Stanley Crouch: Populism shows its many forms across the country
The blood baths of the innocent young and old serve as contrasts with the shortsighted allegiances made by brittle couples who spout populist slogans, hate government and are white supremacists, usually rooted in the American South. They seem much like the cartoon characters they emulate, but they are exciting to naively brutal youngsters and militia groups rooting for Cliven Bundy, who did not recognize the federal government as having any authority over him. These populist murderers tell us about our country’s mental health, and if we do not listen to what is being said and proven, we are all in unexpected danger.
And when Eric Cantor bit the electoral dust as the first Jewish majority leader in Congress, his collision with the ground of Virginia showed that anti-Semitism was far from his problem. His actual problem was selling to the rich and powerful while pretending to have steadfast commitment to “ordinary” Americans. His constant “rebranding” made for a comic section of “The Rachel Maddow Show”: Cantor had become a master of the now-you-see-me-now-you-don’t version of political motion.
He was the serious and studious-looking man who seemed interested in something, but not much more than slogans he could continually remake. Those slogans came from the rhetorical redneck clay of Virginia, usually called “dog whistles” and ready for prime time. Cantor held many Starbucks meetings with lobbyists, and preferred to hear the hum of his machine than the angry tea-party chest cold demanding sharper turns to the extreme right.
Like Karl Rove, the insipid mastermind of “dark money,” Cantor thought victory could be bought. All he had to do to hold his seat was deepen his pockets. Cantor listened to the rank givers of badly read data information; they confidently told him how far ahead of the opposition he was.
But there was no victory speech. A schoolteacher who had no money, only an angry wind in his sails, humiliated him.
Next to go down the tubes is surely Mitch McConnell, a do-nothing senator so focused on frustrating the president that he has left Kentucky’s infrastructure at the bottom of the barrel. We will see how much his voters remember about his negligence and his selling out to the National Rifle Association.
Many are saying that the GOP created a monster in the tea party, its ominous teeth ready for any flesh, red or blue. “The Strange Career of Jim Crow” makes very clear the meaning of American populism and its connection to white supremacy, a main belief that is never completely gone. But it can make up for a descending ethnic presence.
Perhaps most startling in the unexpected attempt to control our national future is what the Koch brothers meant when they contributed $25 million to the United Negro College Fund. This is perhaps the most impressive example of members of the billionaire oligarchy that has spent $400 million on extremely deceptive paranoid projects in the world of dark money. Their engagement has always been based on enormous wealth gotten in the fossil-fuel sector —fighting against science, polluting rivers and changing groundwaters’ contents.
The $25 million will reportedly be divided into two parts: $18.5 million will be used to create the UNCF/Koch Scholars Program, which will provide 3,000 merit-based scholarships to “exemplary students with demonstrated financial need and an interest in the study of how entrepreneurship, economics, and innovation contribute to well-being for individuals, communities, and society.” The remaining $6.5 million will provide support for UNCF and its member colleges, with $4 million of it reserved to aid students at member institutions who are ineligible to receive a PLUS loan (a loan program where parents serve as a student’s co-signer).
The agreement specifies that “an advisory board consisting of two UNCF representatives, two Koch representatives, and one faculty member from an existing school will be created to review scholarship applications and select recipients. Recipients will be selected based on their academic achievements as well as their interest in the program’s fields of study.” The recipients are required to attend one of the 37 UNCF-affiliated historically black colleges or one of the 250 universities where the Charles Koch Foundation has an existing program. They also will be expected to attend an annual summit, and will be given mentorship opportunities and the opportunity to participate in an online community.
If one has read Ralph Ellison’s “Invisible Man,” one should remember Mr. Norton, the character who was a patron of a Negro college. He saw all the black as part of his fate and was ready to do the correct thing for the community and those intending to help it.
The Kochs are playing one of the slickest “long games” our nation has ever seen. Now black colleges will protect them, or speak in their favor when the billionaires are accused of destroying so much of our natural world in the interest of profit.
But the chances are that real thinkers, like Ellison and Albert Murray, will be some of the graduates —the grandest of ironies.
Stanley Crouch can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.