@krauthammer pretends to be a smart guy, but if you look at his record, he isn’t. A dummy who is on too many Fox shows. An overrated clown!”
Later, when Dr. Krauthammer’s book came out, Mr. Trump tweeted: “@krauthammer: On sale today. Things That Matter in paperback. With a new section on the Obama years. Book sucks!”
Dr. Krauthammer (who was white) was so pleased, that he talked of putting that quote on the book cover.
Humor aside, the Voting Rights Act and the Civil Rights Act were the high-water marks of Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society and immeasurably improved this country.